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‘I will always be the man who was stuck at the airport’: Refugee aims to use experience to help others




The transition from living in an airport to freedom in a new country has not been as easy as expected for Syrian refugee Hassan Al-Kontar, who arrived in his new home in Whistler, B.C., a little more than a month ago.

But amid the challenges of a new life, a purpose is taking shape: He wants to help people who are trapped in circumstances similar to his.

“I will always be the man who was stuck at the airport — that’s the reality, that’s what the rest of my life is, so better to use it to help others,” Al-Kontar said.   

Al-Kontar spent seven months living in limbo in the transit area of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, followed by two months in an immigration detention centre after being deported from the United Arab Emirates when his work visa expired 

After a group of Whistler residents and the B.C. Muslim Association lobbied on his behalf and sponsored his move to Canada, Al-Kontar landed in Vancouver at the end of November.

But soon after he arrived in Whistler he realized he needed to find a new purpose.

“When I was back at the airport, I knew what I was looking for: to be safe, to be legal, to have a place where I can call home,” Al-Kontar told Laura Lynch, guest host of CBC’s The Early Edition.

“I thought Canada was the end of the story.”

Instead, it’s proven to be a “new beginning” with equally new challenges, Al-Kontar said.

“I still feel the pressure a little bit,” he said.

“I’m still having an amazing time here in Whistler and in Canada in general — people are amazing but [the challenges are] something personal.”

Hassan Al Kontar arrives in Vancouver International Airport on Nov. 26, 2018. (Ben Nelms/Canadian Press)

‘I feel that responsibility’

Al-Kontar, who experienced snow for the first time in Whistler, was originally planning to work at a hotel in the resort town, but now hopes to use his experience as a stranded refugee to help others in a similar position.

“I receive a lot of messages from other people all around the world asking for help,” he said.

“I’m still an individual at the end of the day who doesn’t know what to do exactly, but I feel that responsibility.”

Al-Kontar said his story is both a personal one and a greater reflection of the reality of war in Syria.

He was recently in Toronto, giving a talk to students about his experiences and answering “deeper questions” about the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis.

He said he hopes to continue raising awareness about the ongoing conflict and to advocate for other refugees.

“Things are not that clear that in my mind but I have a lot [to do] on my list,” Al-Kontar said.

The transition from living in an airport for months on end to normal life has not been as easy as expected for Syrian refugee Hassan Al-Kontar, who arrived in his new home in Whistler, B.C. just over a month ago. 9:00


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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa




With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV




A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence




Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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