By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
To be the “last king” of anything means you left this world either a legend or a tragic figure. Maharajah Duleep Singh, the final monarch of the Punjab kingdom, who was forcibly separated from his family as a child, dispossessed of the Koh-i-noor diamond, converted to Christianity as a teenager, died a penniless, broken man in Paris, and is today buried in England, clearly falls into the latter category. But just as some within England’s Sikh community are seeking to exhume his remains for return to the Punjab, so are others working at rehabilitating his victim legacy.
Veteran U.K. actor and filmmaker Kavi Raz is one of these reformers. His film, The Black Prince, is a new production on the deposed monarch, who as an 11-year-old was removed from the throne and by 15 was exiled to England after his kingdom was annexed by the British in 1849. Unlike other ‘last kings’ such as Louis XVI of France and Nicholas II of Russia, Singh was spared the guillotine and firing squad, but the impressionable boy king would live out his life cut off from his family, culture, and homeland, remaining forever hidden away, if not lost, from his people.
Raz’s biopic sets course to rescue Duleep Singh from the forgotten recesses of English and Indian history. For the writer-director and his fellow producers, The Black Prince is clearly a passion project; the period piece is scripted in a mix of English and Punjabi, showcases an international cast, and features detail-oriented sets of Victorian England.
The film is not song-and-dance Bollywood, nor does it fall into the Punjabi-language genre which is bloated these days with slapstick comedies. Like the recent Oscar nominated Lion, The Black Prince is part of a new wave of film and television content capable of generating box office revenue domestically and internationally. In Canada, there are over one million Punjabi speaking South Asians who provide a niche target for the film.
Raz knows his target demographic well—he is originally from the Punjab region—and has crafted a story to win the hearts and minds of this audience. Unfortunately, this comes at an artistic cost, as The Black Prince seems more like a mission than a movie at times. Raz presses hard to recast Duleep Singh as a freedom fighter and a devotee of the Sikh faith, selectively omitting facts to make this case. The oversimplification of Duleep Singh’s re-initiation into the Sikh faith is one example of the film’s rolling-pin approach to the maharajah’s story (more on this pivot point below).
This heavy-handedness flattens characters throughout the movie, whether they be villainous English officers or the maharajah’s wives. Raz’s Duleep Singh is a stripped-down joyless version of an ex-sovereign, who was known to have thoroughly appreciated the velvet trappings of aristocratic life. We also see very little of a maharajah who took considerable pride in being a sportsman, playwright, and musician.
This ‘Black Prince’ who is constantly in a black mood is played by the eminent Punjabi musician Satinder Sartaaj who is forced to brood through his lines and awkward silences that ask too much of his acting skills. When he is not weighed down by a gnawing sense of displacement—the maharajah was, technically speaking, England’s first Sikh immigrant—he suffers from an identity crisis. That only intensifies when he finally reunites with his mother, Rani Jindan, superbly acted by Shabana Azmi.
These repetitive scenes of inner anguish neither advance the story nor reveal the complexity of a maharajah who, as a blue-blooded aristocrat, may have felt as much kinship with members of Europe’s ruling classes as with the average Punjabi peasant or Sikh devotee. The use of a third-person narrator would have relieved the maharajah from having to make banal political statements every other scene. Alternatively, Raz could have shot the film as a historical docu-drama interspersed with interviews to maximise his control over the narrative.
Eventually the maharajah’s contrived emotional distress culminates in a lukewarm climax when he re-converts to Sikhism during a failed passage to India—the British government denied him entry to travel to his homeland. Now near the end of his life, his unrest becomes outright rebellion as he bands with a group of Irish rebels and Russian agents and takes the helm of a quixotic, and ill-advised, plot to seize back his kingdom.
While there was likely some revolutionary fervor in the maharajah’s desire to overthrow English rule in India, it is a stretch to credit these actions solely to a pious freedom fighter, as Raz has suggested.
Historically there was also a financial motive—and a reasonably just one—behind Duleep Singh’s fall-out with his captors. Like many Victorian-era estate holders of his time, he was perpetually in debt due to a profligate lifestyle. His promised annual pension in 1860 of £40 thousand per annum ($7.7 million CAD in today’s terms) was always short-paid by half every year. While £20 thousand per year afforded him a luxurious lifestyle as single man, this amount, not indexed to the rate of inflation, became insufficient later in life as he became a father to eight children and husband to two wives.
At the time of Punjab’s annexation, the British government had also seized his family’s vast personal estates and holdings which should not have been included as state properties. Despite Singh’s ongoing campaigning to the Crown, these assets were never returned, much to his vexation.
Among Sikhs, there is a commonly held view that the modern downfall of their Punjab state actually began over 150 years ago when the kingdom created by Duleep’s father, the great Maharajah Ranjit Singh, crumbled after the Anglo-Sikh wars. A century after the golden age of the Lahore Darbar, Punjab was torn in half by Partition in 1947, and today what is left is being further shredded by rampant drug abuse, gross corruption, farmer suicides, and environmental damage.
Solutions remain elusive, but heroic accounts from the past provide hope that things can be better.
The Black Prince covers an important story that has long required production. While this movie pays tribute to the maharajah by rescuing him from the shadow of history, it does not, however, set him free. Over a century since his death, Duleep Singh still remains a pawn—now of modern-day Punjabi and Sikh identity politics—as he once was during the Great Game of colonialism in the 19th century.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional who works as the executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This article has been republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
It was inevitable the success of Trumpolitics would generate imitators. Stephen Harper dabbled with its tactics in the last federal election by pandering to the baser views of the so-called ‘angry white male’. It comes as a surprise, however, the next piper to try charming this cobra is Ujjal Dosanjh.
The former premier of BC, protector of gay rights, health care, and multiculturalism, recently wrote a lengthy blog post bemoaning political correctness as having gagged white men from saying what they really think. White men who have framed Canada's political narrative since Confederation, have apparently become excluded from it, somehow finding themselves now at the back of the bus.
Overnight, Dosanjh has become Canada’s Bobby Jindal, the new champion of the far right, quite an act of re-invention for a man who started out on the far left of the political spectrum.
Not surprisingly, Dosanjh's call found hearty praise from the closeted hordes who took to the comments sections of various online newspaper forums.
The white male commenters vented their frustrations at ‘Multicultism’, immigrants, Muslims, Syrian refugees, and basically anyone who didn’t fit in with the world as seen by ‘old stock’ Canadians. Their antidotes to Canada’s woes were predictable: curtail immigration, seal the border to everyone except Europeans, and renew Judeo Christian liturgical practices.
These were the white men Dosanjh had referenced in his post as having ‘been shamed into submission’ by political correctness. Now they were venting furiously about how their lifetime membership to the exclusive club of white privilege had apparently eroded in value.
'The white man is not disenfranchised'
While Dosanjh’s intention may have been to stir dialogue on Canadian identity, and culture, his approach is fundamentally divisive. He is pandering to one group’s fanciful list of grievances. His apocalyptic vision of white men being overrun by political correctness is built on a number of glaring fallacies.
The first is the most obvious: The white man is not disenfranchised.
To be voiceless is to be a First Nation’s child growing up in a broken home on an isolated reserve without running water. The opposite, more likely than not, is to be a white man.
At Apple, for example, the world’s largest company, white men hold over 70 per cent of senior management positions When compared to other companies and across industry, this is not an anomaly.
When noteworthy decisions are made in Canada, on any number of issues from monetary policy to environmental regulation to First Nations relations, and so forth, they are made by government officials, the majority of whom tend to be white.
These wider decisions indelibly impact our sense of national culture and identity, which Dosanjh claims excludes input from white men.
Dosanjh’s pitch for amplifying the voices of the privileged is like advocating another tax cut for the one-percent.
Political correctness a scapegoat
The second flaw in Dosanjh’s arguments is that white men disproportionately suffer from political correctness, its tight ribbing suffocating only them from speaking on many issues.
What he fails to note is that this same corset of censorship applies equally to everyone, regardless of race and ironically, it just as often benefits white men as it harnesses them.
Contrary to Dosanjh’s claim of white men being passive victims of the PC police, they are just as likely to be PC enforcers when it serves their vested interests.
A perfect case in point is the stagnant discussion around Vancouver’s skyrocketing property prices, which Dosanjh alludes to his post. When UBC professor Andy Yan (yes he is Chinese) published his study on property prices in Vancouver and found that 70 per cent of sales in 2014 of detached homes over $3-million in Vancouver went to Chinese buyers, the response from leading (white) politicians, developers, and decision makers was that the study was invoking racism.
Mayor Gregor Robertson wasn’t grateful that finally there was real data on the house market. Instead he resorted to political correctness to obfuscate the issue,“This can’t be about race, it can’t be about dividing people,” said the mayor. “It needs to get to the core issue about addressing affordability and making sure it’s fair.”
The housing issue in Vancouver is about money being earned offshore which has in turn created unfair market conditions for people who live, work and earn in the Lower Mainland. Empty houses and unattainable prices do not a city make – and that affects everyone regardless of your colour.
It’s a class issue, full stop. Political correctness is a convenient scapegoat here.
Canadians should not be trapped in skin colour
The most flagrant shortcoming in Dosanjh’s arguments is that he wants new Canadians to embrace a common set of national values and a national identity but yet he insists on first dividing us into our separate races, hence his rallying call to the white man.
Dosanjh’s view of Canadians as being different coloured lego blocks is regressive and a time warp into the colonial era of the past century. The idea of defining your identity by the quantity of melanin in your skin is as knuckle-scraping as the denial of climate change.
As Canadians, we all have a stake in issues such the choice of language for strata council meetings, the fine balance between accepting refugees and security, and immigration strategy. But an honest discussion of these issues is a colourless discussion.
By dividing us into camps of white, yellow, red, brown, and black so that we all are ‘represented’ at the table means we will always be stuck in these very silos that Dosanjh claims to loathe. This country is moving forward from the past century and we are finally getting beyond race as attested by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet postings. It is misguided for Dosanjh to re-invoke a racial paradigm and think it is a step in the right direction.
Justin Trudeau commented in a recent New York Times Magazine interview that Canada is a post-national state without a core identity and a mainstream. This includes the privilege of not being trapped in your skin – it is one of the best parts of being a Canadian, regardless if you are white, brown, or even tangerine coloured like Donald Trump. This is what it means to be post-national and why most Canadians choose this course.
Fifteen years ago Ujjal Dosanjh was a politician who as an immigrant rose up to become premier of British Columbia. It was historic because he was a visible minority.
Today, however, it is more impressive that Ujjal Dosanjh is no longer identified as a brown politician by the majority of the population, but rather as just another politician.
But he still is a politician at heart, having re-invented himself from an NDP multiculturalism minister to a Liberal cabinet minister and now to the champion of the far right. Having adorned so many party colours, it is predictable, though tragic, that Dosanjh is fanning the dying racial embers of this country to win over a new audience.
Jagdeesh Mann is the Executive Editor of the South Asian Post, Asian Pacific Post and Filipino Post.
by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Depending on whom you ask, the actions of Louis Riel, and Dr. Norman Bethune, along with others who lived through difficult times, can be seen as verging on treasonous or justified. Add to that list Mewa Singh.
Outside of Canada’s sizeable two million plus South Asian community, few Canadians will have heard of Singh who is revered as a Che Gueverra-like figure, in particular by Sikhs. A new play, The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson, which opened January 8, is the first major artistic production to re-evaluate a man whom many view as Canada’s forgotten martyr.
In the play, Mewa Singh is placed on the stand to answer for his real life shooting and killing of William Hopkinson, a Canadian immigration official. The incident took place in the same art gallery 101 years ago on October 21, 1914 when it served as the Vancouver’s Provincial Courthouse.
On that morning, Singh walked up to the third floor rotunda and killed Hopkinson with four shots from his revolver. He then handed over his weapon to the authorities and took full responsibility for his act, knowing he would receive capital punishment.
“I shoot. I go to station,” he proclaimed, in his limited English.
Within three months on Jan. 11, 1915, Singh was hung from the gallows in New Westminster. He died at age 33, the same age as Hopkinson.
Lionized by Sikh Canadian community
Despite the violent nature of Singh’s act, he has been lionized by Canada’s Sikh community in the same way Louis Riel has been by the country’s Metis population. Though he is a character written into Canadian history books as an assassin, in the Sikh community he is their version of Tiananmen’s Tank Man, the solitary protester saying no and standing his ground against the machinery of institutionalized repression.
There are numerous sports and literary events organized annually in his tribute. The dining hall in Vancouver’s Ross Street Sikh temple, the country’s largest gurdwara where India’s Prime Minister Modi stopped by with Stephen Harper for a visit last April, bears his name and iconic image in memorial.
For playwright Paneet Singh, The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson is a forum to cast light on the murky events that led to the shooting and to reveal the social conditions that made the collision between Singh and Hopkinson unavoidable.
“I have been surrounded by this story since I was a child, when my mother would tell it to me,” said Singh. “Mewa Singh’s name resonates in the South Asian community, but it has been locked out of the mainstream. This play exposes his actions through the framework of the times in which he lived in order to move the story into the 21st century. He stood up in the most difficult of circumstances and follows in the tradition of other Canadian martyrs like Louis Riel.”
Hopkinson and Singh were born and raised in India, and in adulthood, both migrated to Vancouver. Singh left a small village near Amritsar, Punjab to find his fortunes while Hopkinson left his post as a policeman after his first wife died. The Raj in India was beginning its slow fade. Hopkinson had never lived in England and so chose to renew his life in Vancouver.
But at the turn of the 20th century, Canada’s promise as a new world Gold Mountain came with caveats for non-white immigrants over their European counterparts. The Canadian government had institutionalized racism through legislation like the Chinese Head Tax and the continuous journey clause. The latter was utilized in 1914 in the infamous Komagata Maru incident which was playing out at the same time as the Singh versus Hopkinson duel.
Despite holding very different stations in life, the destinies of Hopkinson and Singh became intimately tied to each other in B.C. Hopkinson’s fluency in Hindi landed him a job as a government agent. His assignment was to harvest information from the Sikh community about their sympathies for Indian independence from British rule. He had a number of active moles in the community burrowing for intelligence.
Singh's legacy reflected in politics today
Hopkinson’s methods were as heavy handed as his agents were clumsy – they shot and killed two Sikhs at the local temple. Hopkinson threatened Mewa Singh to become an informant, or to find himself the next target.
What Hopkinson didn’t anticipate, was that Singh would accept death before turning. Killing Hopkinson would not save Singh, it would only give rise to another Hopkinson. But making a public statement by killing him in the open and by embracing the death penalty would make a statement that resonates to this day.
For Sikhs in Canada who were struggling for a foothold in Canada at the time, Singh’s defiance would inspire their push for political equality – an achievement coming 30 years later in 1947 when South Asians and Chinese were granted the right to vote.
Mewa Singh’s singular act echoes still in the disproportionate success of South Asians in Canadian politics – there are 16 MPs of Sikh heritage currently serving in Canada’s Parliament. Had the Chinese community their own version of Mewa Singh, perhaps they too would be better represented at the highest politics levels.
William Hopkinson’s pernicious agenda was a spear foiled by Mewa Singh’s shield. Hopkinson left India seemingly to find his piece of the Cotswolds in the new world. But the new world would not be shaped by the old rules, as he fatefully discovered in his encounter with Mewa Singh.
Neither could have foreseen the modern multicultural Canada their clash would inadvertently help cast.
For more information on the play click on the link for The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson.
by 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
by Jagdeesh Mann (@JagdeeshMann) in Vancouver
For Vancouver publisher, Harbinder Singh Sewak, the dream was four years in the making.
This week, as millions of Sikhs around the world celebrate Vaisakhi or Khalsa Day that dream became a reality with the official charter signing of the 3300 British Columbia Regiment (Bhai Kanhaiya) Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps – Canada’s first army cadet unit formed and sponsored by the Sikh Community.
“Vaisakhi is always special for the community, but for me, this year’s celebrations will be one that will go down in history,” said Sewak, the architect behind the formation of the Bhai Kanhaiya Cadet Corps, which is based in Surrey and open to all aged between 12 and 18.
“As we move forward, the Bhai Kanhaiya Cadet Corps will continue to serve as an inspiration for other programs, which embrace Canada’s multiculturalism, and offers young Canadians opportunities to interact with youth from other cultures,” said Sewak, the chairman of the Friends of the Surrey Sikh Cadet Society.
Defence Minister, Jason Kenney, who was among three federal ministers who attended the event hailed the Sikh community for supporting the cadet corps.
He said the new cadet unit was a reflection of the long and continued history of Sikhs serving the military.
Kenney said the name chosen for the cadet corps – Bhai Khanhaiya – was one that promoted diversity, which respects and resonates with Canadian core values.
Bhai Khanhaiya’s actions on the battlefields of yore where he did sewa (selfless service) looking after and giving water to the fallen soldiers of rival armies earned him a place in Sikhism history.
Sewak said Bhai Khanhaiya provides the inspiration for the parents, cadets and volunteers of the 3300 RCACC to be grounded in optimism, humility and provide service for all Canadians.
Among the others who attended the charter signing gala in Surrey last Friday were National Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay, Minister of State for Multiculturalism Tim Uppal, B.C. Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, Amrik Virk, a host of MPs, MLAs, municipal politicians and about 400 guests and military personnel.
Rear Admiral Bill Truelove, Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific, saluted the efforts of Sewak and his team adding that the Bhai Khanhaiya cadet corps has already become one of Canada’s fastest growing cadet units.
He said the Cadet Program continues to evolve and adapt in order to meet the expectations of our changing society.
Expanding Across Canada and Overseas
Interest to form similar cadet units have already been expressed across Canada and in England in communities with sizeable Sikh populations.
Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in a message on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II and all the people of British Columbia said the training these cadets receive and the unique experiences to which they are exposed will serve as valuable resources as they go on to navigate life’s challenges and become responsible and engaged citizens.
“I extend my thanks to the Friends of the Sikh Cadet Corps Society and all the volunteers and supporters who have dedicated their time to this Corps. You are wonderful role models for these young cadets and your encouragement and celebration of their efforts goes a long way in ensuring their success.”
Surrey mayor Linda Hepner in her message said: “As one of the largest and fastest growing cadet corps in BC, I am heartened to see the success of the Sikh Cadets program as it instils the tradition of service and values-based citizenship among our youth.”
The Sikh cadets were among those in a place of honour at the Khalsa Day Parade in Surrey at this past Saturday’s celebrations organised by the Dashmesh Darbar Sikh Gurdwara.
Surrey’s Khalsa Day Parade, the world’s largest Vaisakhi parade, attracts between 240,000 and 250,000 guests of all cultures and religions to the peaceful, family-orientated celebration.
This year’s procession featured over 23 floats representing local Sikh schools, community groups, humanitarian organizations as well as the most important float in the procession that carries the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy scripture).
The Surrey Vaisakhi Parade has been held in the streets of the community for the past 17 years.
Surrey’s Vaisakhi Parade also features a unique element, which pays tribute to the harvest celebration roots of the parade – attendees are given free food and drink from hundreds of local residents and businesses.
Celebrating a New Year
For many thousands of years, Vaisakhi has been the time when farmers have put their sickles to harvest and celebrated the coming of a new year.
Since 1699, the Sikhs have had a further reason to celebrate at this time of the year. It has become a holy day to mark the birth of the Khalsa fraternity.
And so 300 years on, this tradition continues with much gaiety, vigour and enthusiasm. Sikhs worldwide will spend much time remembering this most important day in their religious calendar – the day the Khalsa was created.
This year’s parade was preceded by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to British Columbia.
Modi, who has been actively reaching out to the Sikh community in India and around the world, will visit the Ross Street Sikh temple in Vancouver.
The Surrey Khalsa Day parade provides an economic boom to the local area according to a study by MNP.
Among the key findings of the preliminary study by MNP, which followed an input-output methodology using economic multipliers published by Statistics Canada, are;
• according to estimates provided by Parade organizers, 40 per cent of the 2014 Parade visitors were local residents and 60 per cent were out-of-town visitors;
• Total spending on the 2014 Parade operations by organizers and participants is estimated at between $8.5 million and $16.0 million;
• The 2014 Parade is estimated to have contributed between $6.6 million and $12.3 million in GDP for the provincial economy, supported between 116 and 215 FTE jobs, and contributed between $2.3 million and $4.4 million in tax revenues for federal, provincial and municipal governments;
• Total spending by out-of-town visitors to the 2014 Parade is estimated at between $14.2 million and $29.8 million;
• It is estimated that 2,500 participant groups incurred expenditures in the range of $3,000 to $6,000 per group, on average;
• The average length of stay was seven days for visitors from the rest of B.C., 15 days for visitors from the rest of Canada, 15 days for visitors from the US, and 30 days for other international visitors.
Published in partnership with South Asian Post.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit