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London (IANS): Indian-origin MP Alok Sharma has been appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibility for Asia and the Pacific in Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet. Following his appointment, the MP for Reading West said: “I am honoured to have been appointed by the Prime Minister as Minister […]

 

Indo-Canadian Voice

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PRIME Minister Justin Trudeau told a student from Punjab during his engagement with students from American University in Washington, D.C., in a question and answer session: “I have more Sikhs in my cabinet than [Indian Prime Minister] Narendra Modi,” when he congratulated Trudeau for having several Punjabis in his cabinet. Trudeau’s remark drew laughter, according to Toronto […]

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Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in National

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa 

Fifty prominent Indo-Canadians were recognized in Ottawa recently for promoting and fostering India-Canada relations. 

Carleton University hosted a celebration of their achievements on Feb. 4, alongside a launch for The A-List, a book compilation of their stories written by Indo-Canadian journalist, Ajit Jain. 

Now in its second edition, The A-List features Canadians of Indian origin who through their various careers and community efforts have helped promote relations between the two countries. This year’s event also celebrated three Canadians considered “friends of India” who have made similar efforts. 

An all-inclusive list 

Four cabinet members from the new Liberal government were recognized for bringing joy and pride to the Indo-Canadian community. 

Minister for infrastructure, Amarjeet Sohi; minister for small businesses and tourism, Bardish Chagger; national defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, as well as Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and economic development make up the highest number of Indo-Canadians in the federal cabinet in the history of Canada. 

They also set the record as the highest number of cabinet ministers appointed who are visible minorities from one particular country. 

“They have raised the profile of other Indo-Canadians to greater heights by virtue of leadership in their respective fields.”

In addition, the list includes 90-year-old world-renowned geologist Dr. Deshbandhu Sikka, who discovered magnetic iron ore deposits in Kudremukh, Karnataka, India. Sikka also discovered gold and copper deposits in billions of quantities in India’s Madhya Pradesh. 

The A-List also features 24-year-old Manasvi Noel, currently Miss India-Canada, who was born in Dubai to Indian parents and immigrated to Canada. She traveled to Mumbai to learn belly dancing, which she performed at the Miss India-Canada competition. 

“They have raised the profile of other Indo-Canadians to greater heights by virtue of leadership in their respective fields,” said Jain at the launch. 

A-Listers are ‘bridge builders’ 

According to The A-List, between 1946 and 1955, there were a total of 1,100 Indians, then referred to as persons of East Indian origin, in Canada. Today, there are more than one million Indo-Canadians in Canada. 

There are now 20 members of Parliament (MPs) of Indian descent – four of whom are cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government – compared to in 1993 when there were just three MPs. 

“What a proud moment it is for us,” Jain said. 

“What a proud moment it is for us.”

The A-List was created to honour Indo-Canadians who continue to inspire others in the diaspora. 

“They are the bridge builders between Canada and India,” Jain added. 

President of Carleton University, Roseann O’Reilly Runte, commended the efforts and services of those who made the list in fostering stronger ties between Canada and India. She called their stories “very extraordinary.” 

Runte went on to acknowledge the growing ties between Canada and India as “a great partnership.” 

She said this was special because Canadian and Indian collaboration in education has a rich history, hence Carleton University hosting the book launch. Currently, the school has partnered with other universities in India where students embark on exchange programs. 

Runte said Carleton University has more students who have gone to India than any other university in Ontario. 

Great, pluralism and jugaad 

Eight out of the 50 people named in The A-List were present at the ceremony and received copies of the book from Runte. 

“There are three things that define us as Indo-Canadians," said Dilip Soman, professor of marketing at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. "These three things are great, pluralism and jugaad.”  

Jugaad is a Hindi word, which means the ability to improvise and make do with what’s available. 

“... [W]e need to think about ways we can better support new Indo-Canadians and help them succeed.”

Soman, who moved to Canada 14 years ago from the U.S., was also named in The A-List. He said he was honoured to be recognized and that there are others who are also promoting Indo-Canadian relations positively in their own endeavours. 

The A-List is amazing, but I think it is just [the] tip of the iceberg,” he said. “There are many people who I think are doing amazing works, but are not on The A-List.” 

He added, “There are a lot of people whose works go unrecognized because there isn’t enough in terms of pages.” 

Soman said there there are also people who will not be written about because they may not have the opportunity to achieve success.  

“As a country and as a community, we need to think about ways we can better support new Indo-Canadians and help them succeed in anything that they choose to do,” he said. 

The best way to avoid situations where Indo-Canadians do not achieve their dreams when they come to Canada, he explained, is to support them when they first arrive in the country. 

He also urged his other colleagues on The A-List to learn from each other and build a more solid Indo-Canadian community. 

The A-List, which has already recognized the work of 100 Indo-Canadians, will honour more in the coming years, as Jain and his team have already started the 2017 list.

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

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

Arif Virani’s résumé is long and impressive. And nobody would say the newly appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is just not ready for the job.

Considered a star in Justin Trudeau’s firmament, the Parkdale–High Park MP’s name had figured in several speculative cabinet lists trotted out by the media.

One even named him as a possible Minister for Justice and Attorney General based on his legal career, which includes prosecuting genocide cases at the United Nations International Criminal Tribune for Rwanda and work on the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

But given the wealth of talent Trudeau could pick from to form his cabinet, it was inevitable that many eligible Liberal MPs would be left out. Virani was one of them.

“It is important that we get the refugee and immigration file right.”

“I am happy, honoured and privileged to be appointed as parliament secretary in a field I would 100 per cent want to be involved in given my background,” says Virani in a phone interview with New Canadian Media. “It is important that we get the refugee and immigration file right.”

Paying it forward

The background he is referring to was not just his work and education. It includes the lived experience of his family that began at a Montreal YMCA in 1972 on a cold October day.

Virani, who was only 10 months old then, and sister Shakufe, older by three years, came with their parents Sul and Lou as refugees ordered to leave Uganda with little notice by dictator Idi Amin.

Because of the friendship between the Aga Khan and then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the Liberal government of the day accepted 7,000 of his Ismaili Muslim followers into Canada. It marked the first such refugee arrival from a non-European country.

“My parents recall their dangerous 40-odd kilometre drive to the airport from Kampala city. They were allowed to board the plane with only two suitcases and were told the rest of their baggage would follow them later,” Virani shares. “But they never showed up.”

“At a time when they were full of trepidation, Canada stepped up to the plate.”

However, Canadian immigration officials showed up on-board the aircraft en route to process their papers and generally help them.

“By the time they landed, my mother already had two job offers and was persuaded to opt for Montreal over Edmonton as the Quebec city was more cosmopolitan then and hence a better place for newcomers.

“All this meant a lot to my parents,” Virani adds. “At a time when they were full of trepidation, Canada stepped up to the plate.”

It is this display of generosity shown to his family and himself that he seems keen to pay forward.

Creating change from within

So what prompted him to get into politics despite all the cynicism that surrounds it?

“Justin Trudeau on the positive side and Stephen Harper on the negative side,” states Virani. “I felt disenfranchised for the past nine years. And early on I had realized that it was easier to bring change from within the government than from outside.”

“I felt disenfranchised for the past nine years."

That realization came to him after the loops he went through to secure permanent annual funding for the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario that he co-founded and on whose board he served as a director for nearly eight years.

On some of the negativity generated by the current operation to bring in Syrian refugees, Virani feels the positive comments make up for it.

“The overall response of Canadians has been much more comforting. But that doesn’t mean we would ignore legitimate criticism.”

He dismisses the notion that Canada need not do anything for the refugees, as it had no role in creating the crisis.

“We are signatory to various human rights conventions and we have a duty as a global citizen.”

Virani also takes comfort from the way the world is again looking up to Canada when it comes to humanitarian relief.

He says the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency, is seeking Canada’s advice on refugee integration. The agency has said that the Canadian programs are a practical expression of support and wants other countries to do similarly.

Germany, the current leader in accepting Syrian refugees, is constantly looking to learn from Canada on refugee integration, says Virani, despite Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rather dim view about multiculturalism.

And amid the constant anti-immigrant rhetoric south of the border, Canada has been steadfast in going the “whole nine yards” in presenting opportunities for newcomers to succeed, he explains.

“We may not be perfect, but we get it right most times.”

A lot like his mother mistakenly referring to cranberry sauce as “red jam” at her first turkey dinner.

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 Politics
Friday, 11 December 2015 08:51

Inclusion, Diversity Bode Well Under Trudeau

Commentary by Andrew Griffith in Ottawa

The Liberal government has emphasized its diversity and inclusion language in speeches, cabinet ministers, committees and mandate letters. This emphasis has been reinforced by the return of the multiculturalism program to Canadian Heritage. Taken together, these represent mainstreaming of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism to an unparalleled extent.

It starts with the language of Prime Minister Trudeau who regularly emphasizes that:

Canadians understand that diversity is our strength. We know that Canada has succeeded — culturally, politically, economically — because of our diversity, not in spite of it.

It continues with the creation of the Cabinet Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, with a strong inclusion mandate for Indigenous and new Canadians:

Considers issues concerning the social fabric of Canada and the promotion of Canadian pluralism. Examines initiatives designed to strengthen the relationship with Indigenous Canadians, improve the economic performance of immigrants, and promote Canadian diversity, multiculturalism, and linguistic duality.

It is reflected in his choice of ministers: 50 per cent women, 17 per cent visible minority.

Holding all ministers to account ... should ensure greater progress on the two objectives of multiculturalism: recognition and equality.

And is further reinforced in the shared mandate letter commitments for all ministers with two strong multiculturalism-related commitments:

Canadians expect us, in our work, to reflect the values we all embrace: inclusion, honesty, hard work, fiscal prudence, and generosity of spirit. We will be a government that governs for all Canadians, and I expect you, in your work, to bring Canadians together.

You are expected to do your part to fulfill our government’s commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership.

Holding all ministers to account, with the PMO tracking these and other shared commitments (in addition to minister-specific commitments), should ensure greater progress on the two objectives of multiculturalism: recognition and equality.

It will take some time to see how well these commitments are implemented, particularly with respect to appointments. An early test was with respect to parliamentary secretaries where 34 per cent were women (below parity), but 23 per cent were visible minorities (significantly above).

Equally important, the previous government’s weak record on the diversity of judicial appointments (less than two per cent visible minority) will start to be addressed.

Rebuilding multiculturalism policy

Overall, the new government made few changes to how government is formally organized (machinery changes). This was wise given the disruption and turmoil that such changes can entail (e.g., the Martin government’s splitting apart Human Resources and Skills Development and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2004, reversed by the Harper government in 2006).

This makes the return of the multiculturalism program to Canadian Heritage all the more striking, after some eight years at Citizenship and Immigration (now Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or IRCC).

[T]he return of multiculturalism to Canadian Heritage reinforces the overall government diversity and inclusion agenda.

The original transfer to CIC was largely driven by political reasons given then Minister Jason Kenney’s political outreach role with ethnic groups.

However, there was also a policy rationale. Multiculturalism deals with longer-term multi-generational issues (along with ‘mainstream’ visible minority relations) in contrast to the newcomer focus of the immigration, integration and citizenship programs.

While multiculturalism could be seen as a logical extension of CIC’s mandate, and was portrayed as such in one of CIC’s strategic objectives, ‘building an integrated society,' in practice, however, the multiculturalism program withered away at CIC.

When the program moved to CIC in 2008, it had a $13 million budget: $12 million for grants and contributions and 73 full-time positions. The last departmental performance report (2013-14) showed 29 full-time positions (a decline of 60 per cent) with a $9.8 million budget. Money for grants and contributions fell to $7.9 million.

Negotiations over the resources to be returned to Canadian Heritage will be challenging, given the impact may be felt in other program areas in IRCC that benefited from the redistribution of Multiculturalism funds. Moreover, the weakened capacity will require a major rebuilding and re-staffing effort.

From a policy perspective, the return of multiculturalism to Canadian Heritage reinforces the overall government diversity and inclusion agenda, as well as the Canadian identity agenda, which fits nicely with Canadian Heritage’s overall mandate.

However, Minister Mélanie Joly’s public statements to date have not included any significant references to multiculturalism. Her general orientation, however, has been clear: to promote the “symbols of progressiveness. That was (sic) the soul of our platform.”

Overall, the commitment to a diversity and inclusion agenda, supported by a Cabinet Committee and shared Ministerial mandate letter commitments, and the rebuilding of multiculturalism back at Canadian Heritage, bode well for a more effective inclusion, diversity and multiculturalism strategy across government. 


Andrew Griffith is the author of Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism. 

This article first appeared on The Hill Times. Re-published with permission from author.

Published in Commentary

by Diba Hareer in Ottawa 

Her story reads like a movie script. 

Twenty years ago, Maryam Monsef fled the brutal rule of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and now, two decades later, she has become the first Muslim to be appointed a cabinet minister in the federal government.  

In 1996, Monsef’s mother and her three daughters settled in Peterborough, Ont. after Iran refused to grant them refuge. 

It is the kindness and the support that my family and I received from the people of Peterborough-Kawartha that is at the heart of the service that I intend to give to the people of this riding,” says the Minister of Democratic Institutions. 

Campaigning in a small town 

Monsef says the fact that she grew up in a smaller community allowed her to build networks. It was easier for her to create connections in Peterborough, a city of less than 80,000 people. 

“It is possible to plant seeds in this community because of its size, and to see those seeds grow, and to see that you can have an impact when you come together and collaborate.” 

Monsef is also the first female Member of Parliament (MP) ever elected in the riding Peterborough-Kawartha.

Monsef is also the first female Member of Parliament (MP) ever elected in the riding Peterborough-Kawartha. It’s an achievement she attributes to a lot of hard work. 

During the 60-day election campaign she and her team knocked on 70,000 doors and held 10 different roundtable discussions with the community. 

At these meetings she outlined her priorities for the riding. She campaigned for the Liberals on good sustainable jobs, preservation of the environment, health care and access to services for seniors. 

According to Monsef attracting and retaining newcomers to her riding is critical for the prosperity of the district. 

“Over a 160 different groups and individuals have been meeting for over five years and [have] developed strategies and action items devoted specifically to that mandate of creating a more welcoming community for newcomers to our area.” 

She adds that her riding continues its efforts to be a welcoming community to newcomers and Canadian immigrants. 

Strengthening democratic institutions 

While she was born in a country with a lack of human rights, it will be Monsef’s responsibility to strengthen Canada’s democracy as Minister of Democratic Institutions. 

"[M]y job I believe is to restore and to strengthen Canadians' respect and appreciation for these democratic institutions that we are so privileged to have.”

Monsef describes the scope of her job as “broad”, encompassing Senate reform, electoral reform and elections spending. 

“The way I see my job I believe is to restore and to strengthen Canadians' respect and appreciation for these democratic institutions that we are so privileged to have.” 

She would also like to see more women’s participation in Canadian politics. 

Monsef says she is grateful for the women who paved the way before her and hopes to do the same for others who follow. 

Inspiring Afghan Canadians 

For Afghans in Canada the news of Monsef’s appointment as a cabinet minister broke at the same time with the news of the horrific stoning of a young girl in Ghor, a northwestern province in Afghanistan.  

Amid the horror in Ghor, Afghans welcomed the news of Monsef’s appointment with delight and surprise. 

“Monsef’s election is helping to build the image of refugees and trust of Canadian society in them."

Adeena Niazi, the Executive Director of Afghan Women’s Organization in Toronto is of the view that refugees are too often perceived to be a burden and treated as unequal members of society, but that Monsef’s election has the power to change that. 

“Monsef’s election is helping to build the image of refugees and trust of Canadian society in them. It decreases the discrimination against refugees in society.” 

Monsef forces the public to re-think their perception of Afghan women, Niazi adds. 

“The international media has portrayed Afghan women as victims, listeners and oppressed, but since Monsef’s election everyone has come to realize that Afghan women are not just silent victims; they have strength and ability.” 

"[S]ince Monsef’s election everyone has come to realize that Afghan women are not just silent victims."

Khalid Mirzamir, an Afghan Canadian immigration counsellor in Ottawa, says Monsef’s story is one of hope and inspiration. 

“Maryam’s election reminds all of us as immigrants that Canada is a country where it gives everyone the opportunity to grow.” 

Hope is what Frozan Rahmani felt after Monsef was elected. The Toronto-based student followed the campaign closely and shed tears of joy when Monsef’s victory was announced. 

Rahmani is awed by the fact that it was Monsef’s mother who was the key to the minister’s success. 

After fleeing the Taliban, Monsef’s mother started life from scratch with her three daughters in Canada. The difficult task is a shared experience for many immigrants in this country. 

“I am not happy because we share the same heritage as Afghans, but because I know that she has risen from a society that has pains, from a culture that in the 21st century does not value women,” says Rahmani. “We have witnessed the stoning of women. But Maryam did rise in Canada and made us proud.”


Journalist Judy Trinh mentored the writer of this article through the NCM Mentoring Program.  

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 Politics
Saturday, 28 November 2015 16:24

Why Indo-Canadians Succeed in Politics

by Anita Singh in Toronto

With a tour in Bosnia, three tours in Afghanistan and a 15-year career in the Gang and Drug Unit of the Vancouver police, the new Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan, has been lauded as an exceptional choice for the post due to his significant experience. 

Despite these qualifications, Sajjan was the target of an inappropriate comment made by a high-ranking member of the Canadian forces on Facebook. The comment pertained to Sajjan’s racial background, and while the post itself was not made public and the department’s response was swift, it did raise the question of how members of the Canadian cabinet were perceived—particularly those that come from ethnic or immigrant backgrounds.

Considering this, what explains why Indo-Canadians have had such success in elections and in receiving Cabinet positions?  

In a “cabinet that looks like Canada", seven of 28 Ministers in Prime Minister Trudeau’s new Cabinet are members of a minority group; four of those seven come from Indo-Canadian backgrounds. This proportion isn’t surprising, given that more than half of all immigrant MPs elected into the Liberal caucus come from Indian backgrounds. 

Why Indo-Canadians?

There are a few reasons why this may be the case. 

Indo-Canadian immigrants have been long familiarized with the political system that exists in Canada. Since India’s independence in 1947, Indians have operated within a bicameral British parliamentary system. In fact, India’s political system has complexities that make Canada’s elections seem like a walk in the park.  

India has 1761 registered political parties, six of which have official status at the national level and 23 of which are represented in the current government. Its elections are massive affairs, demonstrated by the fact that 8251 candidates ran for a mere 545 seats in India’s last election.

In addition to this complexity, a total of 131 seats are reserved for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Two additional seats are reserved for the Anglo-Indian community, and if Women’s Reservation bill finally passes, eventually 33 per cent of the lower house will be reserved for women.

If you can navigate India’s democracy, Canada offers a welcome simplicity within a familiar political system.

Seven of 28 Ministers in Prime Minister Trudeau’s new Cabinet are members of a minority group.
 

History also makes a compelling case for Indo-Canadians' current involvement in Canadian politics. While others have rightly noted that Indo-Canadians were not actively contesting elections until later in the 20th century, the community has been very politically active since the arrival of the first Indo-Canadians in the early 1900s.  

One hundred years ago, Indo-Canadians formed the first ethnic political organizations in the country to contest the restrictions against Indians in those early days. They challenged race-based immigration policies, landing fees charged to Indian immigrants arriving by port, in addition to the rights to own property, run businesses and of course, to vote. 

Needless to say, there is a deep history of engagement from the Indo-Canadian community in the Canadian political system.

What explains Indo-Canadian success in cabinet? 

In some ways, there is evidence that success has indeed bred success. 

In the 1990s, Herb Dhaliwal made history as the first Indo-Canadian cabinet minister, holding significant portfolios such as National Revenue, Fisheries and Oceans and Natural Resources.  

Similarly, Ujjal Dosanjh held the Ministry of Health in the Paul Martin government, but only after serving as the first (and only) Indo-Canadian provincial premier in Canadian history.

Canada offers a welcome simplicity within a familiar political system.

Further, Indo-Canadians have exhibited a high level of political success, but this is not limited to electoral politics. There is significant integration of Indo-Canadian interests in non-profit, community-based and interest group organizations.

Organizations like Seva Food Bank in Peel Region, VIBC in the Greater Vancouver Region and the India-Canada Women’s Association have provided important platforms for social engagement for Indo-Canadians.It has resulted in a community that is engaged, comfortable and active in Canadian political and social environments. 

What's more, increasing numbers of second generation Indo-Canadians have run for federal office, combining their familiarity with Canadian politics and community activism with significant professional experience. 

Numerous examples exist within the current Liberal caucus, including Amarjeet Sohi, Anju Dhillon and Kamal Khera. From this group of young, ambitious Indo-Canadians, Bardish Chadder, a first time MP, has become the Minister of Small Business and Tourism in the Trudeau cabinet.

What does this mean for other immigrant groups in the country?

There’s no ultimate answer as to why Indo-Canadians have been successful in the Canadian political environment and more significantly, in Cabinet. 

Instead, the explanation lies in the congruence of numerous historical, experiential, political and personal reasons. There is no reason why Chinese, Filipino, Middle Eastern or Eastern European communities could not be similarly successful. 

There are hopeful signs that other communities have started on this trajectory. In particular, the accomplishments of first-time MPs Ahmed Hussen and Maryam Monsef from the Somali-Canadian and Afghani-Canadian communities demonstrate that the Canadian parliament is well on its way to truly becoming a representative institution for Canada’s immigrant communities.

But representation in parliament does not mean much unless it translates to representation in cabinet. At least Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet is a solid step in the right direction.


 Anita Singh is a founding partner of Tahlan, Jorden & Singh Consulting Group and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies 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.

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 Commentary
Tuesday, 24 November 2015 10:14

Politics a Natural Fit for Many Indo-Canadians

by Simran Singh in Vancouver 

Indo-Canadian representation in Canada’s new government goes beyond the cabinet ministers Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced to the country at his swearing-in ceremony earlier this month. 

In what he called “a cabinet that looks like Canada,” 15 of Trudeau’s 30 ministers are women, two are aboriginal, two have disabilities and four are Indo-Canadian Sikhs. 

The Indo-Canadian representation of Trudeau’s cabinet was noted around the nation and internationally. From India’s Hindustan Times to New Zealand’s Indian Weekender, global news media showcased Canada’s newly appointed Indian cabinet ministers. 

A total of 23 Indo-Canadian representatives were elected into parliament in the recent election, an astounding increase compared to the nine Indo-Canadians elected in 2011. 

Moreover, 20 of the Indo-Canadian MPs speak Punjabi, making it the third most-spoken language in Canada’s House of Commons after English and French. 

Most Indo-Canadian politicians originate from the northern Indian state of Punjab, which has a rich, politically, fuelled history.

Punjab: A political hotbed 

Although this year’s Canadian cabinet announcement appeared to draw a lot of attention to Indo-Canadians’ representation in politics, their involvement has remained steadfast in all levels of government across the nation. 

Most Indo-Canadian politicians originate from the northern Indian state of Punjab, which has a rich, politically, fuelled history. Their political inclination is embedded in their cultural background and heritage. 

"[Y]ou are dealing with a group of people that never led any kind of comfortable lifestyle. They were constantly invaded."

“The first thing you have to look at is that Indo-Canadian politicians are mostly Sikhs and [they are] a small, yet highly motivated, religious sect that developed a kind of reformation movement,” explains Shinder Purewal, a professor of political science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C. 

Purewal adds that the geographical positioning of Punjab in India has made it a political hotbed for centuries. 

“Every invader from Alexander the Great down to the Ahmad Shah Abdali came through the Punjab,” explains Purewal. “So you are dealing with a group of people that never led any kind of comfortable lifestyle. They were constantly invaded. It moulded that spirit of trying to resist oppression and exploitation and that kind of unity created is highlighted [in the] Sikh diaspora.” 

Gradual political participation in Canada 

That sense of unity remained for Punjabis when they first settled in British Columbia in 1903. 

In 1907, the province of B.C. disenfranchised not only Punjabis, but all of the South Asian diaspora. They were not allowed to vote in federal elections or participate in politics. 

After 40 years, the voting restrictions against South Asians were lifted in 1947, but their political involvement developed slowly. 

“The numbers didn’t warrant for [Indo-Canadians] to actually be successful at either provincial levels or federal levels,” says Purewal. “But they did work for the parties mostly as volunteers and also raising funds. They were doing this from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s onward.” 

“My activism started almost right away when I came to Canada."

Although political participation was gradual, Indo-Canadians were motivated and outspoken on many issues impacting their communities. 

Ujjal Dosanjh, the first Indo-Canadian provincial premier and a former Liberal federal cabinet minister, began his community activism by advocating for the wellbeing of B.C. farmworkers. 

Many of these workers were South Asian and Chinese immigrants, who were being underpaid and mistreated. 

Like Dosanjh, Raj Chouhan, a long-time member of legislature in B.C., explains how he was driven by advocacy for farmworkers during his early days in Canada. 

“My activism started almost right away. When I came to Canada, I saw people working in the farms – they were treated so badly,” says Chouhan. In 1980, after speaking out on the issue, he became the founding president of the Canadian Farmworkers Union. 

Inspiring the next generation 

Both Chouhan and Dosanjh point to the political culture of India as a nation playing a large role in motivating early Indo-Canadian politicians. 

“I had this sense of pride in our history and our civilization, and in the morals and values of the independence movement,” Dosanjh recalls. “There was politics all around as I was growing up.” 

“[Politics in India] is part of life, it’s like a second nature.”

India’s democratic system is the largest in the world. It fosters a feeling of responsibility to get politically involved amongst Canada’s South Asian diaspora. 

“[Politics in India] is part of life, it’s like a second nature,” Dosanjh says. “It is a very comfortable position for [Indians] to be in when they come to Canada – to be part of the political system.” 

That political voice has grown stronger as the South Asian representation in Canada’s highest level of government serves as inspiration for the next generation of young Indo-Canadians. 

But Dosanjh highlights that no matter who you are, politics is about believing in yourself and your values. 

“You don’t do it for glory. I did it because I believed in it […] Winning or losing isn’t the issue. In the end you have to look at yourself in the mirror and see if you have been true to yourself,” he says. 

“I would say to young people, if you believe Canada can be a better place, and you want to make it better, go into politics.”

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 Politics

The military declined to identify the soldier or precisely what was written, but a source said the non-commissioned member from Quebec, made an “inappropriate statement” on Facebook [...]

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Canada India Foundation chairman Ajit Someshwar (middle) with Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in Toronto

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The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

Zo2 Framework Settings

Select one of sample color schemes

Google Font

Menu Font
Body Font
Heading Font

Body

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Background Image

Top Wrapper

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Modules Title
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Header Wrapper

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Mainmenu Wrapper

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Slider Wrapper

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Scroller Wrapper

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Mainframe Wrapper

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Bottom Scroller Wrapper

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Breadcrumb Wrapper

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Bottom Menu Wrapper

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Bottom Wrapper

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Text Color
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Background Image
Background Color
Modules Title
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Background Image