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Taleeb Noormohamed ’98, Canadian Member of Parliament, talks Princeton, Canada, and global affairs

<h6>Courtesy of the Office of MP Taleeb Noormohamed</h6>
Courtesy of the Office of MP Taleeb Noormohamed

Taleeb Noormohamed ’98 is a Canadian Member of Parliament representing Granville, Vancouver. He currently sits as a member on the Canadian Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

The Daily Princetonian sat down with Noormohamed for a conversation on his time at Princeton, stopping misinformation, and his role in the Canadian Parliament.

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This interview has been edited for clarity and concision. 

The Daily Princetonian: So, just take me back a bit. Why did you come to Princeton? 

Taleeb Noormohamed: Growing up as a child of immigrants, my parents would always say go get the best education possible. They’d given up everything to move to Canada and they really wanted to be sure we got the best possible everything. Really their whole investment of time, effort, and not a whole lot of money, because we didn’t have any, was for me and my sister when it came time to go to university. They said whatever it takes, however, you do it, you have to go to whatever the best school is you can go to. I never thought I would get into Princeton. And [when] I got the letter that said “yes,” instantly I was ready to go. It just felt like the place I needed to go. 

DP: So how do you feel coming back to speak to the other Canadians who are at Princeton now? 

TN: I feel great, because there weren’t a lot of Canadians when I was here. So I think [Canadians] have a double responsibility. I think on one hand, we have a real chance to share with people what Canada is really all about. It’s not igloos. [We can] talk about Canada in a very reasonable way but I think it's also a good chance for Canadians to appreciate the differences between the United States and Canada living here. 

When it comes to Princeton in particular, I think the one thing about this place that really struck me was the cosmopolitan ethic that you get being here the idea that you are a citizen of the world, and that you have an obligation through your experience here to take the privilege that you gained while you were here and do something meaningful with it. And so there’s this real sense of connectedness to the idea that hopefully some of these students will come back to Canada, right? A lot of us don’t. Some of us will come back to Canada and bring with us the richness of this experience and hopefully help to build Canada. 

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DP: You also went to Oxford and then you went to Harvard. Do you think that having that wide perspective, being outside Canada for your education, gave you a unique perspective in terms of governance and politics?

TN: I think so because on one hand, being able to see your own country from the outside is very important. Being distant from your home country is very different. I think you can be deeply Canadian but be elsewhere because you maintain those ties to Canada. But it is important to see Canada, how others see us, and understand that we have created a global perception of Canada that I think is very positive. It’s easy to get comfortable in what we think Canada is, and I think what the last two years have shown us is that despite the best efforts of our government, there are things that we still need to fix. But we have to be prepared to do some of the heavy lifting in areas that are deeply uncomfortable investing into making sure that we are stopping some of this spread of online hate and the spread of this ideologically motivated violent extremism. We think of ourselves as being immune from that and we are not. 

DP: What would you say would be something that the Princeton Canadians can do to help cultivate that sense of wanting to help others and wanting to combat this hatred that you’ve been talking about? 

TN: I would encourage everyone that is Canadian that has had the opportunity and the privilege of getting an education here to find their way back home. I think it is important to spend time helping to strengthen Canada, because Canada has [the] opportunity unlike anywhere else. We’re leaning heavily into investments in the economy of the future and in innovation. This is where we tie back to Princeton and think about making the world a better place through service, [through] whatever sort of form that service looks like. It’s all an opportunity and so I think bringing that global perspective back home is going to be crucial in working with folks who are already in Canada.

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DP:  So with that, why do you think Canadians don’t want to go back home?

TN: There has historically been an income disparity. You graduate from a place like Princeton, or if you graduate from McGill, you can come to New York, and you can make a whack load more money than you can make in Toronto or Vancouver. When you come to Canada, remember what you’re getting: high quality health care and you’re getting child care. That perception that you can’t make as much money in Canada, there are elements of that, but it is changing as a direct result of people seeing the value in Canada. When some of the most xenophobic policies of the Trump administration came into effect, what that did for Canada is make us the option that people had to take, and now it’s the option that they want to take. Now they’re staying in Canada, and building in Canada, and that is a really strong signal of what economic growth in Canada will look like. And why I think graduates in the next generation won’t have to make that choice. 

DP: I know you’re also on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. Can you tell me a little bit about that? 

TN: I’ve been on the job since November. It’s a great privilege to be on that committee. We have a study going on [with] the impact of Russian disinformation, and the Russian threat to Canada. That’s a very real problem that we are dealing with. I spend a lot of my time right now thinking about disinformation because what Jan. 6 should have taught Canada is how very fragile our pluralistic society [is and] how very fragile our democratic institutions can be. There is a very real obligation that those of us who are elected to office in Canada and I would argue also in the United States, to carry ourselves in a way that respects and values those democratic institutions— if we think we can survive that without having a plan to counterbalance [it], we are wrong. This is not me speaking as a liberal. This is me speaking as a Canadian. In Canada sometimes, [we’ve] gotten away with the fact that because we're not the United States. If we have learned anything over the last couple of years, particularly is that we do need to be, we need to be much more thoughtful and much more careful in how we build.

DP: What do you think that role is for students to help stop misinformation from spreading?  

TN: Students have the greatest privilege which is access to incredible information, incredible, rational, thoughtful information, particularly here where you can have a debate between people who live on different sides of an issue, right? I think that is the greatest skill that students here and elsewhere should be bringing to the conversation, which is that [what] comes with great knowledge [is] great responsibility. It’s not okay to be quiet and to be silent when you see patently false things flying around. We have an obligation with this education, to play a role in being voices of reason. And I think right now on campus that should start. It should start here where we start to see othering where we start to see people pushing things that cause you know the foundations of hate and extreme views to start to form. 

DP: I know that you are going to speak about Ukraine and disinformation at the event. What as students, in terms of using social media for good, do you think that we should do about these issues? 

TN: I think social media can also play a very positive role. Right? And I think where it plays a positive role is in communicating, [and] reaching to people that may not have the facts. I think reporting misinformation immediately is critical. Making sure that we are communicating clearly, and calmly, what is actually happening on the ground, and the need for us to speak out, about unlawful action by the Russian government, which is actively engaging in war crimes. 

I’m really glad to see Canada leading in so many ways on Ukraine. If we don’t find a way to send a very clear message to authoritarian regimes across the world, that we are not going to tolerate this, it gives license to them not just to do some things we talked about before. I think it has given new life to conversations around making sure that we don't forget Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, the Rohingya, Sahel and in other parts of the world, and that these crises are going to multiply, you know, whether it is through climate change, whether it is through you know, economic disparity, and that if there is one thing that Ukraine should teach us, it is that no one is immune, and that we need to invest heavily in building social capital and intellectual capital in dealing with these things.

Sidney Singer is an Assistant News Editor from Nova Scotia, Canada, who has covered a variety of news on and around campus. She can be reached at sidneysinger@princeton.edu, on Twitter @sidneylsinger, or on Instagram @sidneysinger. 

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