Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
The ongoing story of phony absentee ballots, and vote-buying swirling around Surrey’s current municipal election is cast with a perfect mix of characters—vulnerable immigrants, greedy developers, partisan journalists, and amoral politicians—to seem like a plot suited for an Indian soap opera, the nightly programming favoured by many of the city’s 160,000 South Asian residents.
This drama is just too tantalizing to pass up. Across Surrey-based South Asian social media threads, Whatsapp chat groups, and Punjabi-language radio talk shows, gossiping over this latest scandal—or appearance of a scandal—has become the latest guilty pleasure.
This issue, which for the past two weeks has overshadowed actual policy matters relevant to the Surrey election, has tarnished the image of the city’s politics-mad South Asian community. But in an election when the leading candidate is someone vying to become the city’s first mayor of South Asian descent, perhaps that was the point. Smearing an opponent is a common tactic in wild anything-goes democracies like India, but its a sort of "dirty politics" most South Asians living in Canada would prefer remain overseas.
But as of the latest police investigation update, it seems this entire affair may turn out to be much ado about nothing. Surrey RCMP reported it had examined 73 applications to vote by mail, and that 67 were fraudulent because they were not completed or signed by the voter listed on the application.
The Mounties added that no ballots were sent out to individuals based on these fraudulent applications.
And lastly—and most importantly here—the RCMP said it had not found any evidence to link any mayoral candidate to these phony applications.
As the RCMP investigation continues, and given all the commentary on social media are unsubstantiated allegations, most mainstream media outlets in the Lower Mainland have wisely remained circumspect in their coverage of the issue.
CBC, StarMetro, the Vancouver Sun, and the Globe and Mail have all avoided implicating any particular mayoral candidate in this alleged scandal. There is plenty of rumour-mongering online, but it won’t be found in the coverage provided by these outlets.
But there has been one notable exception: Global News. The media outlet has aggressively pursued this story and it recently stepped assertively into a no-man’s land of difficult-to-corroborate allegations via its story, “Two men say they were pressured to participate in alleged Surrey voter fraud scheme”, and published comments from two anonymous South Asian sources—Mr. X and Mr. Y—the type of material other outlets have ostensibly balked at using.
What made the Global News story stand out against all the coverage on this issue, was that it seemed to implicate one of three leading mayoral candidates. The video version of the story can be viewed here.
The piece seemed like uncharacteristically thin reporting by the staid broadcaster that still reigns as the most popular evening newscast in the Lower Mainland and that (arguably) still possesses the reporting credibility to bring down governments in the province—it was Global’s (BCTV) cameras that were first on the spot when the police came knocking on then-premier Glen Clark’s door back in 1999.
By airing its story, Global News seemed to signal that its reporters had corroborating information others outlets lacked. I did make contact with Global’s news director but I did not receive answers in how the outlet verified the statements of these anonymous sources.
But if the statements were accepted with minimal direct corroboration, then it would seem Global—at least when it comes to coverage featuring issues from diverse communities—is willing to relax its standards of reporting and use difficult-to-verify information that otherwise wouldn’t make the grade.
But before diving into that, first some background.
Let’s start with the alleged victims—these are an unknown number of Surrey residents of South Asian descent who by most accounts seem to be recent immigrants with little to no English skills, senior citizens, foreign students with "permanent residency" (though this seems like an oxymoron), and others from this community who typically do not vote. They have either been solicited (made a Godfather-like offer they can’t refuse) by various "poll captains" or their volunteer staff to cast an absentee ballot for their candidate (or made to sign over these ballots which are filled out and submitted on their behalf later).
Pulling the strings behind the scenes are apparently deep-pocketed developers who are watching over the proceedings like fat cats perched on stacks of $100 bills—apparently the going rate per vote.
A grassroots anticrime activist organization, Wake Up Surrey, formed earlier this year to combat gang violence and what it views as the city’s institutional complacency in halting gun crime, blew the whistle on this alleged scandal in September. It has taken on the capes of heroes.
And lastly, a three-term Surrey councillor of South Asian descent, Tom Gill, who is a front runner and has all the coveted endorsements, including one from former Surrey mayor Diane Watts, is seeing his campaign put on the backfoot and his aspiration to become the city’s first nonwhite mayor pulled down into the mud.
That is because it was Gill who was fingered in the Global piece that featured the two anonymous South Asian men, Mr. X and Mr. Y, both of whom work in the Lower Mainland construction trades. According to Global’s story, both men said they were approached by people from Gill’s Surrey First campaign, the difference being Mr. Y got the carrot, while Mr. X, the stick.
In Mr. X’s case, he was asked to fill out a phony mail-in ballot in support of Gill and informed if he didn’t provide assistance that money owed to him from a trades job would be in jeopardy.
Mr. Y said he was asked for the names of South Asian residents in Surrey who typically did not vote. He was promised preferential treatment in a future Gill administration from city planners in terms of his development submissions.
Neither man said they went to the Surrey RCMP with their troubles.
Global kept the identities of both men anonymous out of their fear of reprisal.
Where vote-buying with either money or liquor is a common, almost comically traditional practice in Punjabi villages (where many of Surrey’s South Asian population hails from), voter fraud in Canada is nonexistent. In 2017, the Economist’s Democracy Index ranked Canada sixth in terms of the health of its democracy. (The U.S. came 21st.)
The serious nature of these unprecedented allegations merits an aggressive approach by journalists in digging up the facts. And based on the latest RCMP update, it seems remote that the Surrey First campaign has been guilty (or the most guilty) of this illegal activity.
It seems more likely, however, that the affair has been a smear-and-distraction campaign machinated to perfection to damage one candidate’s credibility.
So while getting this story right and being first on the spot may earn your outlet some extra click-thrus and attention, getting it wrong would not only risk damaging Global’s credibility and more critically, it could unduly influence the outcome of the Surrey mayoral race, in the same way that deliberately fake news bent the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
So in coming back to Global’s recent story, it may be the case that Global took added confidence in the credibility of Mr. X and Mr. Y based on similar muddy claims being made on Punjabi language radio and on social media threads. Wake Up Surrey’s spokesperson, Sukhi Sandhu, has also been quoted for directly fingering Gill’s supportersas being behind the voting fraud.
But as someone who edited a South Asian publication for many years, I hold little value in these parallel opinions of Wake Up Surrey and various Punjabi radio talk shows. And I particularly find zero value in this content when it comes to corroborating Mr. X and Mr. Y’s statements.
As much as Wake Up Surrey has done to bring critical issues of community safety and gun crime to the surface of Surrey politics, the South Asian grassroots organization has been somewhat of a wild card in this controversy. When the group first went public with this voter fraud allegation, it claimed as many as 15,000 of Surrey’s ballots were compromised.
As recently reported, the Surrey RCMP had received only 73 mail ballot registration applications from Surrey’s chief elections officer—a barely audible whimper compared to the howls of protest originally from the group.
Punjabi-language media outlets, meanwhile, which are rarely impartial and have a tendency to play loose with the facts as best meets their agendas, have been giving air time to everyone from victims shocked to learn their signatures were forged to angry talk-back callers spewing all sorts of conspiracy theories.
For months many of these outlets have dogged Gill with negative coverage, fanning these headwinds to slow down his mayoral campaign. This has included devoting undue coverage and talk-back time earlier this spring to an anonymous flyer slandering Gill that was distributed through the city’s Indian shopping areas and neighbourhoods.
Mainstream outlets like the Vancouver Sun chose not to publish the contents of that flyer given "the unsubstantiated, vague and anonymous allegations".
Meanwhile back to Global’s story—after airing the anonymous allegations of Mr. X and Mr. Y, the story concludes by stating that “Surrey's South Asian community is now a pivotal voting group” and that as Western Canada’s second largest city, Surrey politics matter more than ever.
There seems to be an assumption here that there is one bloc of South Asian voters. Perhaps this assumption also contributed to the outlet gaining confidence in the allegations of two anonymous South Asian men that were outing the city election’s main South Asian candidate.
The problem here is that there is not one South Asian voting group—this is a multicultural myth used by xenophobes to rally the troops against the immigrants who are "taking over". In the world of South Asian politics, there are many fragmented groups, and extended families who are often at loggerheads with each other, jockeying for influence in one form or another.
Contrary to the ignorant opinions one typically finds in comment threads on news websites, the South Asian candidate in Surrey is not going to get all the South Asian votes. It is very possible Gill may only get support from one-third of these voters. More likely is that the South Asian vote will be split, possibly equally, between all three leading mayoral candidates. Bruce Hayne, Doug McCallum, and Tom Gill all have a significant South Asian following.
McCallum, in particular, is practically an honourary member of the South Asian community—he is affectionately referred to as ‘Doug Bhaaji’ or ‘Brother Doug’ because of his development-friendly policies that transformed Surrey from a smaller bedroom community in the '90s into a more sprawling bedroom community of larger strip malls and industrial parks that it is today. During McCallum’s three terms as a business-friendly mayor of Surrey from 1996 to 2005, many of Surrey’s South Asian now wealthy developers first started their rise to affluence and influence.
McCallum has been out of power long enough such that the have-nots among the South Asian voters have forgotten, or don’t know, that many of TransLink’s current woes, and hence the lack of public transit in Surrey and the Lower Mainland, began when McCallum was the chairperson of that troubled body.
But these performance issues from McCallum’s past have been glossed over in Punjabi media, which tends to be very development friendly. Both McCallum and Hayne have also generally received softer "nuanced" coverage, at least when compared to Gill.
In the nexus of Surrey’s Punjabi media outlets, activist groups, property developers, temple committees, socialites, singers, and political aspirants, there are numerous layers of family, business, ancestral, and professional alliances that obscure the intentions of anyone coming forward with an allegation. Sussing out who is connected to whom in this cat’s cradle of relationships is truly Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Add to that the challenge of covering Canada’s diverse communities when there is a language barrier—it makes covering large minority groups like the South Asian, Chinese, and Filipino communities difficult work.
To be fair, mainstream outlets like Global seem to be devoting more resources to covering diverse communities and the outlet is producing solid work when there are equally solid facts upon which to build out the story.
But there are still instances when Global has over-reached and produced ham-fisted ethnic coverage, such as a piece earlier this year that attributed Surrey gangsterism and violence to gun glamour in Punjabi bhangra videos.
In this voter fraud story, there seem to be too many unknowns—at least from my perspective as someone who has worked in South Asian media—to responsibly press ahead with a story that relies on the allegations of two individuals who didn’t first go to the police and were unwilling to disclose their identities, reprisal or not.
So a question: would Global publish a follow-up story if two other men, in parallel circumstances, came forward with similar allegations as Mr. X and Mr. Y—let’s call them Mr. B and Mr. C—but that implicated one of the other non-South Asian mayoral candidates?
It would seem the evidence on such a story would appear to be equally thin.
Commentary by: George Abraham in Ottawa, ON
ENTREPRENEURIAL journalism sounds deceptively simple to execute. Combine journalism with business acumen … and voilà you have a winner.
Sadly, that is not the way it actually works in real life. It is a long, lonely slog, made even more difficult with the declining economics of Canadian media companies all around. One soon learns that the ability of reporters to break new ground and the ability of editors to present stories in a way that resonates with their audience derives from the financial strength of the parent media organization.
The M-word looms large: monetization. How do you keep the lights on and feed the hungry beast that is your burgeoning editorial budget?
We weren’t daft when a bunch of us embarked on this journey called New Canadian Media. The trend towards newsroom closures and downsizing was already written on the wall. The business model of legacy organizations itself was broken or breaking down before our very eyes. Sure, there were any number of naysayers who saw no point in trying to carve out a niche that portrayed the collective perspective of newcomers to Canada. We were warned that we would be neither “ethnic” nor “mainstream” – a mongrel among media – and that advertisers will make no room for hybrid models like ours because they have niche marketing budgets.
But, it was virgin space in May, 2014, when we launched our portal … and remains so even today.
Our first goal was to demonstrate that we could indeed produce high-quality journalism using largely immigrant talent. We’ve done that in spades. It’s our calling card.
Second, we needed to find “seed capital” that would help us convincingly demonstrate the strength of NCM’s original idea. We’ve done that as well. However, as we scaled up, we found the going difficult.
The intervening years since the launch of our site demonstrated not only the endurance of the original idea to represent “the immigrant perspective”, but also to tap into a rich vein of journalism talent that remains largely unexplored in Canada. But, in addition to pioneering a new form of journalism, we went against the grain in several important respects, all in an effort to buck the trend and improve the odds.
The original idea
NCM was founded on a rather simple premise: waves of immigrants continue to reshape this country in both visible and invisible ways. For visible signs, look no further than the sushi restaurant in your neighbourhood, turbans in the RCMP, Canada’s tilt towards the Asia-Pacific driven largely by immigration from that region of the world, ethnic nannies who raise babies for rich Canadians and the entrepreneurial energy that has made this country more prosperous.
While existing media capture the mega-trends, they do a rather poor job of portraying undercurrents and speaking to a new Canada-in-the-making. Our idea was to give voice to the opinion and points-of-view of newcomers, while enabling all Canadians to better appreciate this new perspective.
Jagdeesh Mann, executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post published in English and distributed in downtown Vancouver, has a readership that is as much white as Asian. “Canadians want to know what was happening in the Asian community and Asians want to participate,” Mr. Mann says, adding “food was usually the gateway.”
We, however, went about this in unconventional ways, ensuring that we continually broadened our horizons even while staying true to our core mission of delivering the immigrant perspective. We took great care to avoid creating what media experts call a new, isolationist “silo”, but rather to work with both existing ethnic and mainstream news organizations so our limited dollars did not end up duplicating journalism that was already out there.
There was no template to follow and hence we charted our own course.
Amid a climate of great public mistrust of ‘elites’ in general, and the media in particular, we set ourselves up as a non-profit, with paid members across Canada. When we discovered that our contributors could benefit from training and mentoring, we found the funds to launch a national professional development program. Last year, we broadened this grassroots undertaking to create an NCM Collective, inviting our contributors to band together in a countrywide effort to organize and lend even more heft to their inimitable immigrant voices.
At the same time, the organization has sustained itself on the backs of volunteer directors and pro bono time from members of our editorial board.
By the numbers
We’ve taken great pains to cross language and racial divides to address issues that confront every one of the 200 ethnic communities in Canada. Our range of stories and datelines from cities and towns across the country speak for themselves. It has contributed, dare I say, to giving many an immigrant a greater sense of belonging.
In perhaps our biggest break from tradition, we have consistently fostered a bottom-up journalism that privileges the findings of on-the-ground reporters over the preconceived notions of distant editors. We very rarely dictated a story idea, relying on our formidable network to serve as listening posts in their respective communities. Retaining a reporter’s voice is very important to us. We’ve tried our best not to shoehorn a reporter’s findings into a pre-cooked, nifty headline, or come up with an elegant turn of phrase that may not do full justice to the original sentiment.
Trust me, this has made the editing process a lot more laborious, but it has been surely worth it: it has led to unfiltered, authentic voices from communities across this fabulous country. Copy editors have gone apoplectic at times, but this approach has allowed immigrant journalists to portray the everyday experiences, joys and sorrows of new Canadians, signifying perhaps NCM’s biggest accomplishment to date.
All of this pioneering work has been sustained largely through project-based public funding (roughly $275,000 so far), enabling NCM to demonstrate the calibre and depth of its journalism and showcase the work of a growing roster of new reporters in every province.
Numbers rarely tell the whole story, but here are a few to illustrate our growth and current profile:
Our board of directors believes we are market-ready, and primed to emerge as a media platform in our own right. Towards this end, the board is re-tooling the NCM organization, rethinking our financial and business model, while we revamp our web platform to update several of its key attributes – to ensure that we continue to present the immigrant perspective in all its colour and vibrancy.
We are surely not alone in imagining a different media scene – one that truly reflects Canada in the 21st century. As our good friend and publisher of the Walrus magazine puts it, “If NCM did not already exist, this country would be compelled to invent it.”
George Abraham is NCM’s founder and publisher.
Commentary by: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC
Over its 132-year history since incorporation as a city, Vancouver has had 39 mayors. All of them have been white men.
Change seems to be coming, however, and suddenly.
Two of the Vancouver’s leading municipal parties will be running mayoral candidates from diverse backgrounds for the upcoming 2018 civic election now only four months away.
Recently, Ken Sim, the second-generation Canadian-born son of Chinese immigrants, won the nomination for the city’s right-of-centre Non-Partisan Association (NPA). This party, which was founded in 1937, has traditionally been aligned with the interests of the city’s business community.
In a surprising result, the entrepreneur and cofounder of Nurse Next Door and Rosemary Rocksalt bagel shops, beat out the establishment candidate John Coupar, the two-time NPA Vancouver park board commissioner who had the support of other establishment figures like former councillor Suzanne Anton and former mayor Philip Owen.
Meanwhile, the currently ruling Vision Vancouver party has confirmed its mayoral candidate will be Squamish Nation hereditary chief Ian Campbell.
Internet entrepreneur Taleeb Noormohamed—who drew comparisons to Calgary’s wonder-mayor Naheed Nenshi—had been bidding for the Vision Vancouver leadership until recently, when a health matter forced him to drop out of the campaign.
On the sidelines, former federal Conservative MP, Wai Young has indicated interest in running as an independent but hasn’t confirmed her candidacy yet. Raymond Louie, the five-time Vision city councillor who would have made a strong candidate for mayor, has also declared he is not running. There is some uncertainty about why he wasn’t recruited by his own Vision party for the mayor’s nomination (or if he pre-emptively declined the possibility).
It seems 2018 may be the year when Vancouver—one of the most left-of-centre cities in North America, Canada’s commercial and cultural gateway to Asia, and the metropolis that was early to embrace Indian yoga and in gratitude paid the world back with lululemon yoga pants—finally elects a nonwhite mayor.
Leaders, activists, and entrepreneurs from smaller diverse communities have increasingly participated in Canadian politics over the past two decades. It has now become the norm to see the country’s diversity represented among its politicians, whether that be in cabinet in Ottawa or the legislative backbenches in Victoria.
But at the municipal level, and particularly in Vancouver, they have struggled to break through, or perhaps a better term is "break out" from their ethnic silos and gain a voice on a broader citywide stage.
So far, however, the run-up to the 2018 election is proving to be an inflection point in this narrative. Hollywood had its #OscarsSoWhite reckoning two years ago, so it seems apt for Hollywood North to also have its own #VancouverSoWhite moment, though one would think progressive Canadians would have beat their American counterparts to this milestone.
While there is an immigrants-coming-of-age story here, there is also a perfect storm of political conditions that have triggered the backroom players and eminences grise behind the major parties to seek out diverse candidates.
For the NPA, Ken Sim’s nomination effectively counters any potential candidacy of Stephen Harper-era conservative Wai Young, who has significant support from within the Chinese community.
Sim’s family roots go back to Hong Kong and he will pull votes from this segment of the Chinese community (he may have less of a connection among Mainland Chinese immigrants). His last-minute entry—or recruitment—into the mayoral race looks to be an efficacious use of inclusiveness by a party that has been out of power for a decade.
For the progressive left-leaning Vision Vancouver, Campbell’s nomination provides a clean break from the past and a chance to rebrand a party that many believe has much to account (or some would say atone) for after the past decade in power.
For political watchers, this greater-than-usual interest in standing for public office from qualified diverse candidates makes this year’s election intriguing.
But for the average citizen all of this may go unnoticed if it all turns out to be business-as-usual and the 40th mayor of Vancouver—like the thirty-nine previously—once again is another white person.
There are still many twists, announcements, and deals to unfold before that forecast becomes clearer. But it is worth a look to see how various local and Canadian laws, policies, and practices of exclusion over the past century-and-a-half have led to this much delayed point, where diverse candidates—in a city where half the population is not white—finally have a real shot at becoming mayor.
In four months time, this election may be remembered as the moment Vancouverites finally said “Yes We Can” instead of the usual “Yes We Can’t”.
Lack of profile exerts a high price
Among the jigsaw pieces that comprise the map of Lower Mainland municipalities, Surrey is the fastest growing city in the region. Ten thousand new people move into Surrey every year.
Barinder Rasode, a former two-term Surrey city councillor, has come the closest among nonwhite candidates in the Lower Mainland to winning a coveted mayor’s seat.
There have been a small number of nonwhite politicians who have won mayoral races in B.C., but all have been outside the Lower Mainland: Jamese Atebe in Mission, Alan Lowe in Victoria, Akbal Mund in Vernon, and Colin Basran in Kelowna.
Naranjan Grewal of Mission was the first nonwhite mayor in all of B.C. when he was elected in 1954. He died under suspicious circumstances three years later.
Despite late entry to the race, Rasode garnered an impressive 21 percent of the votes in the 2014 Surrey municipal election. She has been one of the few individuals to cross over in appeal to the broader community, a feat not easily achieved given the tendency of potential candidates from diverse communities to remain in their comfort zones, or even self-segregate, when encountering barriers of entry to mainstream political organizations.
“When it comes to municipal elections, if a candidate hopes to compete or have any chance at winning, they must have a profile beyond their own community,” explained Rasode, who served on board of directors for Fraser Health and served as a Surrey city councillor from 2008 to 2014. “This is evident in electoral results. Even when minorities run for council seats as part of recognized slates, they tend to be the ones who fall short or to the bottom of the slate.”
Rasode’s observation holds true whether in Surrey or in Vancouver. In the 2014 Vancouver election, only two Vision Vancouver council candidates out of eight on the slate failed to win seats: Niki Sharma and Tony Tang, candidates from South Asian and Chinese backgrounds.
In 2008, the lone Vision councillor out of eight on the slate who failed to win a seat was Kashmir Dhaliwal, the former president of the Khalsa Diwan Society (Ross Street Sikh Temple). Despite being a power broker within one of B.C.’s biggest Sikh temples, and one with a very politically active congregation, Dhaliwal still fell short of being elected—he just lacked a wider profile beyond his South Vancouver neighbourhood.
Fast forward 10 years and back to the upcoming election. This lack of profile is still an Achilles heel for both the NPA nominee Ken Sim and Ian Campbell. Both will be hampered by being relatively unknown to broader sections of Vancouver’s voting public (Sim likely more than Campbell).
Unlike previous diverse candidates, however, who have in the past ran as independents, both Sim and Campbell will have the party machines of the NPA and Vision to help remedy some of this lack of profile.
But there is a caveat emptor here, particularly for Vision. Ian Campbell will first have much work to do in rebuilding a damaged Vision brand before he hopes to reap any of the rewards of membership.
It is clear the 2018 version of Vision does not have the potency it once did circa 2011 or even in 2014. It looks to be sinking ship with neither Mayor Gregor Robertson seeking re-election, nor three of its councillors. One veteran city hall reporter has even suggested the party may want to consider disbanding for a dignified end to its political life.
For these two newcomers, the mission will be to "get their names out there" into a congested daily news cycle. Bonus points if they edge out other candidates.
This, however, is much more easily said than done.
Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline was meant to deliver oil to offshore tankers for lighting up cities abroad. In actuality, the pipeline has pumped media exposure to antagonistic local politicians and lit up their approval rating numbers.
The fight against Kinder Morgan—the news story of the year in Vancouver—has been a gift to the other anti-pipeline mayoral candidates like NDP member of Parliament Kennedy Stewart, and SFU professor of public practice Shauna Sylvester. It would have also helped popular Green party city councilor Adriane Carr but she has recently decided not to run for mayor. Still, if Vancouver doesn’t elect its first nonwhite mayor, it may be due to voters electing Sylvester as their first woman mayor, no less a milestone-in-waiting.
Depending on how the Kinder Morgan narrative unfolds, the pipelines and oil tankers debate could end up overshadowing other hot-button issues, possibly even housing affordability. This would be a boon particularly for Stewart, who was recently arrested in March for contempt after he marched to British Columbia’s frontline and deliberately breached the five-meter exclusion zone buffering "The Fence" that safeguards the Kinder Morgan’s tanker farm on Burnaby Mountain.
His act of civil disobedience against a heavy-handed Trudeau government bulldozing ahead with now their pipeline project has transformed the staid NDP politician into a sort of Gandhi-of-Burnaby.
No doubt this act will add some swagger to Stewart’s campaign. When it counted, he could be counted, standing among those lined up against the carbon-spewing machinery of Big Oil. Stewart’s chances of winning will increase further if the muscle of B.C.’s local NDP machine gets behind him.
Given the vocal opposition to the pipeline by the Squamish Nation, and Vision Vancouver, Ian Campbell also stands to gain on this issue. But he will need to find a way to "out-activist" Stewart, who has gotten to the front of the line on this issue.
Getting arrested and having a record, however, isn’t always a viable strategy for most candidates to gain the profile necessary to win a municipal election—or to stay if office, given they usually have day jobs and other real-life entanglements. Besides, historically speaking, getting arrested for most people, and notably for people of colour, has never been an ideal path to career advancement. Ultimately, diversifying Vancouver city politics is not the same thing as integrating an Alabama lunch counter.
But the real obstacle for diverse candidates seeking to gain name recognition runs deeper than being able to generate viral hashtags, or skillfully jockeying for media airtime.
It is a more permanent and seemingly intractable structural barrier at the heart of Vancouver’s municipal electoral system.
No wards led to more exclusion from power
A ward system divides a city into neighbourhoods with each electing one councillor.
Virtually all major Canadian cities have implemented a ward system to ensure individual neighbourhoods are represented at the council level by an individual who has ties to or lives in that neighbourhood.
These cities include Calgary, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Toronto, Windsor, Ottawa, Hamilton, Halifax, and so forth. I think you get the point.
Vancouver, however, is the largest Canadian city that uses an at-large system. It is based on a "to-the-victors-the-spoils" approach to city politics.
Vancouver city council is comprised of the 10 candidates who receive the most votes from across all the neighbourhoods of the city. It is a system that has some benefits as it requires candidates to see the bigger picture and know all of the issues in the city, but it is a system that has also been criticized as been exclusionary, even racist, for blocking out candidates of diverse backgrounds.
There have been a number of cases in the United States where at-large systems were found by the courts to be discriminatory toward minority black and Hispanic populations.
Unlike the at-large system, wards allow more localized neighbourhood candidates a channel to access the bigger citywide stage.
Vancouver is a city that is simultaneously diverse but ethnically siloed—it is a place where people from different backgrounds peacefully co-exist but don’t necessarily coalesce. A ward system makes the difference between a candidate from a diverse background getting heard or getting crowded out. It ameliorates the "lack of profile" issue for diverse candidates.
In 2004, the city held a referendum asking Vancouver voters about moving to a wards system. The No side rejected the proposition by a small majority of 54 percent.
Given the momentum currently building for British Columbia to adopt a proportional-representation electoral system, it seems likely that a referendum on ward system would receive more support today than it did 14 years ago.
RJ Aquino, who has previously run for council in 2011 for COPE and in 2014 for the then-nascent OneCity party, believes a ward system would have altered the outcomes of his previous campaigns.
Aquino, who was born in the Philippines and has lived in Vancouver for the past 20 years, serves on the board of Collingwood Neighbourhood House. He is active in various initiatives in his part of Vancouver.
In 2014, Aquino was among the top vote-getters in Collingwood-Renfrew, Vancouver-Kensington, and the Fraser Street and King Edward area, all neighbourhoods with a significant population of Filipinos, the fastest growing ethnic group in B.C.
According to the recent census, there are 94,000 Filipinos living in the Metro Vancouver region, yet there has never been anyone of Filipino descent on Vancouver council, or the Vancouver park board.
“For people from diverse communities, we really have to work that much harder to get our name out there,” said Aquino, who is seeking a OneCity nomination for council this year. “Every time I encounter new people, there is always that extra step of explaining my background, how I fit into Vancouver, and how my values connect with the city’s values.”
But there has always been that extra distance to make up for diverse candidates. For this current generation, this means a "lack of profile" problem. Two generations ago, it was a matter of lacking the requisite language skills.
But going back even further, it was a matter of being barred from participating in the political process altogether.
Institutional racism plays a role
Amid Vancouver’s picturesque surroundings and its generally polite daily exchanges between its multicultural residents of all backgrounds, it is easy to forget the city was once the gateway to enforcing the country’s "white Canada" policy that deterred non-European immigration until the mid 20th century.
This policy was best articulated by former Canadian prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, whose face has been featured on Canada’s five-dollar bill.
In a parliamentary debate on Asian immigration in October 1914, he said: “The people of Canada want to have a white country, and certain of our fellow subjects who are not of the white race want to come to Canada and be admitted to all the rights of Canadian citizenship . . . These men have been taught by a certain school of politics that they are equals of British subjects; unfortunately they are brought face to face with the hard facts when it’s too late.”
It was this racist vision for the country that led to the Canadian government refusing permission to the Komagata Maru to dock in 1914 when the infamous Japanese tramp steamer arrived in Burrard Inlet with 376 would-be immigrants from India. The Vancouver Sun reported on the incident with toxic headlines like “Hindu invaders now in the city harbour on Komagata Maru”.
During that time other publications, like the Vancouver World, routinely railed against Chinese and Japanese residents with their poison pens and the World openly bragged that it was the “the one daily paper in Vancouver which has consistently set its face against the Orientals”.
While this "white Canada" policy blocked non-European immigrants from entering Canada for much of the 20th century, those who were already living here were not granted the full rights of citizenship.
It wasn’t until 1947 that Asian Canadians from Indian and Chinese backgrounds were permitted to vote and participate in the political process.
Meanwhile, in terms of its treatment of the Indigenous population, when the Canadian government wasn’t tearing Indigenous children away from their families and sending them to odious residential schools, it was also maintaining the ban on status Indigenous people from voting in elections, finally repealed only in 1960.
While that may seem like a long time ago for some too quick to dismiss the institutionalized racism of Canada’s past, consider this: some of the community elders who may be advising Squamish Nation hereditary Chief Ian Campbell on his mayoral bid were in their own lifetime once prohibited from voting in civic elections.
It doesn’t take much digging to unearth the artifacts of Vancouver’s racist history. According to local journalist Francis Bula, the covenant on NPA nominee Ken Sim’s house in the Arbutus neighbourhood on the West Side of the city prohibits someone of Chinese descent from owning the property. Many houses in the city’s elite neighbourhoods still have similar racist clauses in their covenants though they are no longer enforced.
It is understandable for Vancouverites to want to move on, or to forget, Canada’s own Jim Crow-like era. But it has not been as easy for those disenfranchised communities. Even after these race-based antivoting acts were repealed, it would take decades before nonwhite Canadians began putting their names forward to participate in politics.
It would take 25 years after the repeal of Canada racist voting legislation until the first resident of South Asian descent would win a seat on Vancouver council. Since V.S. Pendakur’s lone two-year term ended in 1974, no other person of South Asian descent has been on Vancouver council.
For the Chinese community, the wait was even longer. It would take 35 years before the first resident of Chinese descent, Bill Yee, won a council seat in 1982.
Three decades on, seeing diverse candidates come forward for elections has become normalized. But that doesn’t mean they still don’t encounter the racial slurs and broadsides of yesterday.
In 2016, when Niki Sharma, the former park board commissioner and Vision candidate for council, ran for the Vancity board of directors, someone trolling her Facebook page posted: “We don’t want packys (sic) in politics you people are taking over our country”.
Rather than deleting the comment, Sharma responded to it. Readers shared and commented on her post hundreds of times.
“I was going to delete your comment. As my hand went over to the delete button, something stopped me,” she wrote in the middle of that sleepless night. “As much as we both might want to, you and I cannot delete each other.”
Where diverse Canadians have been under-represented on municipal councils, it has been the reverse for white Canadians. Generation upon generation of white politicians have benefited from an under-acknowledged privilege of being allowed to vote, stand for elections, and get ahead thanks to a wielding a disproportionate voice in the political sphere.
This has created its own adverse consequences, such as encouraging ethnic pandering where white politician seem to show up at temples, and mosques every so often, often in ethnic garb, to hit up vote banks or follow the instructions of cooked up "Multicultural Strategic Outreach Plans".
It also led to cringing moments of white paternalism. This white-on-nonwhite crime was most recently witnessed in 2015 when the current Vancouver mayor thought he had a "teachable moment" and tried to educate a prominent local Chinese-Canadian professional about what is and isn’t racist.
Andy Yan, then an urban planner with Bing Thom Architects, produced a study that looked at the names of buyers of homes on Vancouver’s tony west side. He found that buyers with non-Anglicized Chinese names were purchasing the majority of the homes in that neighbourhood.
Gregor Robertson publicly dismissed Yan’s work as racist, failing to see the irony of his criticism of Yan, given his great-grandfather was forced to pay the actually-racist Chinese Head Tax that was designed to keep Chinese immigrants out of B.C. As a social scientist, Yan was just looking at the data and sharing his observations, which were in plain sight.
The irony of the mayor’s response, however, was not lost on Brandon Yan, who is currently seeking to run for city council on the OneCity slate. He countered the mayor’s misguided comments in a line that should be quoted in a Dear White People racism primer, “Let’s leave it to the rich white dudes to decide what’s racist, right?”
This kind of paternalism is a natural outcome of a long history of exclusion. Out a total of 1,080 council and mayor’s seats across 102 administrations, 98 percent have been occupied by white politicians—like Andy Yan, I ran my own name analysis, through of all the city councillors and mayors over Vancouver’s history.
And of the seats occupied by councillors from diverse backgrounds: half have been won only in the past two decades since 2000.
When 98 percent of "leaders" in Vancouver’s brief history have been white but the population has steadily diversified to point of being 50 percent nonwhite, there is bound to be a disconnect between city hall’s perception and the reality on the ground.
Diversity: an optical illusion?
Because of their low turnout rates, municipal elections are notoriously difficult to poll. This is a point that Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, stressed repeatedly in our recent conversation.
“Compared to provincial and federal elections, turnout rates for municipal elections are around 30 percent. The X-factor is turnout, and it’s more exaggerated in city elections,” explained Kurl, who heads the public opinion polling organization.
In the 2017 by-election when Hector Bremner from the NPA was elected to city council, only 11 percent of voters turned out to vote.
“Just look at the recent example in Calgary. The polling for that election was not close to the final results. The polls had (Naheed) Nenshi running neck-in-neck. In the end, Nenshi won extremely comfortably for his 3rd term.”
In the 2014 council election, Vision candidate Niki Sharma placed 17th out of 49 candidates, receiving close to 50,000 votes. She fell short of winning by only 8,000 votes.
From her perspective, every percentage increase in turnout has the potential to reverse a loss into a victory, “In an election with low voter turnout, it doesn’t take many people deciding not to vote for you to be the difference between getting elected and not getting elected.”
The NPA may be hoping Ken Sim can trigger this X-factor in his favour and lure more voters from the Chinese community to participate. It could be all the difference he needs to win the coveted mayor’s gavel.
But as in the case of Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, the three-term Muslim mayor at the head of one of the more conservative cities in the country, the success of an ethnic candidate is not determined by the strength of his support from within his ethnic base, but rather from beyond it.
Nenshi, the only nonwhite mayor of a major Canadian city, has become a celebrity politician in Calgary, and across Alberta, because of his competence and ability to engage with the electorate.
But this does raise a question about diversity and politics—is there a causal link between Naheed Nenshi’s skills as a politician and his ethnicity?
Consider this hypothetical: if Nenshi had been a white Protestant instead of a brown Muslim, and still produced the same outcomes for Calgarians, then wouldn’t "celebrating diversity" only be emphasizing difference and fostering identity politics? In other words, shouldn’t Canadians focus their "celebration" solely on the actual achievements of their leaders instead of also on their "diversity"?
RJ Aquino, the aspiring city council candidate for OneCity, addressed this criticism often levelled from the right through a personal anecdote.
“In 2011, when I first ran for office, I started getting local university students from my community contacting me because they recognized my last name as Filipino. These were students who otherwise weren’t paying attention or engaged in civic politics, but when they learned I was from the same background, they looked me up and inquired about me.”
“Because I looked like them and because I was in the public eye, it showed to younger generations that it was possible to do this, that we can be represented.”
Where there is under-representation—whether in terms of race, gender, or sexual orientation—it does not invite wider participation from all citizens, ultimately at the expense of our democratic institutions.
This segues to the other potential benefit of diversity: that diverse candidates bring unique experiences and insights, which may in turn lead to solutions and policies otherwise overlooked.
This claim is also open to some scrutiny given second- and third-generation Canadians—regardless of background—end up sharing common experiences. Or in other words, eventually all Canadians, if you live here long enough, end up being different but in the same way.
A diversity of faces may make for good optics—as in the current Trudeau’s cabinet—but may still be little more than an optical illusion when it comes to actual diversity of ideas.
To be fair, it is a reasonable conclusion that looking "different" does not necessarily translate into thinking differently.
But—and this is the crucial point—this flattening of Canadian diversity over time doesn’t mean that people from different backgrounds don’t empathize differently.
Let’s bring it back to the Vancouver context.
Should either Ian Campbell or Ken Sim become mayor, it is reasonable to conclude neither may have novel approaches to age-old issues facing the city. And as complete outsiders, particularly for Sim, they will likely struggle to learn the in-and-outs of city hall management and governance conventions.
But that does not mean they wouldn’t bring much-needed new empathy on age-old issues that, if nothing else, prevent these issues from being ignored.
Some examples to illustrate.
The past decade have been halcyon years for developers who have made more profits than ever while recasting Vancouver into an Eden of gleaming glass towers. Out of the billions flowing through Vancouver’s real estate market, a tiny infintesimal fraction could have been diverted to provide a lasting and sustainable solution to the city’s chronic problem of homelessness.
Yet 10 years after Vision took power having promised to end homelessness, the issue remains as chronic as ever.
It is a fitting metaphor for what Vancouver has become when one encounters its homeless residents trying to sleep in the cold-concrete nooks and doorways of its half-empty, but ecofriendly LEED skyscrapers.
It seems unlikely Campbell, someone from an indigenous background, would only pay lip service to this homelessness issue given that 40 percent of homeless people in the city are from an indigenous background, a staggering 20 times greater than their actual percentage of the overall population.
And perhaps it will require a Vancouver mayor from an Indigenous background like Ian Campbell to advance the reconciliation agenda and create new community initiatives that go beyond declarations of recognizing Vancouver as the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.
In the case of Ken Sim, he is a second-generation Canadian who witnessed firsthand the struggles of his immigrant parents. He took menial jobs, worked as a janitor during high school, and like other second-generation Canadians found a way to sacrifice and forge ahead.
Would Sim not be more empathetic to Vancouver’s affordability issues than the current mayor, even if he is representing the right-of-centre NPA?
I worked as a janitor during high school and I had immigrant parents who struggled like others in a similar position. Back then it seemed inconceivable that those sweeping up the offices could one day be the ones sweeping into them.
For me, the candidacies and civic participation of Ken Sim, Ian Campbell, RJ Aquino, Brandon Yan, and a growing number of other diverse candidates in this coming 2018 election has piqued my interest in civic politics more than ever.
These candidates represent the other half of Vancouver that rarely gets to be heard in our city affairs, and the half that historically has been discouraged and once even banned from participating.
It may turn out that 2018 is still not the year a nonwhite candidate becomes mayor of Vancouver, but it seems 2018 will be the year that finally shows it is possible.
And that is an inflection point when truly "diversity becomes our strength", not just for half our city residents but for us all.
Jagdeesh Mann is the executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. Based in Vancouver, he is also an active contributor to a number of publications and a member of the NCM Collective.
Commentary by: Jennilee Austria in Toronto, ON
Back when I was a settlement worker, many of my newcomer clients would enter the job market in positions of non-skilled labour. Ranging from forklift operators to construction workers to food service workers many of them felt that they would have to start with survival jobs before moving on to a role that fit their credentials. The initial joy that accompanied their first tastes of Canadian employment would pass soon after a couple of months, where they would then meet with me to ask if coming to Canada was the right choice.
Upon arrival, their main barriers revolved around a lack of financial flexibility and professional networks, however after working survival jobs for a time, many would lose confidence. Coming from backgrounds in accounting, engineering, law, IT and other multi-faceted sectors; their old professions would seem so far gone that they would begin to doubt that they could return to them.
While precarious work will define the Canadian job market of the future, the majority of immigrants are usually unaware of the available programs that will lead them to more secure positions. As the federal government continues to ramp up efforts to bring in more skilled workers, more support systems have been put in place so that these individuals are able to overcome many of the toughest issues plaguing immigrants in the past.
If some of the newcomers I had worked with had known about opportunities for training or mentorship, I know that they could have been able to start their Canadian careers sooner.
One of the biggest issues newcomers often face has been a lack of ‘Canadian experience’. Although the Ontario Human Rights Commission has made concerted efforts to discourage employers from discriminating on this basis, many immigrants can attest to the continued existence of this phenomenon. While it can be difficult to regulate employers’ selection basis for a number of reasons, programs that offer both training and employment experience.
NPower Canada, an organization which advocates for diversity in the workplace, provides cost-free employment training programs for youth aged 18-29. Since its 2014 launch in Canada, the charity has been able to train and support over 500 youth.
The need for such a program has become increasingly apparent in recent years. A 2011 study revealed that 43% of immigrant women between 24-35 with university degrees obtained outside of Canada or the US, were working in positions that required a high school education or less.
But the statistics are truly brought into perspective with first-hand accounts like 27-year-old Nigerian newcomer Adebola Arogundade’s. She arrived in Canada with a B.Sc in Marketing as well as experience abroad in marketing strategies, point-of-sale systems, and customer service; however, she was unable to find work within her field of work.
At a crossroads she decided to enroll in a program with NPower Canada. The 10-week program allows participants to work towards various certifications while simultaneously introducing them to employers such as Rogers, TD Canada Trust and Alterna Savings.
The direct impact the program will have on Arogundade’s job search is yet to be seen, but nonetheless she is content with the training and the Canadian experience she will receive.
For other newcomers, survival jobs become a primary option because of friends and family members they may have, which have already gone down those paths. In an attempt to break this cycle, (The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council) implemented a program that connects individuals with volunteer mentors in a range of careers.
“Immigrants often think that when they come, they have to get a survival job, like drive a taxi,” explains Daniel Kim of TRIEC. “But our whole organization’s mandate is to help those immigrants who come with skills and expertise, and to connect them to businesses who want that talent.”
Kim who is a Communications and Media Relations specialist with TRIEC, states that over 75% of the individuals enrolled in TRIEC Mentoring Partnership are able to find work within their field.
An astounding success rate that seemingly speaks to many of the studies that assert the benefits of mentor-mentee programs. While these relationships allow proteges to further develop their subject knowledge, it also helps facilitate more extensive professional networks. In addition, immigrants are able to practice soft skills which could benefit them immensely once they are within the workforce. The issue of ‘Canadian experience’ extends past the necessary technical skills for many employers. A lot of whom, worry about the soft skills newcomers may have, such as conflict resolution, workplace communication and fitting in with the team.
Professional Immigrant Networks
The TRIEC also provides an opportunity for immigrants to join networks specific to their profession and ethnicity.
PINs (Professional Immigrant Networks) are comprised of a range of occupations and ethnic backgrounds, from the Philippine Teachers Association Canada to the Association des femmes maroco-canadiennes (Association of Female Moroccan-Canadians).
Many of these networks were actually started by immigrants themselves.
Upon emigrating from the United Kingdom, Jenny Okonkwo felt isolated without a group that she could relate to. “Basically, what happened was that I didn’t know any Black female accountants,” she says. “If you don’t immediately have that small circle to call on, that just shows how big the gap is.”
In 2016, Okonkwo started BFAN (the Black Female Accountants Network), and soon after, her network joined PINs.
Today, BFAN has grown to 600 members nationwide and works in partnership with CPA Ontario (Chartered Professional Accountants). Their mandate is to encourage female accountants of African descent to network, share knowledge, and advance themselves in accounting.
“BFAN provides résumé reviews, career advice, development of soft skills, networking opportunities, and more— and all for free to the Afro-Caribbean diaspora in Canada,” said Okonkwo. While they don’t provide job matches, their members, ranging from executives to university students, are dedicated to helping others develop professional skills.
Their members have already published articles, presented on public stages, and created study groups to help one another pass their CPA exams.
“The value comes from saying to a newcomer, ‘I’ve already walked this path. I’ve walked it two, five, fifteen years ago, and here’s how I did it,’” said Okonkwo. “And they come out feeling like they’ve made the right decision about the progression of their career in Canada.”
TRIEC’s PINs and Mentoring Partnership program as well as NPower Canada’s employment training programs are only a few of the unique opportunities available to newcomers. While these free initiatives can help many immigrants overcome the innumerable barriers they will be faced with, they will only be effective if these skilled individuals are aware of what is available to them. Only time will tell how Ontario will ensure these resources are being utilized.
This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series.
Commentary by: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC
It’s likely Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saw events playing out differently than how they actually turned out for his recent state visit to India.
Like most Canadians, he probably thought February an ideal time to fly someplace warm. He would take the family to India, enjoy a weeklong vacation, get some great photo ops at sites like the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple, and then meet India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a day of official state business to wrap up his trip.
Though he would never admit it, Trudeau probably also hoped to out-Instagram his new arch rival, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was getting married in Mexico this past weekend.
And, last but not least, by taking his four Sikh cabinet ministers along for the trip, Trudeau would score points with his Sikh electoral base back in Canada.
While Canada’s PM did get in his photo-ops, he and his team was put on the defensive throughout the visit by accusations of his government being in league with "Khalistanis"—shorthand for "Khalistani terrorists". These charges came from multiple fronts.
Indian reporters dogged Trudeau with questions about harbouring "Sikh separatists", another term for "Khalistanis", at every opportunity, while leading media outlets like the Times of India, Hindustan Times, NDTV and others pushed the Khalistan narrative relentlessly.
Indian news magazines like Outlook published polemical essays about how “a new real threat of Khalistani terror” has emerged due to support from Sikh temples patronized by unwitting "liberal white politicians", like Justin Trudeau.
Meanwhile, members of the Indian government provided a lesson in how to put the "host" into hostility by repeating the provocative allegations against their guests. Captain Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab, where most Sikhs hail from, did his central government’s bidding when he stated, “There seems to be evidence that there are Khalistani sympathizers in Trudeau’s cabinet,” alluding to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, whom Singh has called a Khalistani in the past.
Sajjan has never made a statement in support of a separate Sikh state. If anything, he has spoken against it.
And then, into this charged environment, enter ex-Khalistani terrorist Jaspal Atwal, who makes an appearance at an event with the Trudeaus in Mumbai. A Canadian security official, reported to be Daniel Jean, told Canadian media outlets that it is possible that the presence of Atwal at the function with the Trudeaus was not an accident and had been engineered by elements within the India’s intelligence services.
Even if this turns out not to be the case, the fact that Atwal, an actual ex-Khalistani who tried to kill an Indian government official in Canada in 1986, was granted a visa to enter India at the same time as the Trudeau visit arouses suspicion. Canadian security officials like Jean are in the right to consider all possibilities about Atwal’s incidental presence at an event hosted by the Canadian High Commission in Mumbai.
Meanwhile, back in Canada, mainstream outlets could have benefited from a dose of Jean’s skepticism. Instead Canadian reporters on the most parroted the opinions of Indian media through analysis pieces that stated there has been "a revival of Khalistani terror in recent years". Despite the scraps of evidence the Indian government has presented to push this claim, it highly spurious at best.
A quick refresher here: Khalistan is the name of a currently nonexistent Sikh homeland. It is based on the state of Punjab, a territory slightly larger than Vancouver Island, separating from India. For sake of analogy think of the Basque region declaring independence from Spain, the Kurdish north opting out of Iraq, or Quebec leaving Canada.
Over 30 years ago in the early '80s, this idea of a Sikh homeland erupted overnight out of dormancy into a full-blown political cause when the Indian government made the pivotal error of turning their tanks on the Golden Temple, or the Sikh Vatican. Thousands of people would die in the Punjab from the ensuing violence over the next decade, including over 15,000+ in the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984, murdered by mobs who were provided weapons and transport via Indian government officials. Nobody has even been charged for that mass killing.
And here—the most important wrinkle to this story—it has been over 20 years since a terror attack has been credibly linked to the Khalistan movement. In the late '90s, at the same time the IRA signed its peace agreement in Northern Ireland, the Khalistan militancy faded away. Funds dried up, and the fighters who took up its cause retired back into normal lives.
Even the last of the hardcore holdouts like Lakhbir Singh Rode, the head of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), one of the two key groups at the centre of the Khalistan militancy, now keeps a day job running a meat business in Lahore, Pakistan.
Khalistan died. Khalistanis died. But the Khalistan narrative won’t die. And that is because it won’t be allowed to rest in peace because politicians in India, and ironically, even here in Canada, won’t let it.
The "threat" of Khalistan has more value alive than dead.
And so the storyline of Khalistan terror continues to develop, even if the movement is gone. The theatrics are necessary to showcase it as a viable threat.
Scottish national Jagtar Johal, 31, is one person who seems to be ensnared in this net. The Sikh activist who ran a website called NeverForget1984 was in India for his wedding last November when he was taken by Indian police. Johal is being detained, without charge, for allegedly having a role in a series of political assassinations in Punjab over the last two years.
Sikhs around the world have rallied around the #FreeJaggi hashtag to liberate Johal on what appear to be a politically motivated detention.
Over 100 Sikh temples around the world reacted to the #FreeJaggi controversy by recently barring Indian diplomats from their premises. The response from Indian politicians was predictable—the temple officials, from all 100+ organisations, are Khalistanis.
And now Justin Trudeau leaves India having been compelled into signing a Framework for Cooperation on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism between Canada and India. Canada and India had an intelligence-sharing arrangement before, during the height of the violence in Punjab in the '80s and '90s. That arrangement, however, was ended after the Khalistan movement died out. It is now on the path to coming back into place, renewing a fear that India’s corrupt police and paramilitary will be able to shake down the Indian relatives of Canadian Sikhs whose names appear in intelligence reports shared by Canada.
So what is driving this Russian-style disinformation campaign by India against its own former citizens and their descendants? It is not a terror attack the Indian government appears to be most fearful of. Rather, it is the disproportionate political influence of Canada’s Sikh community on Canada, a G7 country, that has New Delhi in fits.
As unified as India seems, it is an unwieldy coalition of 1.3-billion people with multiple ethnic groups, languages, and religions. The Indian government holds a reasonable fear that external influence could stir trouble again in the Punjab, especially in a country where the ruling BJP, a right-wing pro-Hindu party, itself governs through cold-blooded divide and rule machinations—the BJP frequently turns a blind eye to the violence of its own militant wing, the RSS, when it targets minority groups like Sikhs, Christians, and Muslims.
Currently, four of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers are Sikhs. There is also the possibility the next prime minister, or at least the next kingmaker, could be Jagmeet Singh, also a Sikh and someone with a social justice agenda. With an overall population of close to a million people in Canada, the Sikh community will only continue to grow in political influence for the years to come.
What the Indian government fails to recognize—or refuses to—is that politicians like Jagmeet Singh and others from a new generation of Sikhs are motivated not by separatism but by social justice causes. When they seek to redress past wrongs from incidents like anti-Sikh mass killings of Delhi in 1984, they are looking for reconciliation to heal past wounds, not for further division.
But this nuance is lost on the Indian government and so it indiscriminately responds to any criticism by undermining opponents with labels like "Khalistanis". Or it resorts to an old tactic of withholding travel visas. While ex-terrorist Jaspal Atwal can obtain an Indian visa—on multiple occasions it should be noted—NDP leader Jagmeet Singh cannot.
Singh was denied a visa in 2013, as was Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal in 2011. Both men brought forward motions in the Ontario provincial legislature and in the House of Commons respectively to have the Delhi mass killings classified as a genocidal act.
The motion was eventually carried last year by the Ontario government. The Indian government responded by calling it "misguided".
Ironically, however, hammering down on opponents with the Khalistani cudgel is not beneath the use of Canadian politicians either. In a Sikh community that is as politically active as it is diverse, some groups have also repeatedly resorted to labelling their opponents as "Khalistanis", regardless of how the reckless use of this language can indelibly stain an entire community.
In Trudeau’s Liberal government, it is no secret the World Sikh Organisation, a group that once advocated for the Khalistan state, has the ear of the PM, keeping at bay other voices from the community. The backroom fighting to get into such a position has caused simmering resentment among other Liberal members from the South Asian community. One of these flashpoints for this bitterness was in riding of Vancouver South in 2014 when Trudeau "parachuted" in star candidate Harjit Sajjan and closed the open nomination process.
There was justifiable frustration among the ousted Sikh faction that was likely to win that nomination. But their response was also predictably toxic.
"The Liberal Party, especially Justin, is in bed with extremist and fundamental groups. That's why I decided to leave the Liberal Party," said Kashmir Dhaliwal, ex-president of the powerful Khalsa Diwan Society which operates the Ross Street Temple in South Vancouver.
Ujjal Dosanjh, the former NDP premier of British Columbia and federal Liberal health minister, himself repeated this "Khalistani" critique to describe the Sikh insiders within the Trudeau government. In a radio interview this past week on CBC’s As it Happens, he bluntly stated that Trudeau’s government was infiltrated by Sikh separatists.
None of Trudeau’s Sikh cabinet ministers has spoken out in support of a separate Sikh state—if anything they have spoken against it. Dosanjh, meanwhile, has found himself on the outside without a role in the current Trudeau government.
"Khalistan 2.0" is a term that has been dubbed by Indian media to denote the future resurgence of the Sikh separatist movement led by "radicalized" Sikhs from countries like Canada. But in actuality, Khalistan 2.0 is already here.
It is a cheap, troll-friendly, media smear campaign—perfectly suited for the social media environment—wielded by the Indian government to discredit diasporic Sikhs, whether they criticize the Indian government’s human rights record or seek redress for legitimate grievances from the state-organized mass killings of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984.
And because this faux Khalistan narrative is so effective, it doesn’t even need an actual real terror incident to find its way on to frontpages of Canadian or international news outlets. It just needs a politician—Indian or Canadian—willing to do anything to advance their personal agendas. Unfortunately, those are a dime a dozen.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional and journalist based in Vancouver. Mann is also a member of the NCM Collective and regular contributor for New Canadian Media. This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
By: Devanshu Narang in Toronto, ON
If I was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, I would not forgive Indian politicians and the country's media for a long time. Perhaps Mr. Trudeau will forgive, but as a Canadian with Indian roots, I definitely will not. Ever.
But mark my words, Trudeau's India visit will turn out to be a long-term relationship disaster for India and not for Canada. As an honest, liberal, positive and a truly warm Canadian, the prime minister does not need to re-invent himself. On the other hand, Indians could do some re-thinking themselves.
True, Mr. Trudeau went overboard, as he sometimes does. Those heavily embroidered and garish Indian tops called 'Kurtas' were an eyesore even to most Indians. We never wear such fancy attire, except special occasions when it is considered chic to have an "Indian look". Perhaps he was either misguided by his coterie of South Asians who love their Bollywood movies or by the huge applause he gets when he wears such costumes at cultural events in Canada. After all, it is a pleasure for the South Asians to see a white leader wear ethnic attire and dance to Indian tunes. Here in Canada it is genuinely considered a mark of respect to the community and a desire to accept their culture.
Unfortunately, India mistook this for Mr. Trudeau's weakness and showed its boorish side.
In fact, it was evident right from the start that the Indian political elite which hates the liberal agenda and which has turned markedly right-wing and conservative in recent years would not take to the Canadian prime minister. They not only sent a junior minister to officially welcome him, but also ensured that the media coverage he received was low and negative. Slowly the plan was put into effect: his clothing became the object of derision, the motives of his trip questioned, his comments called into question, his guest lists scrutinized, and lo and behold, we had a feel-good trip turned into a PR nightmare.
Treating guests in India
I will not go into the details of how he was treated by Indian and thereafter Canadian and foreign media. How he was made to look like a fool when he was just being a warm human being. I would rather focus on what I think will happen following this trip and let Indians know about the blunder they have just committed.
Here was a guest, who in keeping with Indian traditions was to be treated like a God, who arrived in all humility – always bowing to local traditions, even dressed in their attire to please the locals, showing due respect all all the shrines and institutions revered and loved by Indians, who took his family along and persuaded them to dress the Indian way. Who could ever imagine that he would face ridicule at home, especially from the political opponents baying for blood ready to portray him as a weakling.
But, more importantly, what is wrong with India? How many times have we had world leaders come to India and respect Indian ways? How happy you've been when they occasionally wear Indian attire for an event and grooved with you? How many times have you hoped that they genuinely like your cuisine, your culture, your music and your own self? And when a man, a nation's leader, whole-heartedly opens up his soul and gives you a warm hug, you pull back?
So what if he went overboard. Is it wrong to try too hard?
Canada - India relations
Mr. Trudeau will recover from all this. After all, he did nothing wrong. But chances are India will experience the famous Canadian chill for decades to come.
The relationship between Canada and India may go into cold storage. Not just Canadians, but countries the world over, especially in the Western world, would be less trusting of India, especially if their political views differ. Other world leaders will definitely be more reserved during their Indian visits and never again would any Western leader open up as much as Mr. Trudeau did to Indian traditions and culture.
As for the invitation extended to a convicted would-be assassin for a Trudeau event, let us review the facts there too. First, the guest lists and invitees are not put together by Mr. Trudeau or any political leader himself. Second, if facts serve me right, Jaspal Atwal was convicted as a terrorist and served his sentence for close to two decades and has gone on record saying after his release saying that he regrets his action. He has already faced punishment for his crime and now walks free in Canada and has all the rights as any other Canadian.
He was visiting India because India too removed his name from the blacklist and granted him a visa. So, how long would you keep crucifying a person for an act in the past? Using the same logic, a lot of political leaders in India who were anti-state at one time should also be blacklisted for life. If anyone is to blame, it is India's double standards.
True, the "Khalistan movement" is dead in India, as it should be. It also does not ignite the minds of a majority of Indo-Canadians any more. But, the fact still remains, that a large part of the Punjabi community that resides in Canada came here in the 1980s and early 1990s after witnessing various atrocities committed to their near and dear ones at different times. The wounds have healed, but the scars still remain for children who grew up without fathers, or men and women who suffered in their youth. These can only be healed by love and acceptance and not by hate and segregation.
By turning your back on Mr. Atwal, who has already paid for his crime, you alienate many other Indo-Canadians and rub fresh salt on old wounds. Alas, one should have expected that out from a newly militant India and its biased media.
Put this behind you
I only hope that Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal Party does not take the criticism to heart in the context of Canadian diversity. The party's welcome to immigrants, working towards enabling equality, justice and acceptance in Canadian communities, and enabling greater respect for all humans should continue. Mr. Trudeau's evident love for the Indo-Canadian community must not diminished due to unfair coverage by Indian media, which appears semi-controlled by right-wing Indian politicians.
As an Indo-Canadian, I am ashamed about the way India treated our Prime Minister. My advice: please forget this and move on. Thank you for opening your heart.
And, yes, the next time at Diwali or Gurupurb, please bring out those Bhangra dance moves again.
By Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB
Cathy Wong (61), who emigrated from Hong Kong, had an unpleasant experience last December, with a racist bus driver.
The incident came on the eve of an unprecedented bus fare increase for services that have been deteriorating over the last two years.
Wong lives way down Pembina Highway in Winnipeg, just before the Ring Road, and takes two buses to work — the 162 and the 15 — in that order.
She works in a hotel near the Richardson International Airport. On December 13 afternoon, Wong took the Number 162 as usual to Portage Place, where she alighted to transfer to a Number 15. The driver of the 162 stopped to get coffee from Tim Hortons; he took the wrong route after that, delaying the bus while he got back on the right track.
The 15 arrived late too. When she entered, its middle-aged, male, white driver pointed out that her transfer had expired ten minutes ago. Wong was willing to pay afresh, reaching for her purse, but changed her mind because the driver was unpleasant. He seemed to accept her explanation grudgingly, allowing her to board the bus.
“He didn’t kick me out,” she told New Canadian Media: “As the (on-board) camera may show.”
When the time came for her to get off at her place of work, there were only two passengers left in the bus: herself and a colleague. The colleague got out the back door while Wong went to the front door.
The driver refused to open the door for her, saying he was punishing Wong for not paying the fare. He stopped after driving on for about two minutes saying, “Go back to your country,” as she got off.
The animosity of his parting shot is a toxic memory for the slight, quiet woman. Wong fears encountering the same driver again because he may start playing micro-aggressive games with her, as bus drivers are known to do.
Wong, who does not know English well despite her 32 years in this country, called 311 to report the incident, and Winnipeg Transit investigated the matter. She took off from work until the New Year.
Wong says graciously , “I think about it for long time, who wrong and right. I don’t want he to get more pressure. In my life I make a lot of bad things, but some of my friends forgive me. I let this gone, and stay away. Please don’t call Transit Company.[sic]”
She informed in an e-mail on January 13 “Last week Transit call me . and I told them about the bus # 162 got lost from its original route , and ...everything . The Transit Said ‘ sorry’ to me.[sic]”
Ross Eadie, a Winnipeg Councillor who takes the bus regularly said, “No driver should be making racist comments, and I’m seriously disappointed in this remark. It was a vicious incident on two counts: apart from the racist comment, it must have been cold and windy to walk extra. I missed a stop a few times, and didn’t like walking back in freezing temperatures.
“Racism exists in our population, and buses reflect what’s going on in society. Once I saw a sick young Aboriginal slumped in a bus. Everyone assumed he was drunk. I went to him and asked what the matter was. I was able to coax a few words out of him in time: ‘I want to die.’ He turned out to be a diabetic refugee from a flooded area of Manitoba with nowhere to go at the time. The driver demurred that he was already running late when I suggested he call for an ambulance . . .”
Matt Allard, another Councillor, takes the bus regularly to acquaint himself with Winnipeg Transit’s issues, but did not respond to e-mail or voice mail queries.
Alissa Clark, Manager of Communications, Winnipeg Transit, says, “The safety and security of its passengers is of the utmost importance to Winnipeg Transit. It is also very important that our passengers feel welcome and respected. While we are unable to comment on the specifics of the incident you’re referring to because it is an HR matter, we would like to say that we spoke with Ms. Wong in early January to offer our apologies. All operators participate in extensive, ongoing customer service training which involves segments on respecting diversity.”
Early this month, City officials revealed an $8.7 million surplus, though they said they had no choice but to hike bus fares $0.25 a ride in January. The ticket prices usually rise $0.05 annually. This jump has caused low-income people even more hardship.
Ashoke Dasgupta is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Winnipeg. As a journalist, he has won three awards in Canada and Nepal.
By: Mohammed Hammoud in London, ON
On Saturday, January 20, millions took to the streets to protest unjust legislative policies against women in the U.S. and Canada. Originally organized as a rally against the Trump administration in 2017, in its second year, the Women’s March is quickly becoming a voice for human rights advocacy.
In Toronto, thousands of women and men alike joined forces in the march which took place at Nathan Phillips Square with “Defining our Future” as this year’s theme. Starting at noon, many speakers including former Ontario MPP Zanana Akande addressed the crowd to demonstrate support for one another.
Marginalized voices need to be heard, and what better time than now? The fact that 2018 is an election year in Ontario, the fight for gender equality and social change is at the forefront, especially with policy makers who want to keep their positions.
As a man of faith, I feel that it is important to support this movement, by speaking out and taking action. After all, remaining silent only condones the injustice.
This year, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements reinforced the momentum behind the Women’s March by exposing the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and workplace harassment. Numerous, almost daily revelations of sexual misconduct allegations have been brought into the public sphere, exposing abusive men in powerful positions. Yet, it seems as though the focus is on exposing individuals, rather than the system that enables them to abuse their power and get away with it.
Abusive systems led by tyrannical men is nothing new. History is mired with countless stories of human rights abuse and social injustice. At our home, we draw personal inspiration from strong women in history as examples. Asiya bint Muzahim, wife of the Pharaoh, denounced her husband in support of Moses. Mariam, mother of the Messiah, who, in spite of being falsely accused of adultery, remained firm in her resolve. Zainab bint Ali, granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, who confronted the tyrant of her time after he had commanded the murder and beheading of her brother, Hussein ibn Ali, and 72 of his companions.
After 1400, Zainab’s speech still resonates today as it calls out from Karbala, a small town in central Iraq, to over 23 million visitors who flock there for the largest human gathering, the “Fortieth”, to stand up against tyranny and abuse of power and call for social justice.
By highlighting these powerful women as role models, we are emboldened as sons, brothers, husbands and fathers, to ensure that we do not abuse our positions. Women’s voices are heard, and they play an active role in our homes, as well as our communities.
I personally draw inspiration to vocalize from the brave women of the #MeToo movement who spoke out and started the wave of allegations against abusive men of power. Their cause is a call to action for similar offenses and radicalization. Yet, while there have been hints of rampant sexual abuse in the movie industry for almost 30 years, the topic did not receive the needed attention since.
A 2016 TED Talk from Naomi McDougall Jones hinted at the exploitation by going straight to the heart of the issue and addressing the abusive and sexist nature of Hollywood. Jones explains how “95 percent of all the films you have ever seen were directed by men. Somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of all of the leading characters that you have ever seen were men. And even if we just talk about the last five years, 55 percent of the time that you have seen a woman in a movie, she was naked or scantily clad. That affects you. That affects all of us.”
It is not just the movie industry, but an entire system that typecasts woman as a commodity, radicalizes groups and labels them as criminals, drunkards or terrorists based on the colour of their skin or religious beliefs. When this system intensifies its hold on our institutions, it is enabled to establish deep roots in our society and our legislative policies. This systemic racism is further legitimized when it silences the victim and empowers the aggressor. The result: a silent discrimination that ends up robbing us of our voice, our courage and our identity, leaving us to feel nothing but shame and guilt.
So, as we march united with these movements, we need to challenge our blind financial support of such industries. For them, #TimesUp. As Jones recommends, we need to fund alternative mechanisms that share our causes, where we are empowered and celebrated, rather than mocked and shamed to feel inferior. Only then, when we can find what makes us great again, can we define our identity and reclaim our what is rightfully ours.
Mohamed Hammoud has been involved in various public speaking engagements focusing on interfaith as well as training on leadership, diversity and inclusion. This piece is part of a series titled, "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario". Writers interested interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective.
By: Summer Fanous in Toronto
In 1916, women across the nation rejoiced as Manitoba became the first province to grant women the right to vote. Looking back, it's almost ludicrous to think that gender could determine one’s status within society. Fast forward 100 years, however, and women around the world are still at the forefront, advocating for much needed change. Silenced for far too long, women are passionately speaking out about inequalities and injustices everywhere they can, including in books. Telling Our Stories: Immigrant Women's Resilience is creating awareness about sexual abuse among immigrant and refugee women. Women’s voices are to be heard, and they are demanding equal opportunity. And the world is listening. Even Saudi Arabia, which previously served as the only country that still barred women from driving, will make a change in a ruling set for 2018 implementation. Canada, on the other hand, is a country that affords equal rights to men and women.
7.5 million people immigrated to Canada in 2016. And while specific motives may differ, the country’s stance on equality and the subsequent avenues of opportunity are a big reason such a diverse range of people can call it ‘home’. Based on recent findings, the Ministry of the Status of Women reports that 55% of all Canadian doctors and dentists are females. An optimistic sign of the progress that has been accomplished thus far. However, equal rights don’t always mean equal pay. In Ontario, for example, the average woman earns $33,600 annually, while a man earns $49,000.
As if that’s not enough to bring spirits down, other hurdles still exist when it comes to leadership amongst women. The Canadian government, along with Skills for Change has been conducting periodic Gender Based Analysis’ since 1995 with the most recent one taking place in 2013. The findings identify the following 8 barriers: Language and Communication, Looking for Opportunity, Unemployment, Lack of Confidence, Cultural Differences, Working Survival Jobs, Finances and Refugee Status.
New Canadian Media (NCM), along with Skills for Change and the Vanier Institute for the Family are partnering up on an exciting project available to members of the NCM Collective. Together with the Ontario multiculturalism program, NCM has been commissioned to produce a series of 20 original pieces of journalism that speak to this theme: Women as full participants in Ontario’s immigration story.
Female members of the NCM Collective have the opportunity to showcase different perspectives on a range of topics. With a focus on Ontario’s rich multi-culture, these individual pieces will provide a better understanding of the talent that the mainstream so often ignores. Even in a country that emphasizes equality, women are not always provided the same opportunities to express themselves as their male counterparts.
Writers interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective for an opportunity. Additional details such as compensation and content guidelines will be communicated as pitches are received.
By: Sara Asalya in Toronto, ON
Newcomers to Canada face numerous challenges from the moment they land; most significantly managing their finances and successfully transitioning within their respective careers. In the majority of cases, acquiring a Canadian education or certification can be the only pathway to enter the local job market. However, given their limited financial resources and the various barriers to essential services, they can be in serious risk of losing their savings and wasting years of their life trying to get back on track. Consequently, they find themselves facing two choices: either start from scratch by going back to school, or accept a low-wage survival job to support their families. In many cases, newcomers don’t have the resources and financial means to access education. I was one of the immigrants who chose to go back to school and obtain some Canadian credentials.
But how in the first place did I end up being an immigrant in Canada? If ever there was a day that has been burned into my memory, it is Dec 27th, 2008. The first day of the 2008 war on Gaza and the day that changed my life forever. As a Palestinian, I was born and raised in a war-torn country and thus war was familiar to me. However, a time came when the familiar became unfamiliar—when the bombings destroyed my home at the time I had become a new mother. After witnessing 40 days of war and violence in Gaza and losing my childhood home, friends and family members; I decided that I no longer wanted to live there and raise my children in this nightmare. Brushing shoulders with death left an irreversible impact on me.
Arriving safely in Canada with my family was the beginning of a new journey. I thought all my fears and nightmares were behind me now. But the reality was different. There was a fear and uncertainty of the future. Where to go? How to start? And what do I want? To summarize, what I have learned from my first couple of months in Canada is that it all comes down to your Canadian credentials and who you know to find a job here. With zero connections and no Canadian references or experience, I decided to go back to school and gain some Canadian credentials that might open doors for me.
In 2015, I enrolled in the Community Engagement, Leadership and Development post graduate certificate at Ryerson University. My educational experience here was not an easy one. On my first day of school, I was stressed because I looked different than everyone I saw walking in the corridors. In my classes, I seemed to be the only mother and mature student whose first language was not English. I felt lost and lonely. I nervously spent two weeks preparing for my first three-minute presentation. I finished my presentation in less than a minute and I just wanted the earth to swallow me. I persevered, worked hard, and finished my certificate with a GPA of 3.96 out of 4.
Who was that person who was so insecure to do a three-minute presentation two years ago? In the short time of two years, I went from being anxious about a short presentation to being a leader who moderates panel discussions and accepts speaking invitations from Toronto colleges and local media outlets. This is more like the person I was before I came to Canada and someone I relate to as ‘me’. So why did it take me, then, a new immigrant, this time to navigate this system and return to my former self? There seems to be a fundamental lack of accessible support systems in higher education institutions for people like me, adult immigrant students who need to regain their confidence through adequate information, engagement and empowerment. No one should experience wanting the earth to just swallow them up.
My first-hand experience in a Canadian university campus has prompted me to make changes at Ryerson for the community of new immigrants of which I am a part. I formed the Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson (NSAR); the first student group of its kind for newcomer, immigrant and refugee students. I dedicated much of my time to empower this immigrant community with a special focus on their higher education experiences. Moreover, I managed to create the “NSAR Scholarship” for newcomer and adult immigrant students to empower and help them in their educational journeys. One of the biggest challenges I faced as an adult immigrant student was finding a community that I could belong to while re-positioning my identity. Through the group I formed at Ryerson, I aim to build an inclusive community for newcomer and adult immigrant students to help them create their own spaces.
After I enrolled at Ryerson, I noticed the increasing need to create a support and transition system for newcomer and immigrant students at postsecondary institutions. I also noticed the service gap. There was no system in place nor policies or programs to support my community at Ryerson. Even though Ryerson has been a leader in supporting immigrant and refugee communities, I believe it has the capacity to do so much more. In light of the changing landscape, I think Ryerson University can take a leadership position in changing policies and providing programming for newcomers to facilitate their post-secondary experiences.
Education is a core sector for human development and access to higher level of education can have an extraordinary, long-term and far-reaching impact on empowering communities. Universities should, therefore, invest in creating support systems for migrant students to ease their transition and integration process.
NSAR aims to build an inclusive community on the Ryerson campus that promotes community development and involvement. Our vision is of an inclusive society that values the skills and contributions of newcomers, immigrants, and their allies and actively engenders a sense of belonging within communities.
My team and I work to help newcomer and immigrant students make a smooth transition into the Canadian education system by providing peer support, cultural integration, information sessions, and networking events. Moreover, we help them in their pursuits educationally and professionally. My team also works on researching the challenges facing newcomer and adult immigrant students at Ryerson by soliciting feedback from these students to provide recommendations to the school. Most recently, we organized an international students' conference for the first time, that focused on the experiences of newcomers, immigrants, and refugees who had moved on to pursue higher educations. We also collaborated with the Scope radio at Ryerson University to create our own radio show that will host migrant students to learn about the challenges they face and their needs in higher education institutions. We also tend to look at the broader picture and analyze some of the immigration policies that might hinder newcomer integration and prevent them from accessing education.
NSAR has a special focus on immigrant women and that is why we established the “empowering immigrant women club”. The Ryerson club was established when we noticed a large number of female ethnic students struggled to attend their classes because of the lack of an affordable child-care system. Newcomers can’t afford to pay the high costs of childcare and education simultaneously, which results in many of these women dropping courses and eventually withdrawing from university. This club creates a support system for these women by offering free childcare, peer support and professional development. All women in the club work to back each other and build a self-sufficient support system.
Based on my first daunting encounter with the Canadian education system, I would have never thought that I would understand it or navigate through it, let alone flourish and achieve my potential. I made a promise to myself that I will always strive to help make this experience as welcoming and as accommodating as possible for every immigrant and newcomer to this country who has the desire and ability to pursue their passions and dreams.
Sara Alysa is the founder and president of the Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson (NSAR) as well as the Vice President of Events and Outreach at the Continuing Education Students' Association of Ryerson (CESAR). Her main interests are in looking at the experiences of migrant students in higher education and what post-secondary institutions offer for these students.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit