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12th annual RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards: Chocolatier, Transplant actor and mayor are among this year’s winners


Announcing the RBC Top 25, Entrepreneur Award, Youth Award and
Settlement Agency Award Winners of 2020

TORONTO, September 15, 2020 - Tareq Hadhad, founder of Peace by Chocolate; Hamza Haq actor on the hit show Transplant and Michael Hurley, Mayor of Burnaby, B.C., have something in common — they have been named among the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award winners of 2020, along with other amazing community activists, entrepreneurs and academics from coast to coast. Presented by Canadian Immigrant magazine and sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada, this is the 12th anniversary of the only national awards program that celebrates the inspiring achievements of Canadian immigrants.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown the world that we are all interconnected despite race, culture or country of origin. During these challenging times, these prestigious national awards remain a symbol for diversity, resilience and the importance of coming together as Canadians. With the inclusion of this year’s 25 winners, a total of 300 newcomers have been honoured for their incredible contributions and achievements in Canada.

“What an amazing year for the awards! We’ve had a record number of votes cast totalling more than 72,000 — which is a true testament to the important contributions immigrants make to this great nation of ours, and the need for us all to celebrate positive stories in these challenging times,” says Sanjay Agnihotri, Director, Canadian Immigrant magazine.

The program is proudly supported by title sponsor Royal Bank of Canada. In addition, of the Top 25 winners, two have been selected for special recognition, the Entrepreneur Award and the Youth Award.

Tareq Hadhad, is the fifth annual recipient of the RBC Entrepreneur Award, which recognizes excellence in entrepreneurship. From Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Hadhad is the Founder and CEO of Peace By Chocolate, spreading peace, acceptance, resilience and love through a wide offering of sweets and treats.

Maryam Yaqoob, is the fourth annual RBC Youth Award winner. From Calgary, Alberta, she is currently a Doctor of Medicine student, who mentors refugee youth, co-founded the Calgary STEM Cell Chapter and volunteers to make Canada a better place.

Settlement Agency Award
The Settlement Agency Award was introduced in 2018 to recognize the amazing work immigrant settlement agencies are doing to help newcomers integrate and succeed in Canada. This year, too, we invited nominations from across the country and the nominated agencies were posted for an online voting process. After the votes were tabulated, one agency has been selected as the Settlement Agency Award winner for 2020. The winner is The Neighborhood Organization (TNO). Read more about the winner on the Canadian Immigrant website.

“RBC is proud to celebrate and support newcomers across Canada as they establish themselves and strengthen the fabric of our communities,” says Amit Brahme, Senior Director, Newcomer Segment. “By profiling such a diverse and accomplished group of winners, the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards continues to showcase the talent, passion, and resiliency that newcomers bring to the country and the inspiration we can all draw from their stories.”

Hundreds of nominations were received, from which 75 finalists were shortlisted by a diverse judging panel of past winners. The 25 winners were chosen based on a combination of nationwide online voting and judge’s scores.

This year, in honour of the RBC Top 25 winners, RBC has donated $50,000 to Windmill Microlending, a charity that helps internationally trained newcomers pay for the Canadian credentials they need. The donation will specifically support re-accreditation of 50 internationally trained immigrants in the healthcare profession who are helping on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19.

The RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award winners will receive a commemorative plaque and ceremonial gift package. Winners will also be featured online at and in the September print edition of Canadian Immigrant magazine. The awards program is supported by the Toronto Star, Metro, Omni, City TV and Sing Tao.

The RBC Top 25
The RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award winners of 2020 are listed in alphabetical order below and include current city residence and home country in parentheses. Full biographies are available on the Canadian Immigrant website.

The RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award winners of 2020:

Ajibola (Jibs) Abitoyen (Fort Saskatchewan A.B./Nigeria) is a councillor for the City of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. She is also the founder of Divineity Fashion, which helps bring business to women and families in Nigeria. A portion of the funds from her fashion line go to an
organization helping survivors of domestic abuse.

Shahab Anari (Toronto/Iran) is the co-founder of North Star Success, a personal branding agency helping coaches and consultants. He also holds regular free seminars and webinars on topics of personal and professional development and is a mentor with Futurpreneur Canada.

Samer Bishay (Markham, ON/Egypt) is the President and CEO of Iristel & Ice Wireless, Canada’s leading provider of wireless and wireline IP services and is an Honorary Colonel of 34 Signal Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Serena Chan (Toronto/Hong Kong) is a partner in IBM Financial Services sector in IBM Global Business Services. Holding 16 professional certifications, she is a four-time IBM Redbook author and recently was named one of Canada’s Top 50 women in FinTech.

Kanwar Dhanjal (Brampton/India) is CEO of Just Instruments Inc. specialize in instruments calibration, former president of the Indo Canada Chamber of Commerce and current Director of Brampton Board of Trade.

Sharmarke Dubow (Victoria, B.C./Somalia) is a city councillor in Victoria, B.C. He’s passed motions to make public transit free, started a renters advisory committee, fought for the addition of affordable housing in Victoria, and initiated reconciliation dialogues between Indigenous and
newcomer community members among many other achievements.

Isaac Garcia-Sitton (Toronto/Spain) is the inaugural Executive Director, International Student Enrolment, Education & Inclusion at Ryerson University and is currently working on his Ph.D. in Education: Language, Culture and Teaching at York University.

Virginia Guiang-Santoro (Winnipeg & Oakville/Philipines), now retired, is the founder of the Filipino Domestic Workers Association of Manitoba (FIDWAM), working to protect the rights of live-in caregivers in Manitoba.

Tareq Hadhad (Antigonish, N.S./Syria) is the founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate, professional speaker and founder of the Peace on Earth Society charity, funded by a percentage of all chocolate sales, to fund peace-building initiatives across Canada and beyond.

Basavaraj Halli (Ottawa/India) is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of GoFor Industries Inc, providing last-minute, last-mile delivery services to the construction industry, having recently expanded into 60 major urban markets in Canada and the U.S.A.

Hamza Haq (Ottawa/Pakistan) is an actor, currently staring as Bashir 'Bash' Hamed on the CTV medical drama Transplant. With a bachelor of arts in film studies and a minor in law from Carleton University, his acting credits also include Indian Detective, This Life, Quantico and the
Art of More.

Mike Hurley (Burnaby, B.C./Ireland) is the Mayor of Burnaby B.C., former lieutenant of the Burnaby Fire Department and former president of the Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund. He also has received Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal and the Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Shanthi Johnson, Ph.D. (Edmonton/India) is a professor and dean of the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health and a leader in the fields of health promotion and healthy aging. She has dedicated her research career to falls prevention in seniors, and social isolation especially among immigrant and refugee seniors.

Meryam Joobeur (Montreal/Tunisia) is a graduate of the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema and is a writer and director. Her film Brotherhood received 75 prizes at 150 festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar in 2020.

Conny Lo (Toronto/Hong Kong) is the Associate Director at SickKids Foundation, charged with leading the fundraising and promoting global child health in the Chinese community. She has raised almost $200,000 in her son’s memory called the Baby Caden Koo Memorial Fund.

Jakub Martinec, Ph.D. (St. John’s, N.L./Czech Republic) is the Director of Choral Activities at Memorial University of Newfoundland, founding Artistic Director of the Atlantic Boychoir and Artistic Director and conductor of the National Boychoir of Canada having performed all over the world.

Adeola Olubamiji, Ph.D. (Toronto/Nigeria) is a scientist who specializes in metal and plastic additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) and founder of STEMHub Foundation, a non-profit organization promoting engagement of minorities and females in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

Fariba Pacheleh (Vancouver/Iran) is the Director of Project Management Office for the BC Liquor Distribution Branch and chair of BCIT School of Computing PAC (Program Advisory Committee), providing strategic advice and assistance to BCIT.

Bruce Poon Tip (Toronto/Trinidad) is a bestselling author and founder of G Adventures, an award-winning small group adventure travel company, pioneer of community tourism, and is the world's largest small group adventure travel company.

Dr. Henry Reis (Vancouver/Brazil) is the CEO and owner of Integra Eyecare Centre an innovation hub. He is also the co-founder and CEO of OSDx, having developed the first artificial intelligence corneal imaging device in the world.

Arlene Ruiz (Saskatoon/Philippines) is the owner of Alexene Immigration & Employment Services Inc., a licensed immigration consultant and recruiter. She contributes to ANCOP (Answering the Cry of the Poor), Make a Wish Foundation and the Children’s Wish Foundation.

Krishana Sankar, Ph.D. (Toronto/Guyana) is most recently the communications lead and operational strategist with COVID-19 Resources Canada, and founder of GradWriteSlack. She is an award-winning and published Doctoral Fellow in the faculty of medicine looking to better understand and improve a treatment for type 1 diabetes.

Harsh Thakkar (Surrey, B.C./India) is the Manager of social enterprise DIVERSEcity Interpretation and Translation Services, leading a team of 300+ interpreters and translators to promote cross-cultural communication in B.C. He is also an advocate for international students and has volunteered with Canadian Cancer Society.

Halia Valladares Montemayor (Vancouver/Mexico) is a faculty member at Thompson Rivers University managing partner at Global Trading & DS, Inc., and most recently she has joined the Simon Fraser University as a professor.

Maryam Yaqoob (Calgary/Iraq) is a Doctor of Medicine student and a clerk at the Cumming School of Medicine. During her undergraduate degree in cellular and molecular biology, she received a total of 15 scholarships as well as being on the Dean’s and President’s Honour Roll. She is the co-founder of the Calgary STEM Cell chapter, a mentor for other refugee youth, and is this year’s RBC Youth Award winner.

About Canadian Immigrant
Attracting more than 400,000 readers each month and over 100,000 visitors a month online, Canadian Immigrant is a national multimedia platform to help immigrants succeed in Canada, with content, resources and events on careers, education and settlement. Canadian Immigrant is the producer of the cross-country Career, Education and Settlement Immigrant Fairs. Canadian Immigrant is a division of Metroland Media Group, a dynamic media company with more than 100 community and daily newspapers in print and online, as well as innovative websites including,, and

About RBC
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For more information, contact:

Canadian Immigrant
Laura Jackman, 647-212-0549,

Arjun Lombardi-Singh, 647-531-4045,