Arriving in Quebec in January 1985 came as a shock to Moncef. Wearing a jacket and dress shoes, he headed out of the airport in Quebec toward a college in Cap-Rouge to find it -200C outside. It was the first taste of the Canadian climate and snow for the young man born in 1964 in Sfax, Tunisia. After studying for a semester at CEGEP, he enrolled in a forest sciences program at Université Laval. After entering a national competition, the young Tunisian had won a bursary to complete a bachelor’s degree in this field, about which he knew nothing at the time. Demonstrating his resilience and tenacity, he soon adapted to the harsh Canadian winter, and after obtaining his professional credentials as a forest engineer, he was offered a job in Amos, Abitibi. Discovering Canada’s vast spaces would become an integral part of his new life in the country. His first trip to Amos would prove to be an adventure. During the long drive, he thought he had lost his way in the middle of the boreal forest. Once he got to Amos, Moncef’s job was to manage relations between forestry companies and local users of the land. “I received a very warm welcome and felt at home,” he says. The combination of winter sports, fishing and, most importantly, the openness, support and camaraderie shown by his fellow residents meant that he enjoyed an unparalleled quality of life, he explains. The new Canadian citizen also notes with pride that his three children were born in the small Quebec city. At present, his son Ismaël, a former member of Quebec’s competitive freestyle snowboarding team, is studying electrical engineering. Meanwhile, his youngest daughter Amilia is pursuing a degree in communications at Université Laval, while his eldest daughter Sara is studying to be a sommelier.
He began a new professional life in 2001 when he became an Indigenous affairs advisor with the government of Quebec. His job is seeking solutions that better align land management and development with the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples. “My role is to bring different sides together by taking care to understand communities’ needs through being an open-minded and empathetic listener. Indigenous peoples have a long history of strained relations with governments. They have been marginalized and put on reservations. The geographical isolation of certain Indigenous communities is well-known, and their possibilities for economic development are limited,” he says. Through his dialogue with Indigenous organizations, Moncef has found that Indigenous peoples and their leaders want the same opportunity as other citizens to succeed in society while having their rights and cultures respected. The integration of immigrants into civic life is another issue close to his heart. “Being respectful and open to other cultures is essential, and the contributions of immigrants to society must be considered over many generations,” he remarks. For this warm-hearted man dedicated to building bridges between people, being a proud Canadian means having a shared responsibility for maintaining democracy and peace around the world. He offers the following message to young people: “Get involved in projects, sports and volunteer work—and don’t give up on your dreams.”