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Meet the honorary doctorates of spring convocation

University celebrates distinguished leaders and changemakers
June 01, 2018
The honorary doctorates of spring convocation

Photo: The honorary doctorates for spring 2018 convocation. Clockwise from top: Mohamed Fakih, Elyse Goldstein, David Johnston, Alanis Obomsawin, Michael Tulloch, Brian Porter and Ratna Omidvar.

Seven extraordinary Canadians will be awarded honorary doctorates at Ryerson’s spring convocation ceremonies, in addition to the two awarded at fall convocation.

Honorary degrees are awarded to people who have made major contributions to academia and/or society in Canada and around the world; contributed to the development of Ryerson; or bettered the culture and society of the local community.

Mohamad Fakih
Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa

Mohamad Fakih is president and chief executive officer of Paramount Fine Foods, the fastest-growing Middle Eastern halal restaurant chain in North America. This year, Paramount will expand to include 63 locations, with new restaurants opening in Lebanon, the United Kingdom, the United States, Dubai and Pakistan.

Following the Canadian government’s decision in 2016 to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees, Fakih travelled to Lebanon to visit the Islamic relief camps. He then partnered with Ryerson University to offer the newcomers employment counselling and to provide up to 100 jobs in his restaurants.

In addition to helping the Muslim community, Fakih supports multiple non-profit organizations. They include the Canadian Cancer Society and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. In 2017, Fakih received several honours. For example, the Brampton Board of Trade named him businessperson of the year and Toronto Life magazine included him in its list of the top 50 most influential people in the city. Fakih also received an RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant award and his charitable work and business leadership were publicly acknowledged by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons.

Elyse Goldstein
Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein graduated from Brandeis University and completed a master’s degree at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Following her ordination in 1983, she became an assistant rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. In 1991, Rabbi Goldstein founded Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning and served as its rabbinic director for 20 years. Today, she is the founding rabbi of City Shul, a Reform synagogue in downtown Toronto.

The first woman to be elected president of the interdenominational Toronto Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Goldstein is also past president of Reform Rabbis of Greater Toronto. She was featured in the 1989 documentary Half the Kingdom, which was produced by the National Film Board of Canada. The film focused on several Jewish women challenging assumptions about their place in traditional Judaism. Rabbi Goldstein won a Canadian Jewish Book Award for her first book, ReVisions: Seeing Torah Through a Feminist Lens. Her fourth book, New Jewish Feminism: Probing the Past, Forging the Future, was a finalist for a National Jewish Book Award.

Named ORT Woman of the Year in 2001, Rabbi Goldstein has also received a YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction Award and the Covenant Award for Exceptional Jewish Educators. In 2008, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from HUC-JIR.

David Johnston
Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa

David Johnston served as Governor General of Canada from 2010 to 2017. During his mandate, he established the Rideau Hall Foundation (RHF), a registered charity that supports and amplifies the traditional outreach activities of the Office of the Governor General to connect, honour and inspire Canadians.

Today, Johnston is chair of the RHF’s board of directors and an executive advisor at Deloitte. Prior to his installation as governor general, Johnston was a professor of law for more than 45 years and served as president of the University of Waterloo, principal of McGill University and was the first non-U.S. citizen to chair Harvard University’s Board of Overseers. He was also president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and of the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec.

Johnston was the founding chair of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy and chaired the federal government’s Information Highway Advisory Council. He has been a member or chair of many provincial and federal task forces and committees and has served on the boards of numerous public companies.

He is an honours graduate of Harvard, Cambridge and Queen’s universities and while an undergraduate at Harvard was twice selected to the all-American hockey team and subsequently inducted into the Harvard Athletic Hall of Fame. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, Sharon, for 53 years and they have five daughters and 14 grandchildren.

Alanis Obomsawin
Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa

Alanis Obomsawin, a member of the Abenaki Nation, launched her career in 1960, working as a professional singer in New York City. In 1967, two producers with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) invited Obomsawin to act as a consultant on a film about Indigenous people, an experience that led her to shift her creative direction.

Today, Obomsawin is one of Canada’s foremost documentary filmmakers, with 50 NFB-supported films to her credit. Driven by a desire to give Indigenous communities a voice, she has explored in depth their lives and concerns, including homelessness, teen suicide, fishing rights and equitable funding for child and family services on reserves.

Obomsawin has directed four films on the Oka Crisis of 1990, including Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), which won 18 international awards. Her more recent films include The People of the Kattawapiskak River (2012), which exposes the housing crisis facing the Cree of James Bay. The film was named best social/political documentary at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards.

Obomsawin is an officer of the Order of Canada. She was inducted into the Playback Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame in 2010, and also honoured during the Birks Diamond Tribute to the Year’s Women in Film event at TIFF in 2013. The following year, she received the humanitarian award for exceptional contributions to community and public service from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.

Ratna Omidvar
Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa

Ratna Omidvar was appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016. An independent representative of Ontario, she holds the leadership position of scroll manager within the Independent Senators Group. Senator Omidvar is co-chair of the Global Future Council on Migration, hosted by the World Economic Forum, and is a councillor on the World Refugee Council. Also a director at the Environics Institute and Samara Canada, she is a former chair of Lifeline Syria and a chair emerita of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

Senator Omidvar is the founding executive director of the Global Diversity Exchange (GDX) in the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. A think-and-do tank, GDX leads research and contributes to policies on diversity, migration and inclusion. Senator Omidvar currently serves the organization as a distinguished visiting professor.

An appointee to the Order of Ontario and a member of the Order of Canada, Senator Omidvar has also received the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for her work to advance German-Canadian relations. The book she co-authored, Flight and Freedom: Stories of Escape to Canada, was named the best book of 2015 by Open Book Toronto and was included in the Toronto Star’s list of the top five good reads from Word on the Street Toronto.

Brian Porter
Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa

Brian Porter earned a bachelor of commerce at Dalhousie University before starting his career at Scotiabank in 1981. During the next three decades, he progressed through increasingly senior positions within the organization, including executive roles in the areas of global banking and markets, risk, treasury and international banking. In 2012, Porter was appointed president of Scotiabank, and one year later, he took on the role of chief executive officer.

He also contributes his time and expertise to many industry, educational, community, health and arts organizations. He is a board member of the Business Council of Canada, the Council of the Americas and the Washington-based Institute of International Finance, for which he also serves as vice-chairman and treasurer.

The chair of the United Way of Greater Toronto’s 2018 fundraising campaign, Porter also serves as chair of the board of trustees for the University Health Network, the largest health-care and medical research organization in North America. A recipient of an honorary doctorate from Dalhousie University, Porter is married and has three grown children.

Michael Tulloch
Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa

Michael Tulloch is the first judge of African-Canadian decent to be appointed to an Appellate court in Canada. He was born in Jamaica and came to Canada at the age of nine years old. He later attended and graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, after which he served as an assistant crown attorney in Peel and Toronto until 1995, when he entered private practice.

In 2003, Justice Tulloch was appointed to the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario, and in 2012, he was elevated to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Throughout his life and career, Justice Tulloch has dedicated himself to community and public service, thereby positively contributing to the enhancement of the fabric of Canadian society. Justice Tulloch is a strong believer in the value of education. He is a founding member and patron of the Second Chance Scholarship Foundation, as well, he is a long-time friend of Ryerson University, where he is a distinguished fellow and also a member of the School of Criminology Advisory Board.

In 2016, Justice Tulloch was asked by the Ontario government to independently review the Civilian Oversight Bodies overseeing police in Ontario. His recommendations are now legislated in the Safer Ontario Act, which was passed earlier this year.

Today, Justice Tulloch is leading another independent review. This time, he is reviewing the police practice of street checks or “carding” and Ontario’s recent regulation regulating the practice. He is expected to submit his final report in November 2018. The recipient of numerous honours, including the Canadian Bar Association Distinguished Service Award, Justice Tulloch was recently included in Canadian Lawyer magazine’s 2017 list of the top 25 most influential people in the justice system and the legal profession.