Attendees of the Canmore Canada Day parade may have noticed decidedly fewer miniature planes and vintage cars piloted by men wearing red fezzes in the procession this year.
The Shriners were unable to participate in the July 1 celebration as its Al Azhar Oriental Band – a musical unit separate from its pilot and vehicle corps – was denied entry by the Town of Canmore for not registering in time for the event but also over cultural appropriation concerns.
“The Town of Canmore values the considerable service and contributions of the Shriners to children’s organizations across Canada. Bands in Canmore’s parade are by invitation only,” said CAO Sally Caudill in a statement to the Outlook.
“Unfortunately, the Shriners did not register in advance for the Town’s Canada Day parade this year, so we did not know they were coming. Therefore, we were unable to notify them in advance that we would not accept their Al Azhar Oriental Band as a parade participant as it is culturally appropriative and does not fit with our community values and standards.”
The Al Azhar Shriners of Southern Alberta, headquartered in Calgary, denied a request from the Outlook to comment, but told Global News last week that the Town’s decision was a “little surprising.”
Jim Brown, Shriners of Southern Alberta potentate, said “it’s a shame” the 20-member band from Calgary could not play for children along the parade route. The group is part of Shriners International, which founded Shriners Hospitals for Children – a network of non-profit medical facilities across North America.
The group, however, has faced criticism from some for culturally appropriating the use of Arabic and Islamic imagery. All of its members wear red fezzes with a scimitar, crescent, and star as a symbol. Members of many other fraternal orders across North America are also known to wear a fez – commonly associated with the Ottoman Empire and Islam.
Bassem Hafez, a board member of the Calgary Arab Arts and Culture Society and former professor at Mount Royal University, said he believes the Town may have overstepped in its claim the group is “culturally appropriative.”
“We are in the age of cancel culture,” said Hafez. “Unfortunately, this is not the best way to progress nuanced discussions.”
Hafez, who founded the Calgary Egyptian Association in 2012, said there are many people in the community who support the Shriners for their charitable work. While he isn’t personally offended by the group wearing fezzes or nemes, historically worn by ancient Egyptian pharaohs, he acknowledges there may be others who are.
“If they’re not Ismaili or they’re not Arab or they’re not Muslim – I don’t know, I don’t care. What’s most interesting is that this looks like western guys talking to western guys about how to respect non-western culture,” he said.
Brown told Global News that discussions at local and higher levels of government would likely be had, including on the future of the band name.
Hafez suggested the Shriners engage more with communities that may find the cultural imagery it uses to be offensive but said it’s equally unfair of the Town to declare the band one way or the other.
The Shriners have participated in the Canmore Canada Day parade in previous years among various other Alberta communities. Most recently several of its factions participated in the Calgary Stampede parade.
By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jul 12, 2023