Mohamad Fakih came to Canada two decades ago from Lebanon with $1,200. Now, he’s a food mogul and philanthropist, with money to share.
He spent last week waiting for someone to set up a fundraiser to support the families of those killed aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in Iran.
“If it doesn’t happen, I’ll have to do something,” he told himself. And so, on Monday, he did. His national campaign, dubbed Canada Strong, aims to raise $1.5-million for families of the 57 Canadian victims killed Jan. 8 after a missile shot down the Boeing 737 passenger plane near Tehran.
Canadians have been slow to raise money for the victims’ families, in part because there has not been a cohesive campaign with a national profile. Sanctions on Iran also stymied early GoFundMe campaigns, with the organization quashing those efforts temporarily because they referenced the Middle Eastern country.
Mr. Fakih donated $30,000 himself Monday to Canada Strong and pledged to cover the fundraiser’s expenses. “The number of victims here is huge,” Mr. Fakih said. “We were caught in the crossfire between two countries.”
Mr. Fakih, prior to launching Canada Strong, noticed GoFundMe efforts out of Edmonton were struggling. Canadians, he said, may have waited because the crash was complicated by military and political action between Iran and the United States.
“Maybe because it happened so far [away],” said Mr. Fakih, who founded Paramount Fine Foods. “I’m hoping that’s the reason. Or because it is a highly complicated political issue that people are afraid to get involved in.
“I do have a lot of faith in this country and I hope it is not because of any other reason – that there’s a difference for the way we donate to [Canadians from] different backgrounds."
Canada Strong raised about $100,000 in its first four hours, he said.
By way of comparison, it took four days for one GoFundMe project in Edmonton to raise $60,000, and that includes a $20,000 donation from the family that controls West Edmonton Mall. Shayesteh Majdnia launched this effort and said GoFundMe nixed it twice, just as momentum was building, because it referenced Iran.
“It was a nightmare for me,” Ms. Majdnia said.
Of the 176 passengers on the plane, 138 were headed ultimately to Canada. The county’s academic community was hit hard; scores of the passengers were university students. Twenty-seven victims called Edmonton home, and 13 of those had ties to the University of Alberta.
The university responded by establishing The Mojgan Daneshmand, Pedram Mousavi and Victims of Flight PS752 Memorial Fund. The two were professors, and the others recognized are students or alumni. The university intends to use the money to fund a graduate student scholarship and, should enough cash flow in, create an endowment.
Ms. Majdnia said the money raised through her GoFundMe project will be directed toward the university’s memorial fund. “These precious 13 lives, they were all professional, educated people. And to keep their legacy [alive], there is no better way than to create a scholarship under their name," she said.
The Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton launched a separate GoFundMe fundraiser four days ago, which has collected roughly $11,600. It intends to give money to support the victims’ families, as well as to the university fund.
By way of comparison, the main GoFundMe campaign set up to support those with ties to the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in 2018 raised more $15.1-million. Sixteen people, mostly young men, were killed after a transport trailer collided with the hockey team’s bus. Another 13 were injured.
The initial GoFundMe efforts after the Flight 752 disaster were removed as the crowdfunding platform examined their credibility, given the references to Iran, according to company spokeswoman Caitlin Stanley. U.S. or Canadian sanctions against Iran occasionally prohibit the company from supporting campaigns, she said in a statement.
“Occasionally in the wake of crises like the tragic plane crash, we require additional information from campaign organizers to ensure funds go to the right place,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Fakih, his Fakih Foundation and the New East Family Foundation donated a total of $60,000 at Canada Strong’s launch, according to a statement issued Monday. Donations are to go to the families via the Toronto Community Foundation and are eligible for a tax receipt. Dentons Canada LLP, a global law firm with offices across Canada, is providing free legal services.
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