New Canadian Media

Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC

 

Earlier this year, Rena Heer, a former reporter for CTV and CP24 in Toronto, hosted a gathering at her home for other fellow Canadian Sikhs who had experience in the communications and media professions. This was not the usual Sunday afternoon chai and gossip session ubiquitous to South Asian households across the Lower Mainland. The guests had convened to discuss a chronic problem that had plagued this community since the 1980s: negative coverage in mainstream media.

This time, Canada’s prime minister, having previously bragged he had more Sikhs in his cabinet than India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had travelled to India with four of his ministers of Sikh faith. It touched a nerve with India’s "alt-right" Hindu-chauvinistic administration. Indian politicians let loose with a series of flimsy allegations, including some that implicated Trudeau’s own cabinet ministers as "Khalistanis", and in particular, decorated Canadian war veteran and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Indian media lapped it up. Canadian media regurgitated it.

Canada’s predominantly white newsrooms ran with panic-stricken pieces about how there is a "revival of Khalistan terror", or how Canadian Sikhs are engaged in "blood hatreds"—or in an attempt to bundle Sikhs with ISIS terrorists—how Sikhs are "promised a place in paradise" when martyred.

Heer was one of a handful of journalists in Canada from the Sikh community who had worked in mainstream newsrooms and she found the reporting lacked not only nuance but overlooked obvious problems with the allegations—such as the glaring lack of any Khalistan-related terror incidents over the previous 20-odd years.

“Once you’ve been in the media industry you know how things are done, that sources should be checked properly, that the motivations of those sources should be examined,” Heer stated. “But with this Trudeau trip to India coverage I knew that wasn’t happening.”

Meanwhile a younger millennial generation of Sikhs (#AskCanadianSikhs) continued to plead on Twitter with various mainstream reporters and outlets to include their voices in the coverage. They found little success, and at times, open hostility. For Heer, the six-week blitz of negative coverage was a lesson that Canadian Sikhs needed to engage in media "pro-activism" based on how underrepresented they are in mainstream outlets.

“Newsrooms are tough environments, and people will ask why should anyone care when you bring up story topics, especially when they don’t relate to those experiences,” she added. “In order for these ideas to get across you need to have all experiences represented in newsrooms.”

 

But in Canada, it’s not just Sikhs, but all of the country’s minorities that are underrepresented in the country’s newsrooms, which some media watchers estimate are as much as 90 percent white.

To their credit, Canadian media outlets have also acknowledged this problem and sought, over recent years, to hire more reporters from diverse communities. But because change has been slow to come, minority communities in Canada still remain susceptible to misreporting, tokenization, being ignored, or worse, being spoken over, as in the case of the apparent "comeback" of Khalistani terrorists.

An obvious part of solving this problem is diversifying mainstream newsrooms through the hiring of reporters from diverse communities.

In a country where almost two out of every five people is either born outside of Canada or is a second-generation Canadian (born to at least one immigrant parent), it is critical that newsrooms have reporters who can speak languages such as Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi, or Tagalog, or staff reporters who, at minimum, have some cultural knowledge of Canada’s largest minorities.

But at this point in time, "diversity coverage" still means reporting on issues pertaining to or including people of colour, while "mainstream coverage" implies broader news reporting usually featuring people who are more likely to be white.

Multicultural Canada is often glowingly described as a cohesive mosaic but I would argue our society is more a non-integrated patchwork of self-contained communities that, while peacefully co-existing, generally have limited interactions with each other.

Increasing diversity in newsrooms is not about ceding ground to identity politics, political correctness, or even being more "inclusive". It is about better reporting. Full stop. Without newsroom diversity, too many stories are missed, delayed in coverage, or misreported, and that has a negative impact on all of us. So regardless of your skin colour, it is actually in your interest for mainstream newsrooms to hire more journalists from diverse backgrounds who reflect the immigrant and second-generation realities of Canadian life.

Retaining them, however, may be another issue. 

Journalism while brown

It’s a notable occurrence when someone from a diverse community is hired by a mainstream outlet. Given there are so few diverse reporters in these newsrooms, it serves as a sort of barometer for "progress".

Over the past decade, mainstream newsrooms have made some advances in this regard, particularly in broadcast news where Canada’s diversity is reflected on television screens. But it’s also notable—and for all the wrong reasons—when a journalist of colour leaves the industry, and exceptionally so, when the reporter in question does so in the cause of diversity while torching any hopes of getting a reference letter on the way out of the building.

That journalist was Sunny Dhillon who recently quit his job in the Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. In his recent blog post, "Journalism While Brown and When to Walk Away", Dhillon explained that he resigned because of how his newsroom was failing in covering diversity.

The breaking point was when, on the eve of the deadline, he was ordered by his bureau chief to rework an assignment on Vancouver’s recent municipal election into being a triumph for women rather than being yet another failure for racialized candidates. Eight out of the 10 Vancouver council seats were won by women and only one was won by a councillor of mixed heritage.

“I decided to leave The Globe and Mail because that final conversation inside the bureau chief’s office crystallized what I had felt: What I brought to the newsroom did not matter,” Dhillon wrote in his post on Medium that has since been retweeted thousands of times. “And it was at that moment that being a person of colour at a paper and in an industry that does not have enough of us — particularly at the top — felt more futile than ever before.”

His dramatic resignation has renewed discussions on how the diversity angle can be ignored or glossed over in mainstream newsrooms, particularly when the story is not a stereotypical "diversity topic" like an annual Chinese New Year celebration or a Vaisakhi parade.

“And it was at that moment that being a person of colour at a paper and in an industry that does not have enough of us — particularly at the top — felt more futile than ever before.”

In the Vancouver council story, for example, both the gender and race angles merit coverage, but not equally so. Based on historical data, the lack of diversity angle would seem more newsworthy given women have been equally (or almost equally) represented on city council for over the past four administrations going back to 2005.

In comparison, a South Asian candidate has not served on council in almost 50 years and there has never been a councillor from the Filipino community.

 

Regardless, however, of whether a story is revealed through the lens of race, gender, or some other prism, newsrooms are not democracies, as Dhillon was reminded in his clash with his editor. And even though mainstream newsrooms are increasingly using analytics to practice data-driven journalism that maximizes click-throughs, there is still a human element in how stories are assigned, angled, and ultimately headlined.

These remain in the very subjective hands of newsroom editors.

But like any human being, deadline-pressed editors—whose job requirements include performing newsroom management and story assignment balancing acts—are prone to seeing the world through the lens of their own experiences, which in the senior management realm of Canadian media is even whiter than the ranks staffing newsrooms.

According to Dhillon, it was the constant struggle to table a diverse perspective in this lily-white cultural environment that eventually wore him out: “When a story or column does not adequately if at all, understand or consider the perspectives of the nonwhite people it involves, what do you say?... When you ultimately stop pitching stories on race to preserve your own sanity, what good are you doing the very nonwhite people whose perspectives you deem yourself to be in the newsroom to share?

“How many battles do you have in you?”

For journalists of colour working with their editors, Dhillon’s frustrations are not all that unusual, as he was reminded recently by the large number of responses he received to his post from other Canadian journalists of colour. The friction each experienced ranged from overcoming stereotypes to figuring out when to speak up on race issues and when it was best to just keep their heads down.

 

Like them, I also had my moment of initiation into the whiteness of this world, back in the late '90s when I was trying to cover the Reena Virk story. Virk was the 14-year old Victoria teen who was attacked by seven teenagers she was hanging with and ultimately killed by two of them.

Although in South Asian media, the race angle was a prominent part of the coverage, it has been largely omitted from mainstream reporting where instead the story has been framed as a troubling case of teen girl violence, the bullying of an "awkward" teen, and the tragic tale of someone who just didn’t fit in. When I pressed on covering this missing race angle, my editorial contact at Postmedia (then Canwest) explained that since one of the teens was of mixed heritage, the attack could not have been racially motivated.

I was new to the industry at the time and I too made a difficult decision to bite my tongue.

Today—just as it was nearly two decades ago when Reena Virk was murdered—bringing up race in a newsroom can still have a chilling effect.

A range of quality

In the 1980s when outlets in Canada first began regularly reporting on diverse communities, the coverage was usually singular in topic, often negative, and usually excluded voices from those communities.

The stories were almost always written by white reporters who, once assigned to an "ethnic beat", became the experts on all things relating to that community. Other white reporters went to those white reporters on questions about "their" assigned ethnic communities.

It was sort of like an exercise in urban anthropology. But by covering ethnic communities through the mainstream’s screen of whiteness, it inevitably produced sticky stereotypes.

People in diverse communities, regardless of their professional status, years of gainful employment, or record of community service, became linked to the fringe criminal elements in their communities. Thankfully, coverage of diverse communities has evolved since then, beginning with taking a U-turn away from focussing exclusively on negative news.

But coverage of diverse communities has still not fully matured from being treated as a separate-but-equal content section, like sports, entertainment, or fashion, rather than as a perspective that layers into a cross-section of stories.

This results in mainstream outlets often publishing neatly compartmentalized stories that feature individuals from diverse communities but that have a limited appeal to readers outside of those backgrounds.

Misread

Andree Lau, the editor-in-chief at HuffPost Canada, was recently interviewed on CBC regarding newsroom diversity. She was asked why there are so few people from diverse communities leading newsrooms across this country.

“I think they [people of colour] get to a certain level and they get frustrated. Because they're not seeing enough change or change is not happening fast enough, and they get discouraged,” explained Lau, who is one of the few journalists of colour in a senior position in Canada. “Those very talented people are the ones we need to move up into the next level, and they end up leaving.”

As Canada’s population grows and continues to diversify, the news media is the leading institution to reflect the country’s changing face, in which everyone sees something of themselves smiling back. That work begins first in newsrooms telling stories where diversity is more layered and nuanced and not segregated into a corner.

“I believe I am like everyone else because perspective is diverse and we all have something to contribute to that discussion."

One of the journalists responding to Sunny Dhillon’s resignation post, was a veteran Vancouver broadcast journalist, Simi Sara.

“What it comes down to is this: I have never seen the colour of my skin as a ‘difference’. But others have seen it that way for me,” she was quoted in a follow-up blog Dhillon posted to his Medium account.

“I believe I am like everyone else because perspective is diverse and we all have something to contribute to that discussion. It shouldn’t be segregated as a ‘diversity’ issue. It’s all of us. It’s our communities.”


This article originally appeared in Georgia Straight, read the full version here. Jagdeesh Mann is a journalist and the principal of Sunflower Media, based in Vancouver.

Published in Commentary

by Anita Singh in Toronto

 In 1904, there were only 40 immigrants from India living in Canada, mostly from the Punjab.  Largely based in Vancouver and surrounding areas, these pioneers came to Canada as labourers, in farms, on the railroad and in factories, creating a foundational community for South Asian immigrants in future decades – which has grown to nearly 1.4 million since the turn of the century.  

As described in a brand-new podcast called ‘The Nameless Collective,’ produced by Jugni Style, the journey towards inclusion for these communities was not always an easy or welcome one.  

The podcast describes the climate of early 20th century Canada.  Previously-settled Canadians were concerned that new immigrants, particularly those from China and India, threatened jobs, culture and a way of life.  Anti-immigrant public opinion was supported by the government, which established a “White Canada” policy, institutionalizing a preference for immigration from Europe.  On the flipside, those from China and India were subject to the Chinese head tax, the continuous journey legislation and ghettoization when arriving in Canada, spotlighted in the recent government apology for the Komagata Maru incident of 1914.  

The hosts, Milan Singh, Paneet Singh, and Naveen Girn, are a self-described team of researchers, time-travellers, detectives and hosts, who tell this history in with an entertaining impression. It unfolds the story of a community, where listeners will be introduced to personalized stories depicting the vividly personal struggles of a small, group of immigrants living and working in a land very different from where they came from. 

The timing and content of this podcast is stunning in its unshakable feeling of familiarity.  In our current political climate, racist killings in Trump’s America, a ban on Muslim immigration, a vote for Brexit in the United Kingdom, make the podcast immediately relevant and scarily contemporary. 

For example, in episode two, the podcast follows the story of two women, Harnam Kaur and Kartar Kaur, wives of prominent members of the Khalsa Diwan society in Vancouver.  In Harnam Kaur’s case, she travelled with her family to from the port of Calcutta to San Francisco enroute to Vancouver.  On reaching the United States, Kaur and her family were held in detention for two months and deported to Hong Kong.  In a second effort, Kaur, her husband and 16 others boarded a ship in Hong Kong destined for Vancouver.   

 

Yet on arrival, Harnam, her son, and the other women on the ship were once again held in detention, while the men on the ship were allowed off to their labour jobs. As discussed by the podcast hosts, the Canadian government was concerned that the arrival of Asian women would begin to settle these unwanted immigrant communities, rather than continuing to be temporary labour migrants. It was several long months of waiting and debating within government, before the women were eventually allowed onto shore.

The strength of the podcast is the willingness of the hosts to go above and beyond to present new evidence and documentation. In episode one, the team makes a huge discovery the archives of the Vancouver public library, diving into a century’s worth of microfiched phone directories.  They found that while ‘mainstream’ Canadians were listed by name and number, the phone numbers and addresses associated with immigrant communities were listed as “Hindoo” “Japanese” or “Chinese” instead of their names. As the hosts explain, “why would anyone want to know where these people lived?” By tracing these addresses, the team is able to identify neighborhoods where early communities settled in Vancouver.  The hosts also acknowledge, that despite these discoveries, they will be limited by a limited evidence based and knowledge of this early community.

Further, the podcast will also be of particular interest to those familiar with Vancouver or the lower mainland.  The hosts do an excellent job showing the connections between existing buildings and communities and key events in immigration history – like Chinatown and Japantown during the race riots, or how communities settled in the Indigenous territory of modern-day Kitsilano.

There are very few flaws in this podcast.  The largest challenge is that the hosts have tailored the podcast towards an audience that is familiar with the basic immigration story of the region.  Yet, if they want to connect with all Canadians interested in how our country became a multiethnic, multilinguistic state, the podcast would benefit with more contextual information for new learners of this history. 

There are only three episodes of the podcast, and as episodes are released (one every week), listeners can anticipate the development of a richer and richer portrait of early 20th century immigration.  With a growing audience, hopefully this podcast will not be nameless for much longer. 

The Nameless Collective podcast can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play for Android and Stitcher.

Anita (@bisu) is a Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Security and Development at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations. 

Published in History
Saturday, 11 March 2017 14:34

Beyond White Dresses and Tiered Cakes

by Renée Sylvestre-Williams

When Toronto-based lawyer Anjli Patel and her husband, Parambir Keila, were planning their Sikh wedding ceremony, they wanted to keep it simple and have it downtown. But they didn't look specifically for a South Asian planner familiar with their cultures. 

“We found our wedding planner through a listing on Wedluxe.com,” says Patel. It wasn't necessarily the norm for Patel to have a planner. She says traditionally South Asian weddings were organized by families and, in some cases, the entire village. But since her 2012 wedding, she says having a planner instead of relying on family has become more accepted in South Asian communities. 

“There are South Asian wedding planners, like Sapna [Weddings], but we went with our planner [Melissa Haggerty from Spectacular Spectacular], even though ours was their first South Asian wedding, because we wanted to get married in a downtown venue, and our planner had a lot of experience planning events in downtown venues.” Spectacular Spectacular has planned a few South Asian weddings each year since.

That choice, and that distribution of knowledge, wasn’t available 10 or 15 years ago, when Vicki Singh was planning her wedding. She was inspired to start her own wedding planning business after trying to find suppliers who could cater to the South Asian market.

As more immigrants settle in Canada, they’re looking for planners who can help plan weddings that incorporate all aspects of their cultures. With the Canadian wedding industry worth $5 billion and catering to an average of 160,000 couples annually (according to a survey in Weddingbells magazine), the industry has evolved beyond the white dress. And while it's easy for many people to find a planner who understands their wishes in their countries of origin, it can be difficult to find planners in Canada who fully appreciate clients’ varied needs and cultural sensitivities.

“This year will be our 15th anniversary [of the business],” says Singh, who has published two books on the subject, Cultural Weddings and The South Asian Wedding Planner. “This issue kept coming up. Finding suppliers who wanted and could cater to Indian weddings was a challenge. Instagram wasn’t as prevalent, so there were fewer ways to find out about new services and ideas. We were counting a lot on word of mouth to find people to do video, makeup — and the referrals weren’t always of the best quality.”

“We helped plan a Sikh wedding last year where the photographer had never done this kind of wedding before,” Singh explains, describing one typical example. “She was adamant she knew what to do, but there are certain things you need to know beforehand that she never got to: in a Sikh wedding you remove your shoes, cover your head, et cetera, during the ceremony. She came to the venue not knowing any of that.”

Alison McGill, editor-in-chief of Weddingbells, says couples who've wanted a diverse wedding have been chronically underserved by the industry, but that is changing. “Diversity has always been a key factor in Canadian weddings, and with more and more couples wanting to incorporate their cultures into their celebration, there has definitely been a shift in the wedding marketplace … Offerings are more multicultural today than ever before, and it is now not as difficult to find a wedding planner specializing in specific cultural celebrations.” She also said that wedding shows — often the place where couples find vendors and suppliers — are becoming more varied, offering services specific to different cultural backgrounds. 

Danielle Andrews, co-founder of the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada, has seen firsthand how the industry has changed. “I don’t know that multicultural weddings themselves have necessarily increased,” she says. “What I’m seeing is more wedding coordinators getting involved. We’re seeing a shift towards having a wedding coordinator handling the [culturally specific] details — and not necessarily always a wedding coordinator of the couple’s culture.”

What has changed, in other words, is that wedding coordinators are educating themselves about different cultures. They might have training in (and until recently, cultural familiarity with) western wedding mores, but now they’re expanding their expertise and range of services.

Andrews says they’re seeing more weddings that blend eastern and western traditions — “more western-style weddings with the Chinese tea ceremony included," for instance. "It’s not heavy on customs, but it’s definitely incorporating customs.” Couples are picking and choosing which customs they want incorporated into their wedding.

Patel and Keila chose not to include extravagant Sikh or Hindu traditions into their wedding, which often include a week of events leading up to the ceremony. Instead, she and her husband kept the wedding small, celebrating at the Art Gallery of Ontario with 150 people, and even skipping the cake. She says working with Haggerty might have sounded risky, but it worked out: “We had a South Asian officiant and we all met a number of times to review the ceremony in detail. We had many design meetings where we discussed the big-picture look and feel and details as well. Having said that, our vision was never beyond her comprehension because we have the same aesthetic sensibility. We were always on the same page.”

Singh, the one who started her own wedding planning business, may have had trouble finding suppliers who could help plan weddings, but now, people can get her books everywhere. “We have brides who get our books at the Bay or Bed Bath and Beyond. And [then they] will have their nieces use it — a progression of people.”


Renee Sylvestre-Williams is a writer living in Toronto. Her work has been published in The Globe and Mail, Canadian Living and Quartz.

This story is the product of a partnership between TVO.org and New Canadian Media.

Published in Arts & Culture

   OFTEN victims of intimate partner abuse, especially immigrant women, are portrayed as completely powerless and helpless in addressing the abuse. What isn’t recognized is the enormous strength and intelligence many South Asian victims of violence have exhibited.

South Asian women are quicker to report instances of abuse now than even a few years ago, […]

 

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in Health

by Shan Qiao in Toronto
 
Without saying anything, Farrah Khan hands out a clipboard with a piece of paper on it to each person in the room.
 
“Now, I want each of you start to draw what was in your head at 9 a.m. this morning,” she says. “When time is due, you’ll hand the clipboard to the person next to you and continue on another person’s drawing.” Khan then plays a song by Beyoncé on her iPhone.
 
Several participants, including Khan, finish drawing different parts of each other’s pictures before they are returned to the original artist. The result is a joint effort made by each member of the group to explore their fellow participants’ mindsets.
 

Politics in comics 

It is the starting point for The Panel Is Political, a discussion on how to use comic books for social change, at Another Story Bookshop in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.
 
The discussion is also led by Seemi Jamil, a youth group coordinator at the Afghan Women’s Organization in Mississauga, and Nicole Marie Burton, a comic book illustrator and founder and co-owner of Ad Astra Comix – North America’s first publisher dedicated to comics about social justice themes. 

“They are interested in talking about what it is like to be low-income in Canada but also assimilated within society.”

 
Jamil and Burton worked together early this year to develop a youth program that teaches immigrant and activist youth to draw and express their feelings. The program involved one-and-a-half hour sessions, held once a week for eight weeks. 

“Nicole [Burton] comes by and does workshops with the youth groups and teaches them how to do graphic-novel style storytelling,” Jamil explains. 

“We wrote a paragraph about a challenge we had to deal with in anonymity,” begins Burton, describing one of the group’s activities. She says the written paragraphs were ripped into pieces, folded, and mixed in a hat. 

“Everybody drew out a story and had to tell it in a comic form,” she adds. “It was incredible to me how much could have been done with that,” says Burton about the activity.

Other activities focused on character design, practising different dimensions and shapes, and drawing about current events. She adds that there never seemed to be enough time in each session to meet the youth’s high level of interest in each activity. 

Graphic novels, Jamil says, not only help immigrant and refugee youth to understand, but to be able to learn how to tell their own story.

Visual storytelling
 
“I was trying to get low-income youth groups to have some art form where they can talk about their own stories,” Jamil says. “They are interested in talking about what it is like to be low-income in Canada but also assimilated within society.”
 
An example of a political comic book that helps youth understand global events, says Jamil, is Persepolis – a graphic novel about the revolution in Iran.

“We’ve seen a large trend in youth groups trying to express themselves through different art forms as opposed to just writing,” she continues.
 

She says the program’s young female participants are of Afghani and Pakistani descent, and that the workshops focus on minority voices, people of colour, women of colour, and political situations all over the world.  

Graphic novels, Jamil says, not only help immigrant and refugee youth to understand, but also to be able to learn how to tell, their own story. She stresses that for marginalized groups who do not have the same vocabulary or English proficiency as other Canadians, art can help them understand and share ideas. 

Political comics gaining momentum 

Burton started Ad Astra Comix in 2013 in Toronto. She says she is passionate about social justice and wants to see more political comics that touch on topics such as sexism, racism, colonialism, homophobia and transphobia. 

[Khan] says white comic book artists often portray South Asian women stereotypically.

Ad Astra Comix not only publishes, but also creates its own graphic novels, including its first full-length graphic novel Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back, a collection of stories by Indian women about topics including harassment, race, class and political struggle. 

Khan, the inaugural Sexual Violence Support and Education Coordinator at Ryerson University, has more than a decade of experience speaking about violence against women. 
 
As a trauma counsellor, she has led several educational programs, including comic book projects, to help women express their feelings and fears through drawing. 
 
In 2012, Khan put together a program to run a comic book workshop specifically for South Asian women. She says white comic book artists often portray South Asian women stereotypically.
 

The project resulted in a comic book called Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project, featuring stories and illustrations by South Asian women about violence and resilience in their lives.

The book was chosen by the Tahirih Justice Centre to be part of a tour to raise awareness about forced marriage in the United States. 

One of the stories the book features, titled “Cage,” resulted in the escape of one of the program’s participants from her abusive family. Khan says the young woman was able to find help at a women’s shelter two cities away from her home during the project.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Books

I used to naively believe that simply pointing out a social issue, and offering a viable solution to it, would be enough to get things done to fix a particular issue. However, my experience with BC Community Corrections (also known as Probation) has proven to me that this is far from the reality.

Representatives from BC Community Corrections have known for some time that they have a large percentage of South Asian clients – with a large number of them being Punjabi-speaking men with addictions – who are not receiving adequate services. Now it’s easy to accuse the entire probation system of being racist, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that. The reality – at least as I see it based on my direct experience with them – may be in many ways worse.

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in Commentary

THERE is anger, if not rage, in Surrey at 32 shootings so far that have resulted in nine injuries, including one death. At this point in the investigations, eight of the shootings are related to a conflict over the drug turf.  Although none of the victims have been innocent bystanders, this could change any moment as what happened in Abbotsford last September.

And the blame is being apportioned to police, politicians as well as parents, family members and friends of those involved in the various drug-trafficking conflicts – and even judges who many accuse of being too lenient to offenders.

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in Commentary

Commentary By Herman Thind in Vancouver

A racial slur against a former Vancouver Park Board commissioner with a South Asian background is creating a social media furor.

Meanwhile, a protest group is championing an online petition calling for the firing of British Columbia’s only deputy minister of colour.

To many, these are disturbing signs that racism is on the rise in British Columbia – just one week after the Hands Against Racism campaign launched its second year.

In a recent incident, Niki Sharma, who is running to be a director of the Vancity Credit Union and previously served on the park board, received an offensive tweet saying “you people are taking [o]ver our country.” Meanwhile, a digital map tracking anti-Muslim incidents in Canada shows that British Columbia is on track for 2016 to be twice as bad a year as 2015.

Individuals under attack

Fazil Mihlar is the subject of the online petition campaign. He is a prominent South Asian intellectual with a long track record in public life.

Mihlar, according to his LinkedIn profile, came to the civil service relatively late in his career after many years in charge of the opinion pages of the largest-circulating Canadian newspaper west of Toronto, the Vancouver Sun. Before that he worked for RBC Economics and spent several years with a think tank widely known for its conservative views, the Fraser Institute.

"[T]hese are disturbing signs that racism is on the rise in British Columbia."

Sharma is a lawyer who represents residential school survivors, works closely with First Nation governments and has been connected with many progressive causes. Her affiliation with Vision Vancouver suggests she and Mihlar would not agree on everything. Yet in both cases they are high achievers with visible minority backgrounds and both are under attack for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance.

When Mihlar was appointed to an assistant deputy minister role a couple years ago, his successor as editorial pages editor of Vancouver Sun had this to say: “The smartest guy in the room is now the smartest guy in government.”

Newspaper colleagues of Mihlar say that one of his jobs was to run the newspaper’s editorial board, which is where politicians, business tycoons and policymakers come for their ideas and records to be put to the test. “There were groups who feared coming to an editorial board run by Fazil, because his questions were so tough,” recalls one former colleague. “It didn’t matter who they represented – everyone got the same treatment. On his watch, coming unprepared was not a good option.”

Apparently LeadNow has launched its petition because it thinks that Mihlar’s time with the Fraser Institute should cause him to be stripped of employment as the deputy minister responsible for climate change policy.

There is no sign that LeadNow has any particular policy grievance with Mihlar’s handling of a particular issue, and they are not questioning his competence. They just don’t like him.

To be skewered for being bright is a problem some people might love to have. But is it actually dangerous to have intelligent people leading our civil service and seeking elected positions?

In both incidents, other motives appear to be at work.

One view attributed to him in a speech he gave at the University of Northern B.C. before leaving journalism is that the “ban everything crowd” is quick to critique and oppose B.C.’s resource extraction industries, but slow to provide solid alternatives for economic development. It’s hardly a radical position, even though some people would probably disagree with it. So you have to wonder why LeadNow is hellbent on damaging Mihlar’s character rather than trying to explain why it has a better idea.

[A]ctions like LeadNow’s seem to test our reputation for tolerance.

Impacts on future generations of leaders of colour

Mihlar has origins in Sri Lanka, a country that has had some rough times yet remains a place of rare co-operation. It’s widely known that Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians live there in peace today because of a determination to hear and respect a whole range of viewpoints, however trying that can be at times. Canada thinks of itself highly in this area too, but actions like LeadNow’s seem to test our reputation for tolerance.

In a democracy like India, the world’s largest democracy, a vast range of noisy viewpoints compete for voter attention. This is what many South Asian immigrants are used to. The idea that “winning” a debate by snuffing out the other viewpoint is, quite clearly, foreign to the Indian perspective.

Will these disturbing acts of intolerance drive out the next generation of leaders of colour? Let’s hope not.

Sharma has refused to delete the offensive comment, a decision she explained in this Huffington Post column.

If Mihlar is fired for being “too smart,” that would be a sad statement on who we are as a society. And it will send a clear message to visible minorities that they are not welcome in the upper echelon of leadership.

Only time will tell if the LeadNow people get enough signatures to force the casting aside of Mihlar’s legendary abilities.


Herman Thind is the Principal of Buzz Machine, a social media company based in Vancouver. 

Republished in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.

Published in Commentary

by Priya Ramanujam in Scarborough, Ontario

At a time when national and local mainstream media seem to be downsizing and shutting down daily, where does Canada’s ethnic media fit in? And how will these outlets survive? 

The 2015 Canadian edition of the Global Media Journal, edited by Rukhsana Ahmed, explores these questions with five research papers that “address challenges and opportunities multicultural (ethnic) media present to immigrant integration.” 

Across the board, one sentiment is clear: when considering both its multiculturalism and national media policy, Canada must keep ethnic media in mind.

Brampton’s ethnic media bridges cultural divides

It takes more than receiving a press release from the municipal government to ensure ethnic media report on city affairs, according to a case study by Ryerson University’s April Lindgren. In her study, “Municipal Communication Strategies and Ethnic Media: A Settlement Service in Disguise”, she suggests the city of Brampton is leading the pack in understanding this. 

Interestingly, a decade ago, a similar study deemed the city of Brampton unresponsive to the needs of its immigrant community.

So what changed? 

Lindgren cites 2006, when the city transitioned from being a multiracial city with various visible minority groups making up over 50 per cent of its demographic to a city with a dominant South Asian — specifically Punjabi-speaking Indo-Canadian — population as a turning point of sorts.

This is when growing concern emerged from long-time residents about newcomers and the city recognized a need to amplify its ethnic media reach in order to mitigate brewing conflict.

The resulting strategy included hiring an ethnic media coordinator who had to speak Punjabi, standardizing advertising buys across a number of approved ethnic media outlets and translating all communications material into Punjabi and Hindi (as well as Urdu and Portuguese).

The city recognized a need to amplify its ethnic media reach in order to mitigate brewing conflict.

While it wasn’t all smooth sailing — for example, some papers thought the press releases were paid advertisements and invoiced the city for them — Lindgren concludes that municipalities that follow Brampton’s lead will find they are actually “providing a settlement service in the guise of a communication policy.”

This is echoed by University of Ottawa researchers Luisa Veronis and Rukhsana Ahmed, who studied four ethno-cultural communities in Ottawa — Chinese, Spanish-speaking Latin American, South Asian and Somali — and their access to and use of ethnic media. 

They suggest the City of Ottawa adopt a similar strategy as Brampton and engage multicultural media, which is typically more accessible (i.e. free, absent of language barriers) as well as translate important communications material, particularly on the city website.

Chinese language media struggles to maintain standards

The pressing need for stability and growth often trumps journalistic quality for Chinese-language media in Canada, say many members of the Chinese Canadian ethnic media in Xiapoing Li’s research paper, “A Critical Examination of Chinese Language Media’s Normative Goals and News Decisions.”

Much of the pressure for remaining profitable comes as a result of increased competition from free newspapers and websites entering the market and declining advertising revenues. Case in point: one of the top dailies, World Journal, ceasing all publication in Canada. 

But as Li points out, Chinese-language outlets have many important functions, one of the most important being assisting with the integration and settlement of first generation Canadians. 

The pressing need for stability and growth often trumps journalistic quality for Chinese language media.

These outlets are also the preferred media for Chinese migrants living in major Canadian cities who are looking to gather both government and general lifestyle information, according to researcher Yuping Mao. 

“The government and NGOs should try to disseminate important information in Chinese ethnic media and through Chinese social networks,” states Mao in “Investigating Chinese Migrants’ Information-Seeking Patterns in Canada: Media Selection and Language Preference”.

Mao's study further underlines what Li's paper finds: Chinese ethnic media should not only be upheld to high journalistic standards, but should be created in ways that are sustainable in Canada.

For this to happen, Li puts forth three recommendations for Chinese ethnic media in Canada: offer professional training opportunities for ethnic media journalists, some who are hired without any previous experience to reduce costs; explore possibilities of organizations like the CBC collaborating with major ethnic media outlets; and finally allocate public funds for multicultural and multilingual media — a model already in place in Australia.

“There is little justification for the absence of similar services when Canada is held up as a model of multiculturalism,” Li writes. 

Younger generations distance themselves from ethnic media

While ethnic media’s importance among first generation Canadians is clear, these outlets are growing out of touch with subsequent generations, says University of Waterloo’s Augie Fleras.

In “Multicultural Media in a Post-Multicultural Canada? Rethinking Integration,” Fleras examines the shortcomings of “multicultural media” when it comes to connecting with readers and viewers who are resistant to being placed in ethnic silos. 

The issue is part of a larger context in which second and third generation Canadians see multiculturalism as an “obsolete straight jacket,” the paper suggests. 

Second and third generation Canadians see multiculturalism as an “obsolete straight jacket."

Fleras writes that in 2015, 10 ethnic papers flourished in their federal election coverage throughout just five Brampton, Ontario ridings where there is a heavy South Asian population. This is at the same time when longstanding publications like Canadian Jewish News and Corriere Canadese struggle to stay afloat.

In order to survive, traditional ethnic media must evolve, Fleras explains, making several recommendations. 

The most important one is to produce content that is reflective of the complex lived realities of racialized Canadians, many of whom subscribe to this mentality: “Do not judge me because of my ethnicity, but never forget where I came from.”


Research Watch is a monthly column on NewCanadianMedia.ca that looks at recently released and emerging research relating to immigration, settlement, immigrant/ethno-cultural communities and multiculturalism. Researchers or organizations releasing studies we should consider are encouraged to write to assignment@newcanadianmedia.ca

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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