Salma Ataullahjan was born in Mardan, Pakistan, in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa near the Afghan border (previously known as North-West Frontier Province.) Daughter of Saranjam Khan, a former Pakistani Senator and Secretary-General, and Grandniece of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (“Bacha Khan”), leader of a non-violent Muslim movement for independence from British rule, Salma attributes her political aspirations to the environment in which she grew up.
She arrived in Canada in the early 1980s, settling in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) with her husband Saleem. They have two daughters Anushka, BA, MA, PhD and Shaanzeh, BA, JD.
After more than 35 years in the GTA, Senator Ataullahjan has made a lasting impression in the community because of her commitment and dedication to others. A natural consensus builder, she has been actively involved in several organizations, notably the Citizens Foundation, Canadian Pashtun Cultural Association, and South Asian Regional Council of Canada. She was appointed to the Senate of Canada in 2010, as a representative for the province of Ontario.
In the Senate, she is currently the Chair of the Standing Committee on Human Rights and a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. She has served as a member of the following Senate Standing Committees:
- Aboriginal Peoples
- Agriculture and Forestry
- Banking, Trade and Commerce
- National Finance
Senator Ataullahjan is committed to issues affecting women, youth and the world’s most vulnerable. In her work with the Human Rights Committee, she has championed numerous studies on topics such as women’s engagement in Afghanistan, cyberbullying of children under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, working conditions of garment workers in developing countries and the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Canada. Furthermore, she advocated for the Committee to study the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, an issue for which she has been a vocal leader in the Senate for many years.
In her legislative work, Senator Ataullahjan has tabled bills in the Senate seeking the prohibition of investment in cluster munitions and the criminalization of human organ trafficking.
The Senator is currently the Vice-President of the Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an international organization of parliaments that holds the objective of fostering contacts, coordination and the exchange of experience among parliamentarians from 179 countries. In her position, she played a critical role in a landmark resolution on maternal, newborn and child health, the first time a resolution of its kind was adopted by the IPU. Because of this, she was named the IPU’s Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.
The Senator is also a member of the IPU’s Group of the Twelve Plus and a member of the Committee of Women Parliamentarians for which she was elected to the Executive Committee. Until the fall of 2014, she served on the Executive Committee of the IPU, as well as Chair of their Sub-Committee on Finance. She currently serves on the Bureau of Women Parliamentarians and was elected as President of the IPU Middle East Committee in 2017.
Additionally, Senator Ataullahjan has been an active member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) for a number of years. She served as an elected member of the Executive of the CPA and formed part of the CPA delegation that attended Pakistan in 2017.
Senator Ataullahjan also participates in developing Canadian diplomatic ties with the international community on a formal and informal basis via Parliamentary Friendship Groups. She is an active member of numerous Parliamentary Friendship Groups.
As the first Canadian Senator of Pakistani origin, Senator Ataullahjan is active in Canada-Pakistan community relations and has traveled coast to coast meeting with members of the Canadian-Pakistan community. She also remains highly engaged with Pakistan.
The Senator is a former member of the executive boards of the Citizens Foundation (building schools for poor children in Pakistan), the South Asian Regional Council of Canada, and the Society of Pakistani Canadian Professionals and Academics.
In 2013, she hosted a reception along with the End of Polio Campaign in celebration of Canada’s leadership toward the End of Polio. At the reception, Minister Fantino announced that the Government would allocate 20 million dollars to fight Polio in Pakistan. In 2014, the Senator joined Minister Uppal in meeting with Polio health workers and UNICEF in Lahore, Pakistan.
In the wake of the 2011 flooding, Canadians raised 40 million dollars for flood relief in Pakistan. Senator Ataullahjan, in a conversation with the Prime Minister, asked if the Government would match the 40 million dollars already raised. As a result of this effort, Pakistan received 80 million dollars from Canada to assist with flood relief. The Senator has also traveled to both the Nowshera and Charsadda where she met with and provided financial assistance to women in the camps and has spent time connecting with women in the Mardan and Swabi camps.
In her spare time, Senator Ataullahjan values spending time with her family and friends, traveling and painting. She is a member of the Senate Artwork Advisory Council, and her artwork is displayed throughout the Greater Toronto region.