Thursday, 10 November 2016 21:05

Canada not Immune to Trumpism

Commentary by Alma Sandoval Betancourth in Pickering, Ontario

What can I say: I called it.

It may have been my lifetime exposure to dictatorships. It may be my gradual and irreversible loss of faith in humanity that has made me become so jaded.

It may be that I have paid too much attention to the lessons history has thrown at us. And even though I did predict it, it still hit like a bucket of very Canadian ice wintry cold water. Let that one sink in, Canada (and the rest of the world): Donald Trump is the newly elected President of the United States.  The head of state of the most powerful nation in the world. And our neighbour to the south. Our closest ally. Canada’s Big Brother. Just because the people were given the option to choose, it doesn’t mean they chose right. In Canada, the great majority of us mourn that choice.

And so, whatever happens to our southerly neighbours, will have a strong effect on how we live, think and act over here. Not only does it affect us, it sends shock waves through our core. You can see it so palpably in the strong reactions of all Canadians (be it happiness or distress) upon hearing the news.

Math at work

Trump’s win (and Clinton’s loss) is not only a loss on sanity, logic and sound decision-making. This is a loss on progress and an attack on the liberties and gains that have taken so long and so much effort and struggle to achieve.

At the core of this loss is the notion — a certainty, really — that humanity is flawed. Human beings, we’re all flawed. And with Donald Trump being a businessman, math comes into play in the form of a twisted version of Victor Hugo’s “The liberty of one citizen ends where the liberty of another citizen begins” that reads more like “one person’s gain is another person’s loss.”

If a woman is on her way of earning the same wages as a man, she is perceived (and this is key, because it’s not necessarily truth, but perception that’s so dangerous) to be taking that away from a man. If a visible minority is making progress in carving a better place for him or herself in society (be it through work, to access to health and education, to being granted access to opportunity and power) that means that someone (more likely a straight white male) is losing that very thing.

If a poor person (whether a visible minority or a white person) is improving the quality of their life, that means (again, perceived) that someone at the top is losing a small percentage of their wealth. And that cannot happen.

On guard, Canada

We as a society must watch very carefully what’s unfolding right before our very eyes. We can see it so much clearer because it’s in high definition: on a computer, on iPads and on our very own smartphones — because everything that has taken place and will be taking place in the future will unfold on social media for the world to see.

Mark my words: this outcome next door will be affecting Canada directly. This could (and most likely will) be Canada in four years.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Mark my words: this outcome next door will be affecting Canada directly. This could (and most likely will) be Canada in four years.[/quote]

We may boast how multicultural, egalitarian and progressive we are.

Better listeners

But, we need to start listening, really listening to what’s building up at the core of our society: the unhappiness, unrest and fear (terror, honestly) that those who have been at the top and are gradually experiencing a perceived loss of power are feeling.

We must start listening, really listening because as women, visible minorities, the LGBTQ community, the poor and all those disadvantaged sectors of the population are given more opportunities to play on a level field within Canadian society, there is someone on the other side resenting (sometimes silently) these changes and hoping Canada “becomes great again”.

We must, as a society (our leadership, our politicians, our institutions, our community organizations) really listen to those voices, give them an opportunity to express their concerns and unhappiness, because if we don’t, the disconnect (that very same disconnect that created the marked divisiveness that gave Trump that shocking victory) will only widen, and four or eight years from now we will be stunned to learn that a fascist, racist, bigot regime is threatening the very fabric of what makes Canada such a progressive, forward-thinking and humanitarian nation.

In the meantime, God Help our brothers and sisters to the south.

Republished with permission from Alma Latina. Alma Sandoval Betancourth is editor/publisher of Alma Latina, an English/Spanish publication featuring articles about events/arts & music/community/people in Durham Region and the Greater Toronto Area.

Published in Commentary

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

A trip to an organic dairy farm in Ontario was enough to inspire a former Wall Street banker to launch a global search for better ways to treat farm animals. 

“This was an organic farm, but the cows still weren’t treated well,” recalls author Sonia Faruqi. “They were indoors two-thirds of the year and outdoors only one-third of the year, and while they were indoors, they were chained to stalls, which is really unnatural for cows, who are grazing animals.” 

After volunteering for two weeks at the dairy farm, Faruqi visited other Ontario farms, but not without resistance from farmers, who she says are part of a tightly knit community. 

“Everyone they know is a farmer, so if you’re someone who comes from a city, or who’s brown, or even a woman in a very male-dominated industry, you're immediately very different,” explains Faruqi, who was born in Pakistan and raised in the United Arab Emirates. 

She worked at an investment bank on Wall Street in the United States before the 2008 economic crisis, after which she joined her family who had just immigrated to Canada. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Everyone they know is a farmer, so if you’re someone who comes from a city, or who’s brown, or even a woman in a very male-dominated industry, you're immediately very different.”[/quote]

Faruqi says she used her savings to visit and volunteer at farms in several countries, including the United States, Malaysia and Mexico. 

Her first book, Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food, documents her experiences abroad and what can be done to create a farming system that is better for farmers, animals and consumers. 

A world view on farming 

While Faruqi says she witnessed many examples of animals being mistreated, such as chickens being kept in overcrowded cages and pigs covered in their own feces, she also visited farms where animals were well treated and healthy. 

In Belize, Faruqi stayed on a farm with female Mennonite missionaries, who she says have a holistic view of the land and do not refer to raising livestock as agriculture or business, but as “animal husbandry.” 

She says the women named their cows and allowed them to graze in fields with ponds and other animals. 

“It was interesting for me to see that kind of affection for the animals and the land.”  

Faruqi also compared the farming practices between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to explore how industrialization affects the treatment of animals. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s all changed to an extremely industrialized, very low-cost system.”[/quote]

She explains that in Malaysia, which has recently experienced rapid economic growth, the popularity of fast food chains like KFC and McDonald’s has led to an increase in factory-farm practices, including artificial insemination, antibiotic use and corn-based diets. 

“It’s all changed to an extremely industrialized, very low-cost system,” she explains. “Local farms, breeds, and knowledge that people have of animals and of the land – all of it is eradicated.” 

By contrast, in Indonesia, which is less industrialized, Faruqi witnessed hens walking freely in villages that only visited their owners’ homes in the mornings for breakfast. 

“I noticed people walking their cows,” she adds. “It was interesting to see that bond that people have with animals.” 

She notes that at some of the farms she visited in Ontario, farmers didn’t visit their farms and relied on automated systems to update them on their animals. 

The many downsides to factory farming

Faruqi says that despite the downsides to factory farming, the government in Malaysia promotes fast food because it symbolizes industrialization and development. 

“The same way people wear jeans and listen to American music, they’re also eating American foods, which are hamburgers and fries and actually not good for you,” she says. 

“There’s tens of billions of farm animals in the world and most of them are being made to suffer to produce cheap food for people, who should not be eating that much meat, milk and eggs to begin with.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“When people move here, they really want to integrate to the extent that they leave their own food heritage.”[/quote]

Faruqi says consumers have the power to promote good farming habits by eating less animal products and demanding that the animal products they do eat be produced in healthier ways. 

“There’s a misconception that you have to be white and wealthy to even think about this, which is not true, because in the end, everyone’s health is important.” 

A disproportionate impact on immigrants   

She notes that while language or income barriers might prevent newcomers from making healthy choices, many of them come to Canada practising healthy eating habits that they don’t retain. 

“When people move here, they really want to integrate to the extent that they leave their own food heritage.” 

The vegetarian diet that is popular in India is an example that Western societies can learn to value, she says. 

She notes that immigrants can also be disproportionately affected on the production side, because factory farms employ many immigrants in slaughterhouses. 

“Part of the reason is that these are jobs non-immigrants don’t want, for clear reasons,” she says. “Workers have mental and physical health issues, which are not really treated.” 

Faruqi advocates for more government oversight of factory farms and regulations to protect animal rights, as well as the inclusion of more women in agriculture. 

She says that under current laws in Canada and the U.S., a pig has the same rights as a table, “which is really ridiculous when you think about it, because one is an animate being with instincts and interests and desires, at the very least, to not suffer.”


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Published in Health
Tuesday, 23 September 2014 15:25

When Millennials Take Philanthropy “Glocal”

by Kumaran Nadesan (@nakumaran) and Anupama Ranawana (@MsAMR25)

It is increasingly clear that millennials, those born since 1980, are fast re-defining the philanthropy landscape. And when it comes to diaspora millennials, this means countries around the world could potentially benefit.

Millennials expanding meaning of philanthropy

Derrick Feldman, in his research into The Millennium Impact, found that millennials are expanding the traditional definition of philanthropy (time, talent and treasure), to also provide voice and network for the causes they adopt. In the context of such holistic agency, philanthropy has become an essential part of how millennials connect to create value for their causes and for themselves in the process.

Additionally, studies show that many adults, between the ages of 20 to 35, often seek employment opportunities at organisations with strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandates that support causes from the global to the local, from Fair Trade to the neighbourhood food bank.

As workforces become more diverse and inclusive to better serve customers in the globalised economy, it creates opportunities, albeit slowly, for members of marginalised communities to climb the corporate ladder. These new leaders have expanded CSR mandates to advocate for systemic issues impacting their communities that were previously not as visible in the workplace, such as issues affecting women, immigrants and persons of colour, and the LGBT community to name a few.

The globalised world, made smaller by social media, has also brought home the problems of the world thereby contributing to further understanding of the impact and inter-connectedness of world issues to local issues, and adding new dimensions to why, what and how millennials engage in philanthropy.

Global + Local = Glocal

This new “glocalised” reality of philanthropy is nowhere more apparent than in a country like Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As workforces become more diverse and inclusive to better serve customers in the globalised economy, it creates opportunities, albeit slowly, for members of marginalised communities to climb the corporate ladder.[/quote]

In 2014, the Toronto-based public policy think tank, the Mowat Centre announced that “Canada is now a diaspora nation”. Canada is home to the largest percentage of immigrants in its population amongst the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and attracts an increasing number of immigrants from Asia and Latin America every year.

In its report, the Mowat Centre highlighted the great potential for these communities to act as diaspora networks that can be effectively mobilized to bring significant economic and social benefits to their adopted countries. This is possible because diaspora networks have substantial linkages to economies and communities beyond the borders of their adopted countries, help not only circulate information but also make it ‘stick’, and provide cultural knowledge and insight. There is also great potential to harness such networks for economic development but to also advance philanthropy interests whether for local causes or international development. The International diaspora Engagement Alliance and Diasporas for Development Initiative are both examples of how various diasporas in the United States are engaged in development and diplomacy.

Canada’s Sri Lankan diaspora

In Canada, the Sri Lankan diaspora is an interesting example of how diaspora networks are leveraged to pursue philanthropy interests in home and adopted countries, and how millennials are leading such efforts.

The Sri Lankan Canadian diaspora is made up of several ethnic groups, the majority of whom are Tamils who left Sri Lanka since the early 1980s as a result of the civil war between the ethnic Sinhala majoritarian state and ethnic minority Tamil separatist forces. While there is a steady increase in immigration of other ethnic groups from Sri Lanka to Canada, diaspora representation and impact in Canada continues to be primarily shaped by Tamils. Over the past decade, the diaspora has become increasingly integrated into Canada’s political, economic and social ecosystems. In doing so, it has adopted mainstream philanthropy causes such as health and the environment while also addressing issues reflective of their recent immigrant experience such as racism, poverty, asylum and refugee hood, and other socio-cultural inequities.

While the diaspora has engaged in political activism around Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem since the late 1970s, its engagement took on a popular philanthropic bent focused on sustainable development and humanitarian aid only since 2002 and especially as a result of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Though much of the latter engagement receded to the background as the civil war escalated and political and human rights advocacy took centre stage in the diaspora, there is now growing momentum to continue and expand the philanthropy agenda, particularly in aid of war-impacted communities who continue to face a whole host of issues since the end of the war in 2009.

Examples of glocal efforts

There are a few diaspora organisations trying to address some of the issues facing these war-impacted communities in Sri Lanka. These include organisations that focus on one key sector, for example health in the case of the International Medical Health Organisation – Canada and the Canadian Tamil Medical Association; groups such as the Charity Ball for Hope and Kalvi Connections who host social fundraisers for grassroots efforts in Sri Lanka; organisations that have historical connections their communities in Sri Lanka, including village alliances such as the Vanni Tamil Sangam of Canada, religious groups such as the Canada – Sri Lanka Life Development Centre, and alumni associations such as the SJC87 Initiative; and organisations such as Visions Global Empowerment and Educate Lanka Foundation that are based in the United States but sometimes reach into Canada to tap into a larger North American pool of volunteers and funders.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]This new “glocalised” reality of philanthropy is nowhere more apparent than in a country like Canada.[/quote]

Additionally, the Toronto-based comdu.it network (and with which we are involved in) is another interesting example of how the diaspora is also exploring other ways of engaging its various communities to support more effective involvement in philanthropy work overseas. Established in 2014 as a pilot and managed by a diverse team of students and young professionals from different ethnic communities in the Sri Lankan Canadian diaspora, this network is interested in: facilitating the return of subject matter experts to Sri Lanka to strengthen the capacity of grassroots organisations while gaining deeper insight into local issues recognizing that the Global North is not the only site of production and dissemination of knowledge; providing a channel for individuals to make targeted micro-gifts as investments in education for children and economic empowerment of women, particularly female-headed households; and becoming an open and collaborative platform that can be leveraged by the various ethnic communities in the diaspora in order improve the overall quality and effectiveness of their philanthropy efforts in Sri Lanka.

Diaspora millennials leverage social, educational, and professional networks

Most of these diaspora efforts, whether it is political advocacy, local philanthropy or international development as described above, are primarily led by 1.5- and second-generation millennials (and Generation-Xers) who are thinking and doing glocally. Such involvement in international development, though, is not without its challenges that reflect certain geopolitical realities and fundamental political issues in Sri Lanka that must be concurrently addressed. However, it is clear that with the growing return of millennials to Sri Lanka, they are increasingly interested in leveraging their social, educational and professional networks, which often cut across ethnic barriers, to collectively give their time, talent, treasure, voice and network to push forward their philanthropy causes at home in Canada and abroad in Sri Lanka. Indeed, the NATO Council of Canada recently used the Sri Lankan diaspora as an example to highlight the rich potential of Canadian diaspora communities to facilitate post-war development and peacebuilding around the world.

In the new philanthropy landscape, therefore, millennials are building on the lessons of their predecessors, leveraging the latest in social and digital media, and optimizing traditional, offline networks to find new ways of adding value to their causes and social enterprises. Thanks to millennials, it has never been a more creative and exciting time to give back. 

Anupama Ranawana holds a Ph.D. in Politics and International Relations and is training to become a theologian. Kumaran Nadesan holds a B.A. (Hons.) in English Literature and Psychology and is a civil servant in the Government of Ontario. They are part of the executive team of comdu.it.

This is a re-publication of the original article published by the Diplomatic Courier in its September/October 2014 Issue V, Vol VIII. 
Published in Commentary
Thursday, 27 February 2014 19:17

Old boundaries no longer hold in marketing

by Robin Brown

Royal Bank of Canada advertisements in the early 20th century told newcomers, “When you arrive in Canada … it will be in your best interests to visit the nearest branch of this Bank as early as possible and deposit your spare cash.” For as long as there has been mass migration to Canada, there has been marketing aimed at newcomers.

Banks and other businesses continue to court migrants energetically. Today’s migrants, of course, are not just the European farmers targeted by the Royal Bank ad but people from all over the world — especially Asian countries like India, China, and the Philippines. Migrants are tremendously diverse in language and culture, so it is perhaps not surprising that in recent decades those marketing to new Canadians have been preoccupied with cultural differences. A starting point for multicultural marketers has often been the question of just how “ethnic” their target groups were. That is, how different were they from the Canadian mainstream?

One problem with this strong focus on cultural difference is that it assumes boundaries that no longer exist. What is the Canadian mainstream? Are the 39 per cent of Canadians who are immigrants or the children of immigrants really outside that mainstream? The 1.6 million Canadians of South Asian origin or the 1.3 million Canadians of Chinese origin could each form a city larger than Calgary or Ottawa; are these groups best understood as “niche groups,” “minorities”? It is absolutely true that the millions of migrants who make Canada their home are changed by their life here. But they also change Canada. There is “acculturation,” but it is mutual.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The reality of contemporary Canada is that the old boundaries between mainstream and minority no longer hold.[/quote]

A second problem with the old cultural-difference approach to “ethnic marketing” is that there is much more to migrants’ outlooks than their ethnic culture. Creating relevant products, services, and messages demands more than an acknowledgement of migrants’ backgrounds. It demands an understanding of the expectations and preferences they have developed as consumers in their countries of origin. It also helps to understand how their needs and priorities evolve as they undergo the settlement process in Canada.

Our research with migrants — both newcomers and more settled people — suggests that migrants see the Canadian marketplace through a Cultural Lens that is coloured by three elements:

1. ethnic culture

2. pre-migration consumer experiences

3. their settlement journey

Only by understanding each of these three elements can we develop a truly meaningful picture of how migrants view products, services, and messages in Canada.

ETHNIC CULTURE: We all have an ethnic culture that we absorb from our society and especially our families. It is composed of things like language, religion, and deep-seated values. Everyone has an ethnic culture — not just migrants. Still, moving into a different society can make people more conscious of their distinct cultural outlooks. (Those who encounter little social difference may remain unaware of the role their ethnic culture plays in shaping their preferences.) For marketers, it is important to remember that the influence of ethnic culture in consumer choices may be strong or weak depending on the product category.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Food is heavily cultural; a mobile phone plan is not.[/quote]

PRE-MIGRATION CONSUMER EXPERIENCES: Much of migrant consumer behaviour, perceptions and brand relationships are formed outside of Canada.

Despite the globalization of many aspects of consumer culture, different markets continue to have distinct qualities — not only in their offerings, but in the rhythms and conventions of the customer experience. These provide the frame of reference when they are evaluating the products and services offered in Canada.

This can lead to differing reactions from new Canadian consumers. In some cases, adapting to a new consumer environment is positive. For example, many Indian newcomers report that they prefer Canadian-style supermarkets to typical grocery retail experiences in India. Other adaptations are frustrating. Filipinos, the world’s most prolific text messagers, are astonished to find that some Canadian mobile plans actually charge them for every single text.

From brands to retail environments to the conventions of customer service, migrants are navigating a new world as they go about their daily lives. Businesses operating in Canada should understand how migrants’ expectations have been shaped by other commercial environments.

SETTLEMENT JOURNEY: The journey of migration and settlement is far bigger than a flight across an ocean. It usually unfolds over about a decade as individuals develop new habits and make choices about how to live in their new society.

The influence of one’s ethnic culture evolves during this period, but not in a straightforward way—with one’s heritage culture gradually replaced by “Canadian” culture. Rather, it ebbs and flows depending on the phase of settlement. We find migrants usually experience four main phases in their settlement journeys:

Disorientation: This stressful phase is a scramble for the basics: finding groceries, connecting phones, getting bank accounts. Convenience and simplicity are top priorities. Ethnic culture matters relatively little at this time.

Orientation:The basics are established and some stress subsides. The Orientation phase is often a fun period, when newcomers take pleasure in exploring their new context in a more relaxed way—and seeing if they can track down those favourite foods from home.

Settlement: A year or two into their Canadian experience, the novelty is gone and things begin to feel normal — for better and worse. On the upside, people feel more established. On the downside, the fantasy of a new life in Canada has given way to reality. It’s a difficult psychological transition, even if the reality is fine. This is a time of refining arrangements ("Did I get suckered on this mobile plan when I arrived?" "Is this the right neighbourhood for me?") and making more deliberate choices.

Belonging: Migration is a profound experience that echoes throughout one’s life. In practical terms, however, the Belonging phase is the end of the settlement journey. Migrants are settled both practically and culturally. Depending on the individual, this may mean a diverse social group, strong Canadian identity, strong ties to their own language and cultural group, frequent visits “back home,” or any combination of these. Belonging looks different for different people; but when migrants reach the Belonging phase they have reached the final destination that feels right to them.

Each of the three elements of the Cultural Lens changes over time, but all three persist. And it is important to keep in mind that although the settlement journey is especially intense for migrants, they are not the only ones who are changed by their settlement process. Influence flows in multiple directions among Canadian-born and foreign-born, as trends like K-Pop and karaoke, ramen and Russell Peters, bangra and bubble tea swirl through cities and where multicultural means mainstream.

Robin Brown (@RobinBrown) is Senior Vice President at Environics Research Group and co-author of the upcoming book “Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada.

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Published in Commentary
Saturday, 06 April 2013 20:43

Bollywood event in B.C. an elitist showcase

By Sunera Thobani

After much fanfare and a fair share of controversy, the Times of India Film Awards (TOIFA) arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia last Saturday with a kickoff event “Celebrating Women”.

The success of the International Indian Film Awards (IIFA) last year in Toronto, Ontario seems to have cemented the link between India’s Hindi film industry [popularly known as Bollywood] and mainstream Canadian politicians, by way of the elites in the Indo-Canadian community. This year the industry has been wooed by the governing Liberal Party, with the province of British Columbia budgeting $11 million for TOIFA.

A staple in South Asian households across the diaspora for generations, today’s Bollywood seems to be catering only to the elites and not to the wider communities that put it on the map in North America.

Celebrating Women was organized to coincide with International Women’s Day (IWD). I use the word coincide advisedly instead of commemorate or celebrate as nothing about the event was recognizable as having anything to do with IWD. Indeed, the event could more appropriately be characterized as a hijacking of the issues — often life and death ones — which women all around the world, including in India and Canada, associate IWD with to commemorate and renew their collective struggles for economic, social and political justice.

Tax dollars for Bollywood extravaganza

First, some background is in order. The B.C. government’s decision to spend millions to bring TOIFA to Vancouver in advance of the upcoming May provincial election sparked off a controversy as soon as the public announcement was made. The Liberals were accused by mainstream commentators of pandering to the South Asian community by wasting precious tax dollars on a Bollywood extravaganza instead of supporting the local film industry.

Supporters of the event, including many from the South Asian community, noted that South Asian Canadians also pay taxes and pointed to the tax dollars that have been squandered in even greater measure on previous mega-events (the Olympics, Expo ’86, etc.). TOIFA, argued its proponents, would bring economic benefits to the province by boosting tourism from India, attracting Bollywood film productions, and generating an all around feel good factor towards B.C. among the readership of the powerful Times of India media conglomerate.

Promoting trade and cultural links between Canada and India has been high on the Canadian political agenda — federally and provincially — for some time now, given the rise of India as a socio-economic power to be reckoned with and of Bollywood as a major player in the global media industry.

The enthusiasm for partnerships was also fueled by the coming of age of the Indo-Canadian community, well enough established by the end of the 20th century to make major inroads into the economic and political mainstream of the country in which they had long struggled to be accepted as equals. Indeed British Columbia, the site of the landing of the first South Asian migrants to Canada at the turn of the 20th century, has featured prominently in the strengthening of these partnerships.

History of South Asian migration to B.C.

The first generation of South Asian migrants laid the foundation for such links from “below”, so to speak, as the early community organized its settlement in Canada in conjunction with fighting British rule in India. Taking on the racism of both British imperialism and the Canadian state whose immigration policies sought to prohibit the permanent settlement of what were then classified “non-preferred races” (i.e. ‘Orientals,’ ‘Hindoos’ and Blacks) was central to the social and political vision of these migrants.

Maintaining relations with their families and communities back in India was thus vital to their politics, as were the community networks they forged in North America as they strived for economic survival. Their advancement was linked to their struggle to liberate India from colonial domination. Early South Asian women migrants were central to these struggles, for the immigration policies of the day sought to specifically deny them entry into a Canada committed to protecting itself as a white man’s country.

All that was to change rather rapidly post World War II, with British colonies, including India, becoming independent and the liberalization of immigration and citizenship laws in 1970s.

 Canada began to experience labour shortage and could no longer rely on emigration from Europe and the other white settler colonies to meet its needs. India became a leading source of immigrants, and Canadian multiculturalism became the strategy of choice for the integration of South Asians into the Canadian political economy as “visible minorities” and “cultural communities”.  By the early 21st century, Statistics Canada reported that visible minorities account for 16.2% of the country’s population, with South Asians being the largest group (25 per cent) among them. In a mere century since the first South Asians arrived in British Columbia, they have become the largest non-white racial minority in the country. Given this historical context for the diasporic South Asian community in Canada, what can be made of how TOIFA/Bollywood chose to mark its arrival in B.C.?

Events like TOIFA play a critical role in the transnationalization of Bollywood from “above”, a phenomenon that is a feature of neoliberal globalization. Nevertheless, Celebrating Women in Vancouver has a particular “national” specificity. Such national considerations were evident in the choice of three women speakers from Canada and three from India — all presented as “successful women”  who were invited to share their “inspiring stories” with the largely well heeled sector of the South Asian community in attendance. And the speakers certainly delivered, congratulating themselves on their own successes and sharing with the audience how inspired they were by themselves. Not a word from the speakers about their achievements being built on the collective organizing of the South Asian women who came before them, and the organizations and movements these women had built to fight for women’s rights. More disturbing, not a word either from the panel about the event being located on the lands of Indigenous peoples whose territories were stolen and who are continuing to fight for their sovereignty.

Ethnic vote scandal

The B.C. politician on the panel pointedly noted that family and friends are important in helping women get ahead. But she neglected to mention how her government — headed by a woman premier — is responsible for implementing policies that are increasing the impoverishment of women and their families in the province and actually pushing women back by eroding many of the gains made in previous eras.

Nor did she mention the latest scandal to hit her party with the leaking of a memo describing how it was in essence planning to buy the “ethnic” vote — such as those of the women sitting on the panel with her – in the upcoming election through the funding of events just like this one. A following speaker acknowledged how important it is for women to speak up and then went on to thank men for allowing women to speak. Another explained how she refused to be treated as a princess by her family. Yet another talked about the neuroscience of philanthropy wherein scans apparently show the brain lighting up when one gives to community, cheerily telling the audience that philanthropy can now stand in for anti-depressants! And on and on they went, with all the speakers celebrating their own philanthropic commitments as a form of women’s empowerment, confusing charity with equality and justice for women.

Silence about violence against women

Vancouver is home to some of the oldest and strongest South Asian women’s activist groups and networks in the country. Not one of these was acknowledged in TOIFA’s celebration of its successful women — who have presumably won their successes single-handedly! In a country that has seen the disappearance and murders of over 600 Aboriginal women, an alarming number of them from the streets of Vancouver, not one word was spoken about the status of Aboriginal women in Canada and the urgent need for the South Asian community to stand in solidarity with First Nations women. South Asians in Canada have become complicit in the ongoing colonial dispossession and violence against indigenous peoples, and many activists in the community are trying to change this by supporting indigenous struggles for sovereignty.

The only show of solidarity with Indigenous peoples in the entire evening came in the “entertainment” section, with the ensemble Sticks ‘n Skins — featuring First Nations, South Asian, Japanese, African, and Cuban musical styles  – beginning their fabulous performance by acknowledging that the province of B.C. remains unceded indigenous territory.

If the successful women from Canada did not have the time or inclination to mention the rape and murders of Aboriginal women, or the violence experienced by South Asian and other non-indigenous women, including white, in Canada, the speakers from India likewise had nothing to say about the rapes, murders and violence against women in India.

Instead, what followed the panel of speakers were two fashion shows, one showcasing a BC designer, the other an Indian designer. Featuring models identical in body type, hair and make-up styles, they showcased the objectification and sexualization of women’s bodies for which the fashion industry is notorious.

At any other event, such a performance would have been hard enough to stomach for any person with a commitment to ending the oppression of women. But in the wake of the widespread women’s activism in India against rape, state violence and corruption, and with Aboriginal women in Canada leading the Idle No More movement that has galvanized international support for the struggle for indigenous sovereignty and opposition against the draconian powers assumed by the Canadian state, TOIFA’s appropriation of IWD was especially galling.

Dr. Sunera Thobani is an activist and teaches Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of British Columbia. Reproduced with permission from the author.

Published in Arts & Culture

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