By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC
Nearly 70 years since South Asians won the right to vote in Canada, Jagmeet Singh has become the first non-white leader of one of the country’s major political parties.
Media coverage of Singh’s historic victory has ranged from admiration of the new leader’s alpha-male swagger to questions of whether he will hinder his party’s appeal at the Quebec polls. While most stories have understandably commented on the visible symbols of his Sikh faith, a few have taken an oddly suspicious tone of whether keeping a turban and beard is a gateway to misplaced loyalties — in Singh’s case that being in supporting Sikh separatists.
Ironically, the one media outlet that seemed to fumble over itself to roll out this unwelcome mat was none other than Canada’s public broadcaster, the traditionally left-leaning CBC.
In an aggressive Fox-style interview on Power & Politics, veteran journalist Terry Milewski interviewed Singh for his first appearance on the station since winning the NDP leadership. He tossed Singh a few softball questions about his leadership plans before cutting incongruently into a question that rhetorically implied a connection between Singh and the Air India bombing from three decades ago: Does Singh condemn Sikhs who venerate Talwinder Parmar, the man considered to be the architect of the bombing of Flight 182 in 1985?
The broadside seemed to take Singh by surprise. He deflected while the CBC host kept doggedly pressing him. Eventually the awkwardly un-Canadian exchange ended in a stalemate. The post-mortem discussion on social media, however, questioned the fairness of this line of inquiry.
Milewski’s cross-examination was loaded, first of all, with the assumption that Singh, a Sikh born in Canada on the cusp of the millennial generation, should be studied in the history of Talwinder Parmar, and the intricacies of an Indian separatist movement from 30 years ago. This would be on par with assuming that Tom Mulcair, the previous NDP leader, should know the history of Sinn Fein just because his father was an Irish Catholic immigrant.
But even if Singh knows his history of 1980s Sikh separatism, was he being asked to denounce the personal views of other Sikhs who venerate Parmar because Singh himself is a baptized Sikh?
Or was he being asked because there are such followers in his political base?
Either way, these questions lead to a troubling double standard when compared to CBC’s treatment of other politicians, such as the Conservative Party’s new leader Andrew Scheer. In an interview earlier this year, Scheer was asked about his views on same-sex marriage and abortion, but at no point was the devout Catholic asked to openly condemn his fellow Catholic congregants who view same-sex marriage as an abomination.
Meanwhile, other Canadian politicians with a significant following in the Sikh community have also been spared Milewski’s rough treatment. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has never been asked to condemn the portion of his Sikh base who view men like Parmar as martyrs. In the 2015 election, Trudeau benefited mightily from the Sikh vote, delivered to him by organizers from the World Sikh Organization — a group that once advocated for the creation of an independent Sikh homeland, on the heels of the Air India bombing. The WSO has also delivered for past Liberal leaders, including Jean Chretien.
Media hypocrisy, however, reaches its apex each spring in Surrey, when dozens of federal, provincial and municipal politicians, along with senior representative from the armed forces, RCMP, major banks and other federal bodies congregate at the Khalsa Day Parade on 128th Street. The event, which drew 300,000 attendees this past year, is hosted by Dasmesh Darbar, the largest Sikh temple in B.C. At this temple, a kind of Sikh version of the Yasukuni Shrine, Parmar and other Sikh separatists are lionized through posters and photo memorials.
In the years since the Air India bombing, mainstream media has leaned heavily on a false, and self-perpetuated, binary of “moderates” versus “fundamentalists” when reporting on news with a Sikh angle. This was partly the consequence of non-diverse newsrooms in the 1980s and 1990s struggling to decipher the inner-workings of a complex community with which many were unfamiliar.
So media outlets created go-to contacts, such as temple presidents and politicians, who became the default spokespeople for an entire range of issues, regardless of their familiarity on these topics. These individuals, in turn, used their privileged positions to perpetuate this divide in which “moderates” became seen as forward-looking secularists who, typically, didn’t wear turbans, while fundamentalists were orthodox in religious practice and ardent supporters of an Sikh homeland independent of India.
In the three decades since Air India, two generations of Sikhs have grown out of the shadow of the separatist turmoil. These youth tend to speak English and French better than they do Punjabi and they are politically active through social justice causes.
Singh is part of this new educated generation which continues to advocate — arguably with more passion and idealism than their parents — for redress on behalf of the 10,000-plus Sikhs systematically murdered by government supported pogroms in Delhi in 1984. Singh, and other young Canadian Sikhs, however, are equally as impassioned by other Canadian-based causes such as attaining meaningful reconciliation for this country’s Aboriginal communities and protecting the environment.
This complexity, however, becomes lost in translation for reporters like Milewski because they still insist on viewing the Sikh community through the tenuous lens of Air India and the separatist struggle that long ago withered on the vine. The community has changed but their narrative framework for reporting has not evolved.
Consequently, Singh’s social activism and even his belief in self-determination becomes recklessly conflated as support for a man accused of terrorism three decades ago. And it happens on national television, as it did on Power & Politics where CBC got caught judging a book by its cover as Milewski shamelessly tried to pin down Singh as a Sikh “fundamentalist.”
If there was any extremism in Canada that day, it was in the manner by which CBC treated the new leader of the NDP.
Singh won his party leadership and the support of the party grassroots because he is a person who embodies the modern nuances of multicultural Canada. Until CBC figures out how to articulate that, Canada’s public broadcaster will continue to foster uncomfortable exchanges that do little to bring together Canadians of all backgrounds.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional and journalist based in Vancouver. Mann is also a member of the NCM Collective and regular contributor for New Canadian Media. This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
To be the “last king” of anything means you left this world either a legend or a tragic figure. Maharajah Duleep Singh, the final monarch of the Punjab kingdom, who was forcibly separated from his family as a child, dispossessed of the Koh-i-noor diamond, converted to Christianity as a teenager, died a penniless, broken man in Paris, and is today buried in England, clearly falls into the latter category. But just as some within England’s Sikh community are seeking to exhume his remains for return to the Punjab, so are others working at rehabilitating his victim legacy.
Veteran U.K. actor and filmmaker Kavi Raz is one of these reformers. His film, The Black Prince, is a new production on the deposed monarch, who as an 11-year-old was removed from the throne and by 15 was exiled to England after his kingdom was annexed by the British in 1849. Unlike other ‘last kings’ such as Louis XVI of France and Nicholas II of Russia, Singh was spared the guillotine and firing squad, but the impressionable boy king would live out his life cut off from his family, culture, and homeland, remaining forever hidden away, if not lost, from his people.
Raz’s biopic sets course to rescue Duleep Singh from the forgotten recesses of English and Indian history. For the writer-director and his fellow producers, The Black Prince is clearly a passion project; the period piece is scripted in a mix of English and Punjabi, showcases an international cast, and features detail-oriented sets of Victorian England.
The film is not song-and-dance Bollywood, nor does it fall into the Punjabi-language genre which is bloated these days with slapstick comedies. Like the recent Oscar nominated Lion, The Black Prince is part of a new wave of film and television content capable of generating box office revenue domestically and internationally. In Canada, there are over one million Punjabi speaking South Asians who provide a niche target for the film.
Raz knows his target demographic well—he is originally from the Punjab region—and has crafted a story to win the hearts and minds of this audience. Unfortunately, this comes at an artistic cost, as The Black Prince seems more like a mission than a movie at times. Raz presses hard to recast Duleep Singh as a freedom fighter and a devotee of the Sikh faith, selectively omitting facts to make this case. The oversimplification of Duleep Singh’s re-initiation into the Sikh faith is one example of the film’s rolling-pin approach to the maharajah’s story (more on this pivot point below).
This heavy-handedness flattens characters throughout the movie, whether they be villainous English officers or the maharajah’s wives. Raz’s Duleep Singh is a stripped-down joyless version of an ex-sovereign, who was known to have thoroughly appreciated the velvet trappings of aristocratic life. We also see very little of a maharajah who took considerable pride in being a sportsman, playwright, and musician.
This ‘Black Prince’ who is constantly in a black mood is played by the eminent Punjabi musician Satinder Sartaaj who is forced to brood through his lines and awkward silences that ask too much of his acting skills. When he is not weighed down by a gnawing sense of displacement—the maharajah was, technically speaking, England’s first Sikh immigrant—he suffers from an identity crisis. That only intensifies when he finally reunites with his mother, Rani Jindan, superbly acted by Shabana Azmi.
These repetitive scenes of inner anguish neither advance the story nor reveal the complexity of a maharajah who, as a blue-blooded aristocrat, may have felt as much kinship with members of Europe’s ruling classes as with the average Punjabi peasant or Sikh devotee. The use of a third-person narrator would have relieved the maharajah from having to make banal political statements every other scene. Alternatively, Raz could have shot the film as a historical docu-drama interspersed with interviews to maximise his control over the narrative.
Eventually the maharajah’s contrived emotional distress culminates in a lukewarm climax when he re-converts to Sikhism during a failed passage to India—the British government denied him entry to travel to his homeland. Now near the end of his life, his unrest becomes outright rebellion as he bands with a group of Irish rebels and Russian agents and takes the helm of a quixotic, and ill-advised, plot to seize back his kingdom.
While there was likely some revolutionary fervor in the maharajah’s desire to overthrow English rule in India, it is a stretch to credit these actions solely to a pious freedom fighter, as Raz has suggested.
Historically there was also a financial motive—and a reasonably just one—behind Duleep Singh’s fall-out with his captors. Like many Victorian-era estate holders of his time, he was perpetually in debt due to a profligate lifestyle. His promised annual pension in 1860 of £40 thousand per annum ($7.7 million CAD in today’s terms) was always short-paid by half every year. While £20 thousand per year afforded him a luxurious lifestyle as single man, this amount, not indexed to the rate of inflation, became insufficient later in life as he became a father to eight children and husband to two wives.
At the time of Punjab’s annexation, the British government had also seized his family’s vast personal estates and holdings which should not have been included as state properties. Despite Singh’s ongoing campaigning to the Crown, these assets were never returned, much to his vexation.
Among Sikhs, there is a commonly held view that the modern downfall of their Punjab state actually began over 150 years ago when the kingdom created by Duleep’s father, the great Maharajah Ranjit Singh, crumbled after the Anglo-Sikh wars. A century after the golden age of the Lahore Darbar, Punjab was torn in half by Partition in 1947, and today what is left is being further shredded by rampant drug abuse, gross corruption, farmer suicides, and environmental damage.
Solutions remain elusive, but heroic accounts from the past provide hope that things can be better.
The Black Prince covers an important story that has long required production. While this movie pays tribute to the maharajah by rescuing him from the shadow of history, it does not, however, set him free. Over a century since his death, Duleep Singh still remains a pawn—now of modern-day Punjabi and Sikh identity politics—as he once was during the Great Game of colonialism in the 19th century.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional who works as the executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This article has been republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Anyone who has travelled to subcontinent knows it is not always such a salubrious destination. Incredible India, as the country sells itself in tourism brochures, can be incredibly chaotic, unwieldy, hot, dusty, venal, bovinely, and polluted – and then you accidently end up drinking the water.
Given his weakened state since returning to Canada, Canada's Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, has no doubt picked up a severe political bellyache from his recent week-long trip to the country.
In what should have been a soft PR exercise, Sajjan’s first trip to India as Canada’s Defense Minister, has gone from being an electoral victory lap in his birth country to a slog on Ottawa’s apology circuit.
The trip has brought into question his integrity as a leader, diminished his venerated standing before military personnel, and even dulled his image within the Sikh community.
During a speech at the Delhi based Observer Research Foundation security think-tank, Sajjan veered off script and deliberately inserted a line about being ‘the architect’ of Operation Medusa, a large-scale Canadian offensive in Afghanistan in 2006. It was a false statement: in Kandahar, where Sajjan served three tours while a reservist, he was as a mid-level officer providing intelligence to his commanders.
At his first sitting in the House of Commons on Monday, the minister, looked weary from repeating contrition for the battlefield boast, but failed to provide an explanation for it.
"I'm not here to make excuses," he said to the press gallery. "I'm here to acknowledge my mistake, apologize for it, learn from it and continue to serve."
Not since the cameras showed up at Premier Glen Clark’s house, had a BC politician seemed in such desperate need for a foxhole.
It's not unusual for Canadian immigrants to flash their success when they return to their homeland – Sajjan also made a visit to his birth village in the Punjab on this trip. These blingy displays however tend to be exhibited through heavy gold sets and brand name clothing, and not, as in the Minister case, through false claims of military prowess.
Had it been Sajjan’s only embellishment of his operational role, this errant speech could have been written off as typical politician’s self-aggrandizement. However, he also stated this alternative fact in an interview in 2015.
While this controversy has hogged the spotlight back in Canadian media this week, it was not the only trouble spot arising from his first visit back to India in 14 years.
The Minister’s tour, particularly of Punjab, was notably bumpy as the Chief Minister of the state, Captain Amarinder Singh and his cabinet, refused to meet with Sajjan.
Singh alleged that the minister and his father, Kundan Sajjan, a former executive of the World Sikh Organisation (WSO), are both Khalistan sympathisers. At the height of the Punjab conflict in the 1980’s, the WSO espoused the formation of an independent Sikh state.
The allegation against the minister is baseless and seems motivated by Singh’s bitterness at the Trudeau government. The Canadian government did not permit Singh to campaign last year among Canada’s one million-plus South Asians, forcing Singh to cancel the Canadian leg of his North American tour.
The Punjab Chief Minister’s rebuff, however, did little to help Sajjan’s mandate of advancing Canada-India relations, or of re-energising stalled Canada-India free trade talks which were first launched in 2010.
However, Sajjan’s most agonising moments during the week-long trip may have been in his circumspect responses to questions about the Ontario NDP provincial government recently passing legislation recognising the 1984 Delhi killings of Sikhs as an act of genocide. By some counts, as many as 30,000 Sikhs were killed by Hindu mobs in a four-day murderous frenzy.
In 2011, Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal was the first federal MP to petition for the recognition of the 1984 killings as an act of genocide, receiving support then from the current Minister of Innovation, Navdeep Bains. Dhaliwal was denied a visa to India in 2011, retribution for him spearheading this motion.
The failure of the Indian government to prosecute the government officials who organised the mobs has been a source of much pain for Sikhs worldwide for the past three decades. Sajjan however distanced himself from the motion.
In a stumbling response, he highlighted it was brought forward by a private member of the Ontario legislature (Harinder Malhi), insinuating the motion was politically motivated during an election year in the province. He further added that this was not his position as a member of the federal Liberal government.
Sikhs who were hopeful Canada’s most recognisable cabinet member would help resolve this long outstanding social justice issue were clearly disappointed in these answers. Left in the wake of Sajjan’s India trip are gnawing questions about how much of his cultivated image as Canada’s ‘badass’ minister, and a comic book hero for justice, is truth and how much is hyperbole.
Afterall, why would he distance himself from a social cause as glaring as the Delhi killings? And why would a veteran break the military code about boasting and take credit for the sacrifices of other soldiers?
After nearly 18 months in office, it seems all we have learned about the first term MP from Vancouver South is that it’s hard to gauge exactly where the soldier ends the politician begins.
Jagdeesh Mann is executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This article has been republished under arrangement with the Post.
Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Though I have family’s roots in B.C. going back a century, I stumble when cataloging the “unique” values underlying Canadian culture.
The default list reads like a dating ad: Canadians are compassionate, polite, enjoy nature. These, however, are hardly unique to Canada and when stirred together in our post-national pot, the parts fail to congeal into a distinct culture, complete with unwritten rules on family and community interactions.
The sad reality is that Canadians are increasingly a world unto themselves. According to the 2011 census, for the first time ever there were more households of people living alone than there were of couples with children.
If there is a social fabric in this country, it is a giant sheet of bubble-wrap stretching from sea to sea, as both young and old increasingly live, consume and exist in their own disconnected worlds.
Kellie Leitch, a Conservative MP from Ontario, however, disagrees with these cold statistics and trends of social fragmentation. For the former labour minister and minister for the status of women, there is one Canada with one set of distinct values.
The aspiring candidate jockeying for Stephen Harper’s vacated office as Conservative leaderwants to test all immigrants for “anti-Canadian views that include intolerance toward other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms.”
The statement reads so smoothly it is difficult to discern any sinister edges, such as whether one can wear a burkini at a beach or paddle a canoe in a turban. The ambiguity, however, is reaping rewards for Ms. Leitch.
The dark-horse MP has surged ahead of the Conservative Party leadership pack and into the eye of the news-cycle. The media attention has already started pulling the leadership contest to the right – Tony Clement is now also calling for “enhanced screening” as part of his national security platform.
Ms. Leitch’s policy position, however, is flawed on many counts, starting with redundancy. New immigrants are already subject to numerous checks through an arduous process that can take years. In addition to this, the immigration process intensely screens for any links to criminal or terror groups.
Once an application has been approved, immigrants swear a citizenship oath to uphold Canadian laws – again duplicating Ms. Leitch’s statement.
A robust values-screening test would require exhaustive probes, interviews, possibly polygraph tests and yet, these measures may still fall short in detecting thought crime. Of course, a practical shortcut would be to racially profile applicants but that would be distinctly un-Canadian by Ms. Leitch’s standards.
Based on an orthodox interpretation of Ms. Leitch’s statement, few of Canada’s 300,000 annual immigrants who currently are admitted as entrepreneurs, investors, tech workers, caregivers, grandparents and so forth would make it into the country. Any followers of a faith that does not endorse same-sex marriages, for example, could be labelled as an “intolerant,” including not only Muslims, but also Jews and Christians.
Suddenly the Mexican farm worker or the Filipina nanny are potential pariahs because of their Catholic faith. The Indian or Pakistani IT engineer may not be welcome given the practice of female infanticide in those countries.
This absurdity cuts to the heart of the flaw with Ms. Leitch’s proposal. Placed under a microscope, every culture across the globe will reveal underlying streaks of intolerance.
Ms. Leitch has conflated cultural values with Canada’s secular ideals. Her formula for Canadian values is a mission statement for the modern secular state – it is not a living, breathing, organic culture.
But the Conservative MP’s intent was never a sincere effort to strengthen our sense of national unity as much as it was to divide it. Her statement was an act of feigning concern for national security to wink at Mr. Harper’s power base of “old stock” Canadians. This is Part II of the Conservative Party’s “barbaric cultural practices” tip line.
Across the West, candidates with far greater ambition than scruples are skillfully wielding tools invoking fear to carve out voting blocks. Ms. Lietch is not the first Canadian politician to cloak discriminatory aims under the guise of a benevolent policy.
But when Ms. Leitch’s subterfuge is rejected for a serious candidate, she may be the first to learn the one true Canadian value is that we can all be one and yet be different – without having to be different in the same way.
Jagdeesh Mann is executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This comment has been republished under arrangement with the Post.
By Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
One of the most celebrated veterans in Canada, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh Jauhal, passed away peacefully this past week with his family by his side.
He was 95 years old.
Lt. Col. Singh served in the British Indian military and lived through the 20th century's era of tremendous social and technological change. When witnessing the emergence of his native India's independence as a youth, he could not have envisioned that one day he himself would become an agent of change in post-colonial Commonwealth.
His courage in battle would serve him well, guiding his rise from humble origins to serving honourably as an officer in several wars including World War II.
In 1993 at the age of 73, Singh inadvertently found himself in the middle of media storm when he, along with four other Sikhs, were barred from entering the Royal Canadian Legion in Newton, Surrey. The club's members opposed the men's entry on the grounds they were 'wearing hats', thus turning away the war veterans.
As a Sikh, Singh politely declined the club's demand he remove his turban, which is an indelible part of his religious identity. It was also a sanctioned part of his military uniform which he wore when fighting against Nazi Germany on behalf of the Allies.
Singh's grace through the Legion incident sharply contrasted with the ugly threats of violence that took a heavy toll on his household. Sadly, his wife passed away at that time from a cardiac arrest.
Today Canada's Defense Minister and head of our Armed Forces wears a turban. Its inclusion as part of the Canadian military uniform is now taken as self-evident - as is its place in Royal Legion Halls across Canada.
Lt. Col. Singh's dignified stand over two decades ago is one of the many quiet but indispensable victories that has made Canada a beacon for tolerance and plurality. His grace under fire would lead him to being invited for tea with Queen Elizabeth II who took it upon herself to ask Singh about the incident. Ever an officer and a gentleman, Singh stated that was sorry to have troubled her with the matter.
In 2013, Singh published his memoir, A Soldier Remembers, in collaboration with the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley.
The funeral will be held at Valley View Funeral Home & Cemetary -14644 72 Ave, Surrey, on Sunday, July 3, 2016 at 3PM. It will be followed by a prayer ceremony at 4:30PM at Canadian Singh Sabha Gurdwara, 8115 132 St, Surrey BC.
Jagdeesh Mann is a writer and media professional based in Vancouver.
Republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post
Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
It was inevitable the success of Trumpolitics would generate imitators. Stephen Harper dabbled with its tactics in the last federal election by pandering to the baser views of the so-called ‘angry white male’. It comes as a surprise, however, the next piper to try charming this cobra is Ujjal Dosanjh.
The former premier of BC, protector of gay rights, health care, and multiculturalism, recently wrote a lengthy blog post bemoaning political correctness as having gagged white men from saying what they really think. White men who have framed Canada's political narrative since Confederation, have apparently become excluded from it, somehow finding themselves now at the back of the bus.
Overnight, Dosanjh has become Canada’s Bobby Jindal, the new champion of the far right, quite an act of re-invention for a man who started out on the far left of the political spectrum.
Not surprisingly, Dosanjh's call found hearty praise from the closeted hordes who took to the comments sections of various online newspaper forums.
The white male commenters vented their frustrations at ‘Multicultism’, immigrants, Muslims, Syrian refugees, and basically anyone who didn’t fit in with the world as seen by ‘old stock’ Canadians. Their antidotes to Canada’s woes were predictable: curtail immigration, seal the border to everyone except Europeans, and renew Judeo Christian liturgical practices.
These were the white men Dosanjh had referenced in his post as having ‘been shamed into submission’ by political correctness. Now they were venting furiously about how their lifetime membership to the exclusive club of white privilege had apparently eroded in value.
'The white man is not disenfranchised'
While Dosanjh’s intention may have been to stir dialogue on Canadian identity, and culture, his approach is fundamentally divisive. He is pandering to one group’s fanciful list of grievances. His apocalyptic vision of white men being overrun by political correctness is built on a number of glaring fallacies.
The first is the most obvious: The white man is not disenfranchised.
To be voiceless is to be a First Nation’s child growing up in a broken home on an isolated reserve without running water. The opposite, more likely than not, is to be a white man.
At Apple, for example, the world’s largest company, white men hold over 70 per cent of senior management positions When compared to other companies and across industry, this is not an anomaly.
When noteworthy decisions are made in Canada, on any number of issues from monetary policy to environmental regulation to First Nations relations, and so forth, they are made by government officials, the majority of whom tend to be white.
These wider decisions indelibly impact our sense of national culture and identity, which Dosanjh claims excludes input from white men.
Dosanjh’s pitch for amplifying the voices of the privileged is like advocating another tax cut for the one-percent.
Political correctness a scapegoat
The second flaw in Dosanjh’s arguments is that white men disproportionately suffer from political correctness, its tight ribbing suffocating only them from speaking on many issues.
What he fails to note is that this same corset of censorship applies equally to everyone, regardless of race and ironically, it just as often benefits white men as it harnesses them.
Contrary to Dosanjh’s claim of white men being passive victims of the PC police, they are just as likely to be PC enforcers when it serves their vested interests.
A perfect case in point is the stagnant discussion around Vancouver’s skyrocketing property prices, which Dosanjh alludes to his post. When UBC professor Andy Yan (yes he is Chinese) published his study on property prices in Vancouver and found that 70 per cent of sales in 2014 of detached homes over $3-million in Vancouver went to Chinese buyers, the response from leading (white) politicians, developers, and decision makers was that the study was invoking racism.
Mayor Gregor Robertson wasn’t grateful that finally there was real data on the house market. Instead he resorted to political correctness to obfuscate the issue,“This can’t be about race, it can’t be about dividing people,” said the mayor. “It needs to get to the core issue about addressing affordability and making sure it’s fair.”
The housing issue in Vancouver is about money being earned offshore which has in turn created unfair market conditions for people who live, work and earn in the Lower Mainland. Empty houses and unattainable prices do not a city make – and that affects everyone regardless of your colour.
It’s a class issue, full stop. Political correctness is a convenient scapegoat here.
Canadians should not be trapped in skin colour
The most flagrant shortcoming in Dosanjh’s arguments is that he wants new Canadians to embrace a common set of national values and a national identity but yet he insists on first dividing us into our separate races, hence his rallying call to the white man.
Dosanjh’s view of Canadians as being different coloured lego blocks is regressive and a time warp into the colonial era of the past century. The idea of defining your identity by the quantity of melanin in your skin is as knuckle-scraping as the denial of climate change.
As Canadians, we all have a stake in issues such the choice of language for strata council meetings, the fine balance between accepting refugees and security, and immigration strategy. But an honest discussion of these issues is a colourless discussion.
By dividing us into camps of white, yellow, red, brown, and black so that we all are ‘represented’ at the table means we will always be stuck in these very silos that Dosanjh claims to loathe. This country is moving forward from the past century and we are finally getting beyond race as attested by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet postings. It is misguided for Dosanjh to re-invoke a racial paradigm and think it is a step in the right direction.
Justin Trudeau commented in a recent New York Times Magazine interview that Canada is a post-national state without a core identity and a mainstream. This includes the privilege of not being trapped in your skin – it is one of the best parts of being a Canadian, regardless if you are white, brown, or even tangerine coloured like Donald Trump. This is what it means to be post-national and why most Canadians choose this course.
Fifteen years ago Ujjal Dosanjh was a politician who as an immigrant rose up to become premier of British Columbia. It was historic because he was a visible minority.
Today, however, it is more impressive that Ujjal Dosanjh is no longer identified as a brown politician by the majority of the population, but rather as just another politician.
But he still is a politician at heart, having re-invented himself from an NDP multiculturalism minister to a Liberal cabinet minister and now to the champion of the far right. Having adorned so many party colours, it is predictable, though tragic, that Dosanjh is fanning the dying racial embers of this country to win over a new audience.
Jagdeesh Mann is the Executive Editor of the South Asian Post, Asian Pacific Post and Filipino Post.
by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Depending on whom you ask, the actions of Louis Riel, and Dr. Norman Bethune, along with others who lived through difficult times, can be seen as verging on treasonous or justified. Add to that list Mewa Singh.
Outside of Canada’s sizeable two million plus South Asian community, few Canadians will have heard of Singh who is revered as a Che Gueverra-like figure, in particular by Sikhs. A new play, The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson, which opened January 8, is the first major artistic production to re-evaluate a man whom many view as Canada’s forgotten martyr.
In the play, Mewa Singh is placed on the stand to answer for his real life shooting and killing of William Hopkinson, a Canadian immigration official. The incident took place in the same art gallery 101 years ago on October 21, 1914 when it served as the Vancouver’s Provincial Courthouse.
On that morning, Singh walked up to the third floor rotunda and killed Hopkinson with four shots from his revolver. He then handed over his weapon to the authorities and took full responsibility for his act, knowing he would receive capital punishment.
“I shoot. I go to station,” he proclaimed, in his limited English.
Within three months on Jan. 11, 1915, Singh was hung from the gallows in New Westminster. He died at age 33, the same age as Hopkinson.
Lionized by Sikh Canadian community
Despite the violent nature of Singh’s act, he has been lionized by Canada’s Sikh community in the same way Louis Riel has been by the country’s Metis population. Though he is a character written into Canadian history books as an assassin, in the Sikh community he is their version of Tiananmen’s Tank Man, the solitary protester saying no and standing his ground against the machinery of institutionalized repression.
There are numerous sports and literary events organized annually in his tribute. The dining hall in Vancouver’s Ross Street Sikh temple, the country’s largest gurdwara where India’s Prime Minister Modi stopped by with Stephen Harper for a visit last April, bears his name and iconic image in memorial.
For playwright Paneet Singh, The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson is a forum to cast light on the murky events that led to the shooting and to reveal the social conditions that made the collision between Singh and Hopkinson unavoidable.
“I have been surrounded by this story since I was a child, when my mother would tell it to me,” said Singh. “Mewa Singh’s name resonates in the South Asian community, but it has been locked out of the mainstream. This play exposes his actions through the framework of the times in which he lived in order to move the story into the 21st century. He stood up in the most difficult of circumstances and follows in the tradition of other Canadian martyrs like Louis Riel.”
Hopkinson and Singh were born and raised in India, and in adulthood, both migrated to Vancouver. Singh left a small village near Amritsar, Punjab to find his fortunes while Hopkinson left his post as a policeman after his first wife died. The Raj in India was beginning its slow fade. Hopkinson had never lived in England and so chose to renew his life in Vancouver.
But at the turn of the 20th century, Canada’s promise as a new world Gold Mountain came with caveats for non-white immigrants over their European counterparts. The Canadian government had institutionalized racism through legislation like the Chinese Head Tax and the continuous journey clause. The latter was utilized in 1914 in the infamous Komagata Maru incident which was playing out at the same time as the Singh versus Hopkinson duel.
Despite holding very different stations in life, the destinies of Hopkinson and Singh became intimately tied to each other in B.C. Hopkinson’s fluency in Hindi landed him a job as a government agent. His assignment was to harvest information from the Sikh community about their sympathies for Indian independence from British rule. He had a number of active moles in the community burrowing for intelligence.
Singh's legacy reflected in politics today
Hopkinson’s methods were as heavy handed as his agents were clumsy – they shot and killed two Sikhs at the local temple. Hopkinson threatened Mewa Singh to become an informant, or to find himself the next target.
What Hopkinson didn’t anticipate, was that Singh would accept death before turning. Killing Hopkinson would not save Singh, it would only give rise to another Hopkinson. But making a public statement by killing him in the open and by embracing the death penalty would make a statement that resonates to this day.
For Sikhs in Canada who were struggling for a foothold in Canada at the time, Singh’s defiance would inspire their push for political equality – an achievement coming 30 years later in 1947 when South Asians and Chinese were granted the right to vote.
Mewa Singh’s singular act echoes still in the disproportionate success of South Asians in Canadian politics – there are 16 MPs of Sikh heritage currently serving in Canada’s Parliament. Had the Chinese community their own version of Mewa Singh, perhaps they too would be better represented at the highest politics levels.
William Hopkinson’s pernicious agenda was a spear foiled by Mewa Singh’s shield. Hopkinson left India seemingly to find his piece of the Cotswolds in the new world. But the new world would not be shaped by the old rules, as he fatefully discovered in his encounter with Mewa Singh.
Neither could have foreseen the modern multicultural Canada their clash would inadvertently help cast.
For more information on the play click on the link for The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson.
by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton, Ontario
A Brampton city councillor has persuaded colleagues on the city's community services committee to recommend a ban on the sale of fireworks — including storing them in homes — in the wake of a fire that engulfed a home during the Diwali celebrations last month.
On the evening of November 11th, two homes in Brampton were gutted by a fire that may have been sparked by Diwali firework celebrations, the South Asian festival of light.
According to Brampton fire officials, the blaze spread to two adjacent homes, forcing the evacuation of the adjoining residences. Damage from the fire is conservatively estimated to be $1 million according to the fire department.
The cause of the fire
Brampton Fire and Emergency Services (BFES) was called to scene on Binder Twine Trail, near Williams Parkway and Chinguacousy Road, just before 11 p.m. By the time they arrived, they found the house at 190 Binder Twine Trail fully enveloped in flames.
The fire apparently started in the garage and quickly spread throughout the house. It then also spread to the neighbouring home, 192 Binder Twine, which at the time was occupied by its residents.
All six members of the neighbouring Mangat family were forced to leave the house. The family of eight at 190 Binder Twine Trail also escaped unharmed. Out of the three homes that suffered damage, one is completely gutted and another is badly damaged.
Peel Police and the Brampton Fire Department say they are still trying to determine what caused the blaze, but indications are that it's connected to the "improper disposal of fireworks.”
The homeowner at 192 Binder Twine Trail, Inderjit Mangat, told fire and police officials that the neighbours discarded their used fireworks in a black garbage bag and stored them in the garage, which most likely sparked the blaze.
Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey said in a statement that the City of Brampton takes public safety and the safe use of fireworks in the city “very seriously.”
She added that city staff continues to work closely with BFES to ensure that City of Brampton By-Laws, policies and enforcement keep residents safe while allowing them to “express their enjoyment on holidays and culturally significant events.”
One in three Brampton residents identify themselves as either Sikh or Hindu, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. As a result, celebrations during Diwali are quite extensive throughout the community.
The city received 281 complaint calls about Diwali fireworks in 2013 — up 86 per cent from 2012 — while it only received 46 on Canada Day.
While Brampton has previously allowed individuals who live on wide lots to set off personal fireworks, they introduced a new system in 2014 that requires individuals to apply for permits. In 2014, the city only gave out 88 permits despite receiving over 675 applications.
According to Jeffrey, City Council will continue to discuss this issue with local authorities in an attempt to find a safe and fair way forward.
“Our Communications team is working closely with BFES and Enforcement to further emphasize to all Brampton residents the Fireworks By-Law, permit process as well as the potential dangers of fireworks use in a residential or park setting.
“I strongly urge all residents to make sure they fully understand all safety measures required to safely use fireworks and ask that all Brampton residents exercise extreme caution when using, storing or disposing of any fireworks,” she concluded.
Potential ban on fireworks
For one Brampton city councillor, education is simply not enough. Shortly after the fires, Councillor Grant Gibson proposed a citywide ban on fireworks at the community services committee.
Gibson said, citing the failure to educate individuals on the danger of fireworks, “This (Binder Twine Trail) is a perfect example of people being careless.”
“I don’t (want to be) the councillor that turned his back on safety,” he said. Gibson’s motion passed, and now the city must consider how to effectively ban the sale of fireworks along with their use on residential properties.
Staff has been directed to look at further methods of enforcement as well as what it would cost for the city to host their own fireworks displays. This would expand the current municipally-sponsored events from Canada Day and New Year’s Day to include Victoria Day and Diwali.
“Fireworks aren't like what they used to be. They are now basically explosives and there’s been a lot of mishandling of them across the city and that’s a major concern for our constituents,” said Gibson.
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by Jagdeesh Mann (@JagdeeshMann) in Vancouver
For Vancouver publisher, Harbinder Singh Sewak, the dream was four years in the making.
This week, as millions of Sikhs around the world celebrate Vaisakhi or Khalsa Day that dream became a reality with the official charter signing of the 3300 British Columbia Regiment (Bhai Kanhaiya) Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps – Canada’s first army cadet unit formed and sponsored by the Sikh Community.
“Vaisakhi is always special for the community, but for me, this year’s celebrations will be one that will go down in history,” said Sewak, the architect behind the formation of the Bhai Kanhaiya Cadet Corps, which is based in Surrey and open to all aged between 12 and 18.
“As we move forward, the Bhai Kanhaiya Cadet Corps will continue to serve as an inspiration for other programs, which embrace Canada’s multiculturalism, and offers young Canadians opportunities to interact with youth from other cultures,” said Sewak, the chairman of the Friends of the Surrey Sikh Cadet Society.
Defence Minister, Jason Kenney, who was among three federal ministers who attended the event hailed the Sikh community for supporting the cadet corps.
He said the new cadet unit was a reflection of the long and continued history of Sikhs serving the military.
Kenney said the name chosen for the cadet corps – Bhai Khanhaiya – was one that promoted diversity, which respects and resonates with Canadian core values.
Bhai Khanhaiya’s actions on the battlefields of yore where he did sewa (selfless service) looking after and giving water to the fallen soldiers of rival armies earned him a place in Sikhism history.
Sewak said Bhai Khanhaiya provides the inspiration for the parents, cadets and volunteers of the 3300 RCACC to be grounded in optimism, humility and provide service for all Canadians.
Among the others who attended the charter signing gala in Surrey last Friday were National Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay, Minister of State for Multiculturalism Tim Uppal, B.C. Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, Amrik Virk, a host of MPs, MLAs, municipal politicians and about 400 guests and military personnel.
Rear Admiral Bill Truelove, Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific, saluted the efforts of Sewak and his team adding that the Bhai Khanhaiya cadet corps has already become one of Canada’s fastest growing cadet units.
He said the Cadet Program continues to evolve and adapt in order to meet the expectations of our changing society.
Expanding Across Canada and Overseas
Interest to form similar cadet units have already been expressed across Canada and in England in communities with sizeable Sikh populations.
Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in a message on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II and all the people of British Columbia said the training these cadets receive and the unique experiences to which they are exposed will serve as valuable resources as they go on to navigate life’s challenges and become responsible and engaged citizens.
“I extend my thanks to the Friends of the Sikh Cadet Corps Society and all the volunteers and supporters who have dedicated their time to this Corps. You are wonderful role models for these young cadets and your encouragement and celebration of their efforts goes a long way in ensuring their success.”
Surrey mayor Linda Hepner in her message said: “As one of the largest and fastest growing cadet corps in BC, I am heartened to see the success of the Sikh Cadets program as it instils the tradition of service and values-based citizenship among our youth.”
The Sikh cadets were among those in a place of honour at the Khalsa Day Parade in Surrey at this past Saturday’s celebrations organised by the Dashmesh Darbar Sikh Gurdwara.
Surrey’s Khalsa Day Parade, the world’s largest Vaisakhi parade, attracts between 240,000 and 250,000 guests of all cultures and religions to the peaceful, family-orientated celebration.
This year’s procession featured over 23 floats representing local Sikh schools, community groups, humanitarian organizations as well as the most important float in the procession that carries the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy scripture).
The Surrey Vaisakhi Parade has been held in the streets of the community for the past 17 years.
Surrey’s Vaisakhi Parade also features a unique element, which pays tribute to the harvest celebration roots of the parade – attendees are given free food and drink from hundreds of local residents and businesses.
Celebrating a New Year
For many thousands of years, Vaisakhi has been the time when farmers have put their sickles to harvest and celebrated the coming of a new year.
Since 1699, the Sikhs have had a further reason to celebrate at this time of the year. It has become a holy day to mark the birth of the Khalsa fraternity.
And so 300 years on, this tradition continues with much gaiety, vigour and enthusiasm. Sikhs worldwide will spend much time remembering this most important day in their religious calendar – the day the Khalsa was created.
This year’s parade was preceded by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to British Columbia.
Modi, who has been actively reaching out to the Sikh community in India and around the world, will visit the Ross Street Sikh temple in Vancouver.
The Surrey Khalsa Day parade provides an economic boom to the local area according to a study by MNP.
Among the key findings of the preliminary study by MNP, which followed an input-output methodology using economic multipliers published by Statistics Canada, are;
• according to estimates provided by Parade organizers, 40 per cent of the 2014 Parade visitors were local residents and 60 per cent were out-of-town visitors;
• Total spending on the 2014 Parade operations by organizers and participants is estimated at between $8.5 million and $16.0 million;
• The 2014 Parade is estimated to have contributed between $6.6 million and $12.3 million in GDP for the provincial economy, supported between 116 and 215 FTE jobs, and contributed between $2.3 million and $4.4 million in tax revenues for federal, provincial and municipal governments;
• Total spending by out-of-town visitors to the 2014 Parade is estimated at between $14.2 million and $29.8 million;
• It is estimated that 2,500 participant groups incurred expenditures in the range of $3,000 to $6,000 per group, on average;
• The average length of stay was seven days for visitors from the rest of B.C., 15 days for visitors from the rest of Canada, 15 days for visitors from the US, and 30 days for other international visitors.
Published in partnership with South Asian Post.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit