|Toronto City Councillor for Ward 39 (Scarborough—Agincourt)|
December 1, 2014
|Preceded by||Mike Del Grande|
|Member of Parliament
|Preceded by||Paul McCrossan|
|Succeeded by||Arnold Chan|
May 2, 1955
|Profession||Businessman, industrial engineer|
|Portfolio||· Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport with special emphasis on Transport and Environment (2003-2004)
· Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport (2004-2005)
· Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal (2005-2006)
Karygiannis served concurrently as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal (2005) and was previously parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport (2003-2005).
On April 1, 2014 he announced in the House of Commons that he is resigning his seat as a Member of Parliament in order to stand in the Toronto municipal election for Toronto City Councillor in Ward 39.
Karygiannis was born in Athens, Greece. Before entering politics, Karygiannis was a businessman and industrial engineer. He immigrated to Canada in 1966, and has a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Toronto. He also holds a degree of Fellowship of Business Administration from the Canadian School of Management.
Karygiannis has been involved with politics as a Liberal since the late 1980s, first in provincial politics and later as a federal MP. He ran as a candidate of the Ontario Liberal Party for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in the 1987 provincial election. He lost to David Reville of the Ontario New Democratic Party by about 1,500 votes. He was elected to the Canadian House of Commons the following year in the federal election, defeating Progressive Conservative incumbent W. Paul McCrossan by 858 votes in the newly created riding of Scarborough—Agincourt.
Karygiannis was one of the more socially conservative members of the Liberal caucus, and is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage. In June 2005, however, he strongly criticized other socially-conservative Liberals who had threatened to bring down the government on the marriage issue.
He won a landslide re-election in the 1993 federal election as the Liberals won a majority government, and has since been easily re-elected ever since. On October 14, 2008 he was re-elected for a seventh consecutive term with 57% of the popular vote in his riding.
Karygiannis was a prominent Toronto organizer for Jean Chrétien in the Liberal Party's 1990 leadership contest, and was credited with delivering considerable support to Chrétien from the city's Greek community.
In April 2004, Karygiannis brought forward a private member's motion which recognized the death of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as a genocide. The motion was approved by parliament 153 to 68, with support among Liberal backbench and opposition MPs, though Prime Minister Martin and his cabinet did not show up for the free vote and insisted that the motion is non-binding. Foreign Minister Bill Graham has defended the government's position that the event constituted a "tragedy" rather than the purposeful extermination of minority Armenians. In response to Martin's assertion that foreign policy rests with the cabinet, Karygiannis said that a clear majority of Parliament saw it differently and urged Martin to live up to his promise to give MPs real clout. The Turkish government was strongly critical of the motion and argued that Canadian MPs were rewriting history, while the Turkish Embassy suggested that relations between the two countries would be harmed as a result. Local press has also described his genocide recognition cause as one that "splits cultural communities".
Karygiannis played a prominent role in organizing Toronto-area support for victims of the December 2004 earthquake in Southeast Asia. He called for cooperation between the city's Tamil and Sinhalese communities for the relief effort in Sri Lanka, and personally travelled to Sri Lanka to witness the tsunami devastation firsthand. He was later criticized by fellow Member of Parliament David Kilgour for traveling to an area of Sri Lanka dominated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers), as the faction was proscribed as a terrorist organisation by many countries. Karygiannis defended his decision, saying that his intent was to confirm that disaster aid was reaching the region. Despite Kilgour's concerns, Karygiannis's travels did not provoke a diplomatic incident with Sri Lanka.
In September 2007, the Canadian government announced that it would recognize the country Macedonia as the "Republic of Macedonia" rather than by its previous designation as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." This decision was criticized by the government of Greece, which claims the name Macedonia as its own. Karygiannis also opposed the government's decision and indicated that the Greek-Canadian community would mobilize against it.
In February 2009, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that he would review and possibly reduce or eliminate federal funding to the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) after its president criticized Kenney's pro-Israel position in the 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza conflict. Karygiannis subsequently asked the parliamentary ethics commissioner, Mary Dawson, to investigate whether Kenney was abusing his position.
During his term of services in the 40th Parliament between November, 2008 and December, 2010, Karygiannis voted 171 times out of a possible 311 possible votes. The Globe and Mail ranked him third in the list of politicians that missed votes.
Known as a Chrétien loyalist throughout the 1990s, Karygiannis announced in 2002 that he would support Paul Martin in the next Liberal leadership contest. In making his decision, he told an interviewer that it was time for Chrétien to retire "with dignity", rather than risk a potentially divisive leadership review. When Martin became Liberal party leader on December 12, 2003, he appointed Karygiannis as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport.
Karygiannis was the National Chairman for MP Joe Volpe's campaign to lead the Liberal Party of Canada, but he resigned on July 21, 2006 over disagreements with Volpe's pro-Israeli stance on the conflict in Lebanon.
On July 26, 2006, Karygiannis said that he was considering a run for the Liberal leadership himself because he felt the other candidates were "lacking" on the issue of foreign policy. At the leadership convention, he supported Bob Rae, but then threw his support to Stéphane Dion when Rae was eliminated from the ballot.
In an interview for The Globe and Mail on September 21, 2007, Karygiannis referred to ethnic Macedonians by the word Skopjans, commonly used in Greece, but is derogatory toward Macedonians. On March 5, 2011, at a lecture at the University of Toronto titled Insight to Hellenism, Karygiannis once again used the word Skopjans to refer to ethnic Macedonians. The Macedonian Human Rights Movement International criticized the speech and requested Karygiannis's resignation.
On 22 February 2011, Jim Karygiannis joined a protest rally of the Armenian Youth Federation by the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Ottawa timed to the anniversary of the Nagorno-Karabakh separatist movement in Azerbaijan. During his four-minute speech, he called for the Azerbaijani ambassador Farid Shafiyev to be stripped of his diplomatic privileges and leave Canada. Shafiyev reacted by saying Karygiannis had "crossed the line of civility and decency and used the language of the level of street hooliganism". Later another Liberal multiculturalism critic Rob Oliphant in a telephone call to Shafiyev expressed his regret about his colleague's statement and added that Karygiannis's words did not represent the attitudes of the Liberal Party.
In August 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Committee officers complained of Jim Karygiannis using abusive language and an aggressive tone while speaking to them. Karygiannis stated that the accusations were false and part of a "smear campaign against him."
As a multiculturalism critic, Karygiannis attempted to unite 19 cultural groups in Ottawa on August 27, 2011 to discuss issues they faced. The event was boycotted by the Jewish, Chinese, Turkish, and Macedonian communities. Spokesperson for B'nai Brith Canada said the Liberal Party should consider putting forth a better representative of the party to deal with multiculralism matters, due to Karygiannis's being "divisive on some issues", instead of bringing communities together. The Council of Turkish Canadians released a statement where it explained its unwillingness to participate in the event by Karygiannis's "past attempts to promote ethnic division and intolerance against Canadians of different national origin", particularly Turks, Azeris and Macedonians.
In mid-August 2011, Karygiannis's former Conservative opponent Harry Tsai, among others, signed a collective letter on behalf of the Taiwanese Canadian Association of Toronto, requesting that Bob Rae remove Karygiannis from his multicultural critic's post. The letter cited his poor attendance of the House of Commons and bad treatment of Canada's Turkish and Macedonian community as reasons to be considered unfit. According to Tsai, Karygiannis contacted him by telephone saying he did not care about what they had written and expressing content that the authors of the letter "had been able to write in English". In his public response, Karygiannis denied making such a comment and complained that the letter was signed in part by "Turks and Macedonians, who don't like it, because I am Greek, and they have problems with Greeks." As for Tsai's discontent, Karygiannis explained it by the Conservative candidate's feelings after having got "his butt kicked" during the election.
In July 2012, Karygiannis caused a diplomatic scandal when he travelled to the South Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh on the invitation of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, which paid for the trip. Universally recognized as an integral part of Azerbaijan, including by Canada, Nagorno-Karabakh unilaterally declared independence in 1991 followed by a violent ethnic conflict claiming over 30,000 lives on both sides, causing more than 600,000 ethnic Azeris to be displaced as a result of an ethnic cleansing and resulting in the Armenian military occupation of 16% of Azerbaijan's territory. Karygiannis's mission in Nagorno-Karabakh was to observe a local presidential election, though described as unconstitutional, illegitimate and counter-productive to conflict resolution by the European Union, NATO, and specifically the OSCE, which mediates the conflict. The Azerbaijani ambassador to Canada Farid Shafiyev criticized Karygiannis for taking sides in the conflict and "pandering to radical elements within his constituency" in chase of "ethnic votes and disregarding international law." Shafiyev also pointed to Karygiannis's illegal entry in Nagorno-Karabakh, as he had not obtained a visa or a special permission from the Azerbaijani government that are required to travel there, but had instead entered through Armenia. In addition, his stay on the disputed Azerbaijani territory was paid for by the government of Armenia. In response, Karygiannis who had been aware of Azerbaijan's objections to his visit affirmed his decision and offered to be invited to Azerbaijan as an observer for the next election, which Shafiyev turned down as unlikely, saying Karygiannis would be declared persona non grata and denied any future entry in Azerbaijan. The Canadian embassy in Ankara, also accredited to Azerbaijan, issued a statement on July 19 saying Canada would not recognize the election and that it supports Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. On August 1, members of Toronto's Azeri community held a protest in front of the office of the Liberal Party, defying Karygiannis's unsanctioned visit to Nagorno-Karabakh.
In February 2013, Karygiannis was accused of using his political position to intervene to facilitate the passage of five Greek musicians across the Canadian border. He was reported to have misinformed the authorities about the purpose of their visit, stating they had intended to participate in his father's wake, when in fact they were coming to Canada to perform at a paid concert. Karygiannis did not comment other than confirming that he had intervened in the matter but "did not profit from it".
In 2014 Karygiannis was awarded The Mkhitar Gosh Medal’ from the Government of The Republic of Armenia for his substantial input in international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
In 2014 he received the ‘25 Year of Karabakh Movement’ Gold Medal by the Government of The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as the first Canadian to visit the Republic in 2012 to observe the Presidential Elections.
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