Sunday, 11 March 2018 17:42

Khalistan – Theatre of the Absurd

Commentary by: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC

It’s likely Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saw events playing out differently than how they actually turned out for his recent state visit to India.

Like most Canadians, he probably thought February an ideal time to fly someplace warm. He would take the family to India, enjoy a weeklong vacation, get some great photo ops at sites like the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple, and then meet India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a day of official state business to wrap up his trip.

Though he would never admit it, Trudeau probably also hoped to out-Instagram his new arch rival, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was getting married in Mexico this past weekend.

And, last but not least, by taking his four Sikh cabinet ministers along for the trip, Trudeau would score points with his Sikh electoral base back in Canada.

While Canada’s PM did get in his photo-ops, he and his team was put on the defensive throughout the visit by accusations of his government being in league with "Khalistanis"—shorthand for "Khalistani terrorists". These charges came from multiple fronts.

Indian reporters dogged Trudeau with questions about harbouring "Sikh separatists", another term for "Khalistanis", at every opportunity, while leading media outlets like the Times of India, Hindustan Times, NDTV and others pushed the Khalistan narrative relentlessly.

Indian news magazines like Outlook published polemical essays about how “a new real threat of Khalistani terror” has emerged due to support from Sikh temples patronized by unwitting "liberal white politicians", like Justin Trudeau.

Meanwhile, members of the Indian government provided a lesson in how to put the "host" into hostility by repeating the provocative allegations against their guests. Captain Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab, where most Sikhs hail from, did his central government’s bidding when he stated, “There seems to be evidence that there are Khalistani sympathizers in Trudeau’s cabinet,” alluding to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, whom Singh has called a Khalistani in the past.

Sajjan has never made a statement in support of a separate Sikh state. If anything, he has spoken against it.

And then, into this charged environment, enter ex-Khalistani terrorist Jaspal Atwal, who makes an appearance at an event with the Trudeaus in Mumbai. A Canadian security official, reported to be Daniel Jean, told Canadian media outlets that it is possible that the presence of Atwal at the function with the Trudeaus was not an accident and had been engineered by elements within the India’s intelligence services.

Even if this turns out not to be the case, the fact that Atwal, an actual ex-Khalistani who tried to kill an Indian government official in Canada in 1986, was granted a visa to enter India at the same time as the Trudeau visit arouses suspicion. Canadian security officials like Jean are in the right to consider all possibilities about Atwal’s incidental presence at an event hosted by the Canadian High Commission in Mumbai.

Meanwhile, back in Canada, mainstream outlets could have benefited from a dose of Jean’s skepticism. Instead Canadian reporters on the most parroted the opinions of Indian media through analysis pieces that stated there has been "a revival of Khalistani terror in recent years". Despite the scraps of evidence the Indian government has presented to push this claim, it highly spurious at best.

A quick refresher here: Khalistan is the name of a currently nonexistent Sikh homeland. It is based on the state of Punjab, a territory slightly larger than Vancouver Island, separating from India. For sake of analogy think of the Basque region declaring independence from Spain, the Kurdish north opting out of Iraq, or Quebec leaving Canada.

Over 30 years ago in the early '80s, this idea of a Sikh homeland erupted overnight out of dormancy into a full-blown political cause when the Indian government made the pivotal error of turning their tanks on the Golden Temple, or the Sikh Vatican. Thousands of people would die in the Punjab from the ensuing violence over the next decade, including over 15,000+ in the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984, murdered by mobs who were provided weapons and transport via Indian government officials. Nobody has even been charged for that mass killing.

And here—the most important wrinkle to this story—it has been over 20 years since a terror attack has been credibly linked to the Khalistan movement. In the late '90s, at the same time the IRA signed its peace agreement in Northern Ireland, the Khalistan militancy faded away. Funds dried up, and the fighters who took up its cause retired back into normal lives.

Even the last of the hardcore holdouts like Lakhbir Singh Rode, the head of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), one of the two key groups at the centre of the Khalistan militancy, now keeps a day job running a meat business in Lahore, Pakistan.

Khalistan died. Khalistanis died. But the Khalistan narrative won’t die. And that is because it won’t be allowed to rest in peace because politicians in India, and ironically, even here in Canada, won’t let it.

The "threat" of Khalistan has more value alive than dead.

And so the storyline of Khalistan terror continues to develop, even if the movement is gone. The theatrics are necessary to showcase it as a viable threat.

Scottish national Jagtar Johal, 31, is one person who seems to be ensnared in this net. The Sikh activist who ran a website called NeverForget1984 was in India for his wedding last November when he was taken by Indian police. Johal is being detained, without charge, for allegedly having a role in a series of political assassinations in Punjab over the last two years.

Sikhs around the world have rallied around the #FreeJaggi hashtag to liberate Johal on what appear to be a politically motivated detention.

Over 100 Sikh temples around the world reacted to the #FreeJaggi controversy by recently barring Indian diplomats from their premises. The response from Indian politicians was predictable—the temple officials, from all 100+ organisations, are Khalistanis.

And now Justin Trudeau leaves India having been compelled into signing a Framework for Cooperation on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism between Canada and India. Canada and India had an intelligence-sharing arrangement before, during the height of the violence in Punjab in the '80s and '90s. That arrangement, however, was ended after the Khalistan movement died out. It is now on the path to coming back into place, renewing a fear that India’s corrupt police and paramilitary will be able to shake down the Indian relatives of Canadian Sikhs whose names appear in intelligence reports shared by Canada.

So what is driving this Russian-style disinformation campaign by India against its own former citizens and their descendants? It is not a terror attack the Indian government appears to be most fearful of. Rather, it is the disproportionate political influence of Canada’s Sikh community on Canada, a G7 country, that has New Delhi in fits.

As unified as India seems, it is an unwieldy coalition of 1.3-billion people with multiple ethnic groups, languages, and religions. The Indian government holds a reasonable fear that external influence could stir trouble again in the Punjab, especially in a country where the ruling BJP, a right-wing pro-Hindu party, itself governs through cold-blooded divide and rule machinations—the BJP frequently turns a blind eye to the violence of its own militant wing, the RSS, when it targets minority groups like Sikhs, Christians, and Muslims.

Currently, four of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers are Sikhs. There is also the possibility the next prime minister, or at least the next kingmaker, could be Jagmeet Singh, also a Sikh and someone with a social justice agenda. With an overall population of close to a million people in Canada, the Sikh community will only continue to grow in political influence for the years to come.

What the Indian government fails to recognize—or refuses to—is that politicians like Jagmeet Singh and others from a new generation of Sikhs are motivated not by separatism but by social justice causes. When they seek to redress past wrongs from incidents like anti-Sikh mass killings of Delhi in 1984, they are looking for reconciliation to heal past wounds, not for further division.

But this nuance is lost on the Indian government and so it indiscriminately responds to any criticism by undermining opponents with labels like "Khalistanis". Or it resorts to an old tactic of withholding travel visas. While ex-terrorist Jaspal Atwal can obtain an Indian visa—on multiple occasions it should be noted—NDP leader Jagmeet Singh cannot.

Singh was denied a visa in 2013, as was Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal in 2011. Both men brought forward motions in the Ontario provincial legislature and in the House of Commons respectively to have the Delhi mass killings classified as a genocidal act.

The motion was eventually carried last year by the Ontario government. The Indian government responded by calling it "misguided".

Ironically, however, hammering down on opponents with the Khalistani cudgel is not beneath the use of Canadian politicians either. In a Sikh community that is as politically active as it is diverse, some groups have also repeatedly resorted to labelling their opponents as "Khalistanis", regardless of how the reckless use of this language can indelibly stain an entire community.

In Trudeau’s Liberal government, it is no secret the World Sikh Organisation, a group that once advocated for the Khalistan state, has the ear of the PM, keeping at bay other voices from the community. The backroom fighting to get into such a position has caused simmering resentment among other Liberal members from the South Asian community. One of these flashpoints for this bitterness was in riding of Vancouver South in 2014 when Trudeau "parachuted" in star candidate Harjit Sajjan and closed the open nomination process.

There was justifiable frustration among the ousted Sikh faction that was likely to win that nomination. But their response was also predictably toxic.

"The Liberal Party, especially Justin, is in bed with extremist and fundamental groups. That's why I decided to leave the Liberal Party," said Kashmir Dhaliwal, ex-president of the powerful Khalsa Diwan Society which operates the Ross Street Temple in South Vancouver.

Ujjal Dosanjh, the former NDP premier of British Columbia and federal Liberal health minister, himself repeated this "Khalistani" critique to describe the Sikh insiders within the Trudeau government. In a radio interview this past week on CBC’s As it Happens, he bluntly stated that Trudeau’s government was infiltrated by Sikh separatists.

None of Trudeau’s Sikh cabinet ministers has spoken out in support of a separate Sikh state—if anything they have spoken against it. Dosanjh, meanwhile, has found himself on the outside without a role in the current Trudeau government.

"Khalistan 2.0" is a term that has been dubbed by Indian media to denote the future resurgence of the Sikh separatist movement led by "radicalized" Sikhs from countries like Canada. But in actuality, Khalistan 2.0 is already here.

It is a cheap, troll-friendly, media smear campaign—perfectly suited for the social media environment—wielded by the Indian government to discredit diasporic Sikhs, whether they criticize the Indian government’s human rights record or seek redress for legitimate grievances from the state-organized mass killings of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984.

And because this faux Khalistan narrative is so effective, it doesn’t even need an actual real terror incident to find its way on to frontpages of Canadian or international news outlets. It just needs a politician—Indian or Canadian—willing to do anything to advance their personal agendas. Unfortunately, those are a dime a dozen.

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. 

Published in Commentary

By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC

New Canadians from South Asia, China and the Philippines are more likely to donate to charitable causes than the general population, a new survey has found.

The survey by the Angus Reid Institute and CHIMP or the Charitable Impact Foundation, found this segment of Canadians – many of whom are motivated to give by their personal religious faith – are more likely to donate to charitable causes than the general population, and more likely to say that they should be doing even more than they already are.

The key findings stated:

• From poverty reduction, to faith-based issues, to human rights, people born outside Canada are more likely to have donated to each of the 11 charitable areas canvassed in this survey;

• While three-in-ten respondents from the general population (30%) say they should be “doing more” to contribute to charitable causes, this sentiment increases to four-in-ten (41%) among those born outside Canada

• Seven-in-ten immigrants surveyed (71%) say their religious beliefs have a strong influence on their giving habits, while fewer than half of the general population say this (46%)

• Money sent to family overseas is a significant source of giving for immigrants – one-in-four (27%) are currently sending money in this way

The survey sample was primarily drawn from individuals who were born in the top three emigrating nations – China, India, and the Philippines – though a handful of respondents say they were born in another country outside of Canada.

In addition to the sample of 439 residents born outside the country, this survey also captured a large group of second-generation Canadians.

“With the percentage of Canada’s population who are immigrants expected to grow in coming years, this segment becomes more important to the Canadian story with each passing year,” said Shachi Kurl, the executive director of the Angus Reid Foundation.

The survey authors said in their report that Canadians as a whole population can be divided into four groups in terms of their charitable behaviour: The Non-Donors, The Casual Donors, The Prompted Donors, and The Super Donors.

The Non-Donors (14% of the general population) are just that: People for whom donating money is simply not something they do. At most, members of this group donate less than $100 dollars and support just one charitable cause in a typical year. The vast majority of this group is even less charitably active.

Slightly more active in their charitable activities are the Casual Donors (31%). Members of this group spread their money around, with most donating to at least two different charities each year, but none of them report donating more than $250 annually.

The other two groups – the Prompted Donors (34%) and the Super Donors (21%) – are each significantly more likely than Casual and Non-Donors to support a variety of charities and to spend more than $250 per year.

Those born outside Canada are much more likely to fall into the Super Donor category. More than one-in-three (36%) may be considered members of the most generous segment of the population, compared to one-in-five (21%) within the overall population, said Kurl.

Across each of the 11 donation areas canvassed in this survey, those born outside of Canada are more likely than the general population to have volunteered or donated to all of them, with the exception of animal welfare causes.

Notably, second-generation Canadians as likely as immigrants to volunteer or donate in many charitable areas. This means that they are also much more likely than the general population to be involved. There is however, a large disparity between first and second generation Canadians in two areas – religious causes and involvement in their own ethnic community.

The role of personal faith is evident among Canadians born overseas. While just three-in-ten (31%) among the total population say they are involved with a religious or faith-based cause, this number jumps to six-in-ten (61%) among immigrants and four-in-ten (43%) among second-generation Canadians.

When looking at the impetus to give, faith is again a factor. Seven-in-ten immigrants to Canada (71%) say their own personal faith has a strong influence on their views of charitable activities. Just under half (46%) of the general population says this. Second-generation Canadians fall in between these two groups (55%):

One-in-four immigrants (27%), are also currently sending money to family overseas in the form of remittances. This represents double the number of second-generation Canadians who say the same (13%), while just a handful of general population Canadians say they are currently remitting.

The group remitting in the greatest numbers, by a large margin, are Filipino immigrants. Among this group, 43 per cent say they are sending money back overseas currently, while those from South Asia (25%) and China (15%) report doing so at a much lower rate.

New Canadians also ranked higher in the “should be doing more to support charitable causes” segment when compared to the general population.

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.

Published in Top Stories
Saturday, 16 December 2017 13:29

Punjabis Sign up for Nanny School to get Visas

Canada’s commitment to boost its live-in caregiver program as a pathway to citizenship has boosted the business of “nanny institutes” in Punjab.

Traditionally, people from Punjab have gone to Canada as farmers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians and welders.

For Punjabis dreaming of better opportunities abroad, a caregiver visa is now one of the best white collar ways to get into Canada, reported the Indian Express.

“Going to Canada as caregiver is a relatively new trend. After an initial boom, there was a downturn in 2009 when the processing time took much longer due to the increasing number of aspirants. Since last year, there is again a boom as rules were changed. Now a caregiver need not live with the family round-the-clock, but for a minimum eight hours in a day,” said Gursharan Sodhi, who runs the Chandigarh-based Cali Healthcare Resources (CHR).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I will get a good salary and better environment there.”-Jatinder Kaur, 22[/quote]

There are about 10 institutes in the Chandigarh and Mohali areas alone offering the “nanny course”, charging between Rs 60,000 and Rs 90,000

The number of students in each class varies between 10 and 30.

 A network of agents offers “packages” to the aspiring immigrants, complete with the “nanny” course and a job offer from Canada.

Armed with a certificate from a training institute, and a signed agreement of employment, a visa applicant can apply for a two-year work permit. After two years of working as a caregiver, the candidate is free to apply for a permanent residency and later citizenship in Canada.

Jatinder Kaur, 22, is an economics graduate from Kapurthala and is enrolled with Chandigarh Immigration. She described the course as “first aid, taking care of children and elderly, prescription reading”. And admitted that her goal is Canada.

“I will get a good salary and better environment there.”

Fellow student Sukhjeet Singh, a 25-year-old electrical engineer from Hoshiarpur and the son of a Punjab Police inspector, said there is no money in engineering jobs. “I worked as an engineer for three years. I was getting about Rs 20,000 as salary. As a nanny in Canada, I hope to easily make more than Rs 1 lakh.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada recently said  it will have the backlog of permanent residence applications through the old Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) largely cleared by the end of 2018.

In an announcement on Dec. 3, IRCC said its goal is to finalize 80 per cent of applications for permanent residence submitted on or before Oct. 1, 2017, by caregivers and their family members through the LCP.

“The commitments the government has made today will mean that many Live-in Caregiver Program applicants who have faced long delays and family separation may soon reach their goal of permanent residence,” Canada’s Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, said in a news release.

“After diligently providing care for Canadians, they may soon be in the company of their own loved ones, together in Canada.”

The program provided foreign nationals with at least two years of full-time, live-in employment as a caregiver in Canada with a direct pathway to permanent residence. The program was closed in 2014 but thousands of caregivers who were working in Canada were given an extended opportunity to apply for permanent residence.

As many as 6,000 more applications for permanent residence under the LCP could still be submitted, IRCC says.

In its announcement, IRCC also committed to processing 80 per cent of new, complete LCP applications submitted on or after Oct. 1, 2017, within 12 months.

As of Oct. 1, 2017, IRCC said the number of caregivers and their family members waiting for their applications to be finalized had been reduced by 63 per cent. This reduction was due in part to additional resources that IRCC dedicated to processing the backlog of applications.

IRCC says this push has it on track to finalize 5,000 more cases than it had originally forecast for 2017. In total, 20,000 new permanent residents will be welcomed to Canada this year in the caregiver category.

IRCC also said that developments could soon be announced regarding a proposal to eliminate the $1,000 Labour Market Impact Assessment fee for Canadian families looking to hire a foreign worker to care for a person with high medical needs. The fee would also be eliminated for Canadian families with an income of less than $150,000, who are looking to hire a foreign worker to provide childcare.

But not all Punjabis who turn up in Canada as caregivers remain as such, and might switch to other jobs after becoming permanent residents, said an immigration expert in Chandigarh.

 “The majority of Punjabi immigrants do not want to work at someone’s home abroad. Also, the many Punjabi families in Canada who give job offers do not want a nanny either. It has become a sort of business for many to charge money for paperwork. For others, it is a way to help relatives and friends enter Canada,” the expert, wishing not to be named, told Indian Express.

National Institute Chandigarh owner G L Kaushal said caregiver employers usually cross-check several times to ensure that the probable caregiver does the job diligently once abroad.

Students at the institutes confessed that they had tried unsuccessfully for US or Canadian visas earlier. “My family is settled in the United States. But the US turned down my visa twice citing that I was overage. There is no upper age limit for caregiver job,” said Rupinder Kaur, 26, who has come from Amritsar to the CHR institute.

A woman from Faridkot, with a B.Sc in Biotechnology, said her application for visa for Canada under the hairstylist category was rejected a few years back. She hid her B.Sc. qualification at the time of application. She is now trying again under the LCP.

Republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.

Published in Top Stories

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.

Published in Arts & Culture

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.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Now they were venting furiously about how their lifetime membership to the exclusive club of white privilege had apparently eroded in value.[/quote]

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.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Dosanjh’s pitch for amplifying the voices of the privileged is like advocating another tax cut for the one-percent.[/quote]

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.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]What he fails to note is that this same corset of censorship applies equally to everyone, regardless of race.[/quote]

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.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]By dividing us into camps of white, yellow, red, brown, and black ... means we will always be stuck in these very silos that Dosanjh claims to loathe.[/quote]

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.

An abridged version of this piece was first published in The Globe and Mail. It was re-published here in partnership with the South Asian Post

Published in Commentary

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.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]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.[/quote]

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. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"He stood up in the most difficult of circumstances and follows in the tradition of other Canadian martyrs like Louis Riel.”[/quote]

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.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Neither could have foreseen the modern multicultural Canada their clash would inadvertently help cast.[/quote]

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.

This piece was was first published in The Globe & Mail. Republished in partnership with the South Asian Post.


Published in Arts & Culture
Tuesday, 06 October 2015 17:47

Indo-gangster Film Shoots Blanks

by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver

Splashy, colourful and loud as a tie-dyed turban, Beeba Boys is an arranged marriage between a Bollywood drama and Reservoir Dogs, with the match made by Tom Ford. Sadly, however, this is not one of those weddings where love blossoms over time and the couple bonds into one happy unit. 

The film is loosely inspired by the brief life of Vancouver Indo-Canadian gangster Bindy Johal. In filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s version, however, the protagonist is an overcooked caricature of Johal's media persona.

Jeet Johar, played by Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda, is no longer a street thug trying to secure a piece of the local drug trade – typical of the vast majority of Vancouver’s real-life disorganized street level Indo gangsters.

This bogeyman is the established head of a sinister group of snazzily-dressed goons whose operation is as well-oiled as their looks. Meet the Beeba Boys (beeba being a maternal term of endearment meaning ‘good boy’), with Johar as the established Kingpin don of this Hell’s Kitchen.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]This flimsy treatment of the protagonist twins poorly with a plot that seems templated, and disjointed in its formulaic shifts.[/quote]

Mehta’s Jeet is a homicidal maniac with limited emotional range. He broods, threatens people, broods some more, gets angry and shoots someone, and then broods some more.

He is a human automaton – ironically his son in the movie compares him to Megatron – who somehow happens to be the head of a sophisticated drug operation, though we never learn how Jeet becomes the Scarface of Vancouver. We see less of Jeet actually running his business than dressing up to run his business.

This flimsy treatment of the protagonist twins poorly with a plot that seems templated, and disjointed in its formulaic shifts. It feels like Mehta is checking boxes trying to get all the ingredients into this recipe: gangster threatening rival, gangster going to jail, gangster in court, gangster courting his moll, all stirred together with a couple of cultural scenes, and voila the souffle. The pieces do not sum to a whole greater than its parts.

Epitome of hyperbole

Particularly weak is the vapid relationship between Jeet and his love interest, Katja (Sarah Allen). It is the classic trope of the innocent girl falling for the bad boy. But Mehta’s treatment is lazy, even hinting at a mild case of Jungle Fever

Chance circumstance tosses Katja within pheromone-sniffing distance of Jeet Johar and suddenly its mating season in Beeba-land. With little else between them, we are expected to invest in their explosive connection.

[youtube height="315" width="560"][/youtube]


It is the epitome of hyperbole: hyper-masculine Jeet doesn’t court women as much as he summons them to his bed. The relationship drags through the movie more as a distraction, eventually sopping with Bollywood-style melodrama to fill the void left by the lack of chemistry.

Hooda’s searing on-screen presence and his few scenes of emotional authenticity salvage his character but in the end, the screenplay renders him as flat-footed as Katja, without the bounce in his legs to take us anywhere beyond the designer-upholstered basement of his parent’s house where he lives and runs his gang of Beeba’s. 

Film missing important context

Period pieces and culturally specific underworld movies benefit from narration, take for example City of God (set in Brazil’s favelas) or Goodfellas (Italian mafia in NYC). The viewer is given the context to follow the storyline and to know why any of this is worth watching. Utilising this device in Beeba Boys would have helped frame scenes for viewers unfamiliar with Sikh cultural references. 

A prime example is a macabre wedding sequence featuring a dead groom at the start of the film. There is dancing, singing, and a general big-fat-Indian-wedding celebration centred around a blue-faced corpse.

It feels straight from a Tarantino playbook – nobody is alarmed, not even the children when the dead man topples over. Is this the Beeba Boys' way of pouring out a 40-ouncer of malt liquor to mark the death of a comrade or has Mehta planted a hook for a sequel, Beeba Boys II, the zombie thriller? 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Unfortunately the film resorts to 'gangsta bombast' instead of treating the subject matter with more respect.[/quote]

Over her 20 plus years of film-making Deepa Mehta has made a significant contributions to Canadian and South Asian cinema which has firmly embedded her as an icon in the Canadian canon of film. She is as good a filmmaker as any in the South Asian genre. Given the right script, she is capable of producing resonating, finely textured features like Earth.

Beeba Boys is her first crack at gangster noir, a rare genre in Canadian cinema. Unfortunately the film resorts to 'gangsta bombast' instead of treating the subject matter with more respect. 

There is a story worthy of exploring in the life of Vancouver’s real life beeba boys who enter the drug trade. They are typically 2nd generation young men from stable middle class families. Many have college educations. Yet they are lost and seem to enter this world seeking direction. Too many – over 150 in the last 20 years – leave it only once they are lost for good. 

The film provides little insight into why Vancouver should be the grounds for the rise of the Indo-Canadian gangster as opposed to Toronto, New York, or other cities with significant Sikh populations. If religion is the root cause, as Mehta’s film seems to suggest at times, it still does not explain the disparity in violence between different population centres.

Given its specialised focus, the film will find viewers upon general release, and the trailers will surely create an impression. But like the young Indo-Canadian men who have died in Vancouver’s drug trade, Beeba Boys lives too fast to leave much impression.

Published in partnership with the South Asian Post.

Published in Arts & Culture

As the federal election campaign goes into high gear, a distinct Punjabi flavour is permeating Canadian politics with some 40 Punjab-origin men and women in the fray for office on Parliament Hill.

All three main political parties in Canada—the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democratic Party have put up Punjab-origin people, mostly Sikhs as their candidates, mainly in Brahmpton, Surrey, Calgary and Edmonton.

“There is a lot of Punjabi tadka in the Canadian elections. However, there is lot of difference in the style of campaigning in Canada and India,” said a Punjabi politician in the election fray, according to the Tribune, one of India’s biggest media houses, which is keeping a close eye on the elections.

Punjabi candidates could be 'make or break' for parties

Latest polls show that Canada's federal election on Oct 19 is too close to call, with a virtual three-way tie a little more than a month before voters cast their ballots.

The three parties are in a statistical dead heat, according to a survey by the Ekos polling firm, which showed the New Democrats hanging onto an insignificant lead with 30.2 per cent voter support -- well within the margin of error.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In several ridings it's Sikh versus Sikh.[/quote]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Tories, meanwhile, had 29.5 per cent support, and the Liberals polled 27.7 per cent in the survey of some 3,243 Canadian voters.

The sampling error for the August 26 to September 1 survey was 1.7 per cent. Given the tight race, the Punjabi-origin candidates with their ethnic support could make or break a party, political analysts said.

Going up against each other

In several ridings it's Sikh versus Sikh.

One of the prominent faces in the poll fray is Bal Gosal, a minister who is contesting as a candidate of the Conservatives Party from the Brampton Centre constituency. The Liberals have put up Rameshwar Sangha against him.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The hottest electoral battle among Punjabis is said to be in the Surrey Newton constituency.[/quote]

Another minister, Tim Uppal, is contesting from Edmonton Millwoods. The Liberals have put up Amarjeet Kohli to oppose him.

The hottest electoral battle among Punjabis is said to be in the Surrey Newton constituency where Sukh Dhaliwal of the Liberals, Harpreet Singh of the Conservatives and sitting MP Jinny Sims of the NDP are in the fray.

The NDP has put up Harbaljit Kahlon form Brampton East, Martin Singh from Brampton North and Amarjit Singh from Brampton South constituencies. It also has put up Sahajvir Singh Randhawa from Calgary Skyview, Jasbir Deol from Edmonton Millwoods, Bill Sundhu from Kamploop, Jasbir Sandhu from Surrey Centre, Amardeep Nijjar from Vancouver South.

The Liberals have put up Harjit Sajjan in Vancouver South, Raj Grewal from Brampton East, Sonia Sidhu form Brampton South, Kamal Khera from Brampton and Raj Saini from Kltchender Centre. Navdeep Bains is its candidate from Mississauga Malton. The other candidates put up by the Liberals include Jagdeesh Grewal, Darshan Kang, Joti Sidhu, Sukh Dhaliwal, Anju Dhillon and Gagan Sikand.

The candidates put up by the Conservatives include Nina Grewal, Harpreet Singh, Sucha Thind, Devinder Shory, Deepak Oberai, Jagdish Grewal and Ravinder Malhi.

"Ethnic vote" not to be taken for granted

Canada’s history of large immigrant inflows combined with a high naturalization rate (citizenship acquisition) has made it an electoral imperative to court – not dismiss – the “ethnic vote.”, said Michael Adams, president of the Environics Institute and Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of Citizenship and Multiculturalism.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In the 2011 federal election, voters sent 42 foreign-born citizens to represent them as MPs in Ottawa.[/quote]

No party has a monopoly on immigrants, new or long-settled, and none can take for granted the support of any ethnocultural or religious minority group, they said in a recently published article in the Globe and Mail.

In the 2011 federal election, voters sent 42 foreign-born citizens to represent them as MPs in Ottawa. That’s about 13 per cent of the then-308-member House of Commons. That proportion falls short of parity with our foreign-born population (20 per cent of us are foreign-born), but it comes quite close to matching the proportion of us who are foreign-born and Canadian citizens: 16 per cent.

Remarkably, the immigrants who were elected to Canada’s Parliament in 2011 had not only become citizens, gotten themselves nominated and then won election – but they represented all five main political parties: 18 Conservatives (of 166 elected), 18 New Democrats (of 103), four Liberals (of 34), and one each in the Bloc Québécois (of four) and the Green Party (of one). The Green Party is 100-per-cent foreign-born: Elizabeth May is from Hartford, Conn. The Bloc is dedicated to dismantling the country but managed to be inclusive of the foreign-born. Only in Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]here’s every reason to expect that one day soon a person of non-European origin will be our prime minister.[/quote]

Another “only in Canada” fact is that our most right-wing party, the Conservatives, attracts a substantial contingent of candidates born abroad. 

The high proportion of foreign-born MPs suggests a willingness to elect people not born in Canada – but are Canada’s immigrant MPs all from countries like Britain and France, of which the dominant ethnocultural and religious groups mirror Canada’s? No. Canada’s foreign-born MPs came from everywhere: 15 from Europe, 11 from Asia, 11 from the Americas and five from Africa.

Oct. 19 and beyond

Looking ahead to our date with electoral destiny on Oct. 19, which ridings are likely to have interesting ethnocultural dynamics? Out of Canada’s 338 ridings (under the new boundaries), 15 have populations that are more than 70-per-cent visible minority. Ten of these are in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), five in Greater Vancouver.

These ridings are mostly defined by Chinese and South Asian populations (mainly people from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka); one, York West in Toronto, has 22 per cent who self-identify as black. Interestingly, only four have a majority of one ethnic group: Brampton East in the GTA and Surrey-Newton in Greater Vancouver have 60- and 59-per-cent South Asian residents, respectively.

Markham-Unionville in the GTA and Richmond Centre in Greater Vancouver have 57-per-cent and 51-per-cent Chinese residents, respectively. Another 18 ridings have visible-minority populations ranging from 50 to 70 per cent, but none of these has anywhere near a majority of only one group.

When it comes to another aspect of our ethnocultural diversity – religion – the picture becomes even more fragmented: In no riding in Canada does one non-Christian religious community comprise a majority of the population.

The highest proportion in the country is Surrey-Newton with 44-per-cent Sikh, followed by 34-per-cent Sikh in Brampton East. The next most populous religious group in one riding are those of Jewish faith: 37 per cent of the population in Thornhill (GTA) is Jewish, as is 31 per cent of Montreal’s Mount Royal riding. Canadian Muslims form between 15 and 20 per cent in six ridings.

It’s not unlikely that on Oct. 19, there will be 50 or more foreign-born legislators of all parties in our newly elected House of Commons. And there’s every reason to expect that one day soon a person of non-European origin will be our prime minister – but it’s anybody’s guess which party he or she will lead. 

Published in partnership with South Asian Post.

Published in Politics

by Leah Bjornson (@leahjuneb) in Vancouver, British Columbia

With both the the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) faculty association calling for the chair of UBC’s Board of Governors to resign, more professors are speculating as to the reasons behind the abrupt resignation of UBC President Arvind Gupta.

Gupta’s departure was announced in a vague news release sent out by the Board of Governors on the afternoon of Friday, August 7. Although no explanation was given in the original release, UBC Board of Governors’ chairman John Montalbano told the Vancouver Sun that Gupta’s reasons were “personal” and “in the best interest of his family, himself and the university.”

Nevertheless, the secretive nature of Gupta’s leaving has raised significant outcry from the UBC Faculty Association. Fourteen faculty members signed an open letter sent earlier this week in which they expressed concerns about a perceived lack of transparency in the processes surrounding the President’s resignation.

Gupta had only been in his term for 13 months, and will receive his presidential salary of $446,750 for the current year under the grounds of academic leave.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It is not typical for someone in a position like that to abruptly leave barely into their contract.”[/quote]

“It was shocking!” exclaimed Sandra Mathison, a tenured professor in UBC’s faculty of education, when asked about her reaction to the initial announcement. “It is not typical for someone in a position like that to abruptly leave barely into their contract.”

Varied speculations on departure

Although Mathison was not one of the faculty members who signed the open letter calling for the chair’s resignation, she says her sentiments are shared by many members of the university.

“There are a lot of faculty who are incredibly—one they were shocked and two upset,” she related. “I think that there was, among faculty and students, a generally positive or at least neutral response to him. So there was very little reason to believe that this was coming and happened so precipitously.”

Mathison speculates that there are two possible explanations for Gupta’s departure: one, that the Board of Governors made a non-traditional hire and later decided that they’d made a mistake; or two, that the Board didn’t give Gupta adequate time or support to figure out his role. Either, she says, indicates poor judgement on their behalf.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Berdahl suggested that Gupta resigned because he had “lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC.”[/quote]

Sauder School of Business Professor Jennifer Berdahl offered a more controversial theory in a recent blog post. Berdahl suggested that Gupta resigned because he had “lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC” by failing to act in ways a more traditional leader would.

Shortly after posting the article, Berdahl received a call from Montalbano, whose personal donation of $2 million created her teaching post. Berdahl claims Montalbano intimidated her, attempting to inhibit her from speaking further on the matter.

This incident and resulting media and social media uproar have spurred the Canadian Association of University Teachers to join the fight. The group issued a letter on Wednesday in which they asked Montalbano to step aside while the university investigates the allegations against him of violating academic freedom.

Montalbano denies all charges of violating academic freedom, stating that he only contacted Berdahl to further understand her concerns. Yet, the financial links between him and the university have caused some to question the chair’s intentions behind his conversation with Berdahl.

“He’s confusing his own personal interests and his public role as the chair of the board of governors, and no matter what his intentions may be, the effect of his actions and the way this was spun out are quite curious,” commented Charles Menzies, a UBC professor of anthropology.

An obligation for transparency

Menzies also did not sign the open letter from the faculty association, but has been an active voice on Twitter since the announcement, speaking out against the perceived lack of transparency on the Board’s behalf.

Based on Mathison’s limited personal experiences with Gupta, she disagrees with Berdahl’s observation that he was some exceptional champion of diversity. However, Menzies has suggested an alternative reason for his early departure.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The Board of Governors has got to provide an explanation for why it is that President Gupta is no longer the President.”[/quote]

He explained that Gupta was a “non-traditional” hire, emerging from a background of entrepreneurship and innovation rather than higher education administration. What’s more, Menzies said that Gupta chose to focus his term on research and education, which diverged from the university’s previous initiatives geared towards “money-making ventures.”

“In certain circles of those running this university, that [pursuit] actually is probably understood as a threat to their security,” he commented.

While their speculations may differ, Menzies and Mathison both agree that the faculty and public deserve a better explanation from the Board. “The obligation for transparency is absolutely the key element here,” said Mathison. “The Board of Governors has got to provide an explanation for why it is that President Gupta is no longer the President.”

Published in partnership with the South Asian Post. 

Published in Education

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.

Bhai Khanhaiya

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.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“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.” - Linda Hepner, Surrey mayor[/quote]

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.

Jagdeesh Mann is a member of the New Canadian Media Editorial Board.

Published in partnership with South Asian Post 

Published in Arts & Culture

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved