Guyanese among new Order of Canada appointees

By RON FANFAIR

Banking executive and community volunteer, Winston Kassim and former Ontario Chief Justice, Roy McMurtry, have been appointed to the Order of Canada.

They received their appointments on Canada Day in the Members category and are among 60 Canadians bestowed with this country’s highest honour.

Guyanese-born Kassim was recognized for playing a key role in establishing several community and religious centres that provide outreach services to refugees and immigrants. They include the Sunatul Jamaat of Ontario and the Malton Islamic Association.

He said he was surprised by the appointment.

“This came totally out of left field,” said Kassim who has been with the Royal Bank of Canada for the past 33 years. “I had no idea I was nominated. I have always led from behind because I have never relished the spotlight. So, to be thrown into the limelight with this honour is a new experience for me.

“I am, however, grateful for this great recognition because it says to me, ‘you can always make a contribution, regardless of where you are’. I am blessed and privileged to live in a great country like Canada.”

Junior Achievement of Canada vice-president responsible for resource development, Mark Beckles, nominated Kassim for the Order.

“Winston has been pivotal in helping community organizations get off the ground and he has always used his corporate profile to ensure that these organizations get access to support from various sources, including the RBC,” said Beckles, a former Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (Canada) chief executive officer and Progressive Conservative party candidate for Brampton West in the 2007 provincial elections.

“He was also one of the driving forces behind Nelson Mandela becoming an honorary Canadian citizen, petitioning government and various stakeholders to ensure that this became a reality.”

The former South African president was granted honorary Canadian citizenship in November 2001. He’s one of five global citizens to be conferred with the honour. The others are Raoul Wallenberg who saved thousands of Jews during World War II, the Dalai Lama, Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi and His Highness the Aga Khan.

Kassim launched his banking career in Guyana with Barclays before coming to Canada in 1975 and securing employment a few months later with RBC as a management training accountant. In addition to volunteering in his own community, he worked with various organizations to secure Mandela’s release from prison before joining the International Development and Relief Foundation (IDRF) which implements relief and development projects around the world. He’s vice-chair of the IDRF.

“We are especially proud as he has devoted a considerable amount of his time to the sustainability and growth of our organization over the last five years,” said IDRF chair Dr. Cassim Degani. “It is volunteers such as Mr. Kassim who help the IDRF positively impact disadvantaged people from all corners of the earth.”

Kassim, who holds an MBA from Athabasca University, is the head of Strategic Initiatives (Canada) with RBC.

McMurtry, a former Ontario attorney general and Chief Justice, has been a tireless human and social rights advocate who has supported many Black organizations, among them the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers which honoured him at its 10th anniversary gala in 2006. He also passed more than 50 law reform statutes he introduced as a member of the provincial government, including the first major family law reform legislation in Canada and the establishment of a bilingual court system.

The three-tiered Order was created in 1967 to coincide with the centennial of the Canadian Confederation. A total of 5,660 Canadians – the latest batch included – have been appointed to the Order that has three levels of membership. They are Companion – which is the highest level – Officer and Member. 

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