The Globe and Mail – It’s not Jagmeet Singh’s turban that’s the NDP’s problem in Quebec

Adam Radwanski

Op/Ed, 21 July 2017. As Jagmeet Singh this week announced his first endorsement from a sitting Quebec MP, Hélène Laverdière, his campaign team spun that it would help put an end to the chatter about whether a turban-wearing Sikh could win votes in that province.

Fat chance, at this point.

Concerns among New Democrats about Mr Singh’s viability in the province that catapulted the NDP to its best-ever election result six years ago, which have generated voluminous punditry in both official languages since Le Devoir reported on them earlier this month, are unlikely to be abated by one of 16 Quebec caucus members coming aboard.

Nor is Ms Laverdière’s backing, helpful though it may be, likely to change the minds of those Quebeckers, a majority of the electorate there, a recent Angus Reid poll suggested, who would not vote for a Sikh, or anyone sporting religious headwear.

The danger to Mr Singh’s hopes of winning the NDP’s fall leadership vote is not so much that lots of Quebeckers could come out to cast ballots against him: Despite Quebec accounting for nearly half the New Democratic caucus, the party does not have enough members there to count for much in a one-member, one vote system.

Rather, it’s that New Democrats elsewhere in the country could be wary of selecting someone who would make it harder to get back toward the 59 seats they won in Quebec in 2011.

As understandable as that worry may be, this would be a good time for New Democrats to ask themselves: Is it actually in their interests to try to stay in the good graces of people who would never vote for a proud member of a religious minority, even if that includes a fair number of folks who voted for them at least once before?

To raise that question is not to dismiss as a bigot anyone who is uncomfortable with the overt religiosity of someone like Mr Singh.

No doubt, as media in the rest of the country often bend over backward to point out, some of the discomfort stems from a liberal secularism that only intimate familiarity with the Quiet Revolution can explain, even if the giant cross in the National Assembly, and that same poll showing higher comfort with evangelical Christians than with either Sikhs or Muslims, suggest other factors are also at play for some Quebeckers.

But setting aside the reasons for some Quebeckers’ sentiments, the issue for the NDP is compatibility between their potential supporters there and in the rest of the country.

If they are to challenge for government, New Democrats probably need to have a chance of winning at least double the number of ridings in the rest of Canada as in Quebec.

Yes, a smaller chunk of the electorate in other provinces shares the discomfort with practising Sikhs, Muslims or other members of prominent religious minorities in leadership positions. But those on the left side of the spectrum are more likely to decide not to vote NDP if they perceive the party as intolerant toward those minorities.

That is especially the case in the urban and suburban areas that increasingly dominate the electoral map, where the NDP would dearly love to challenge the Liberals’ current dominance.

And it obviously applies to growing minority-religion and visible-minority populations themselves, which are huge factors in suburban battlegrounds in particular, and which the NDP needs to figure out how to court if it is to avoid perennial third-party status.

In just the right circumstances, the NDP could simultaneously win over voters in Quebec and the rest of Canada who have divergent views on something so fundamental. That’s arguably what happened in 2011, although gains in places like the Greater Toronto Area and BC’s Lower Mainland were still short of what would be needed to win government.

But the history of parties that paper over major ideological fault lines to build coalitions of Quebeckers and non-Quebeckers suggests it is a recipe for long-term disaster even if it brings short-term success.

Brian Mulroney’s alliance of Quebec nationalists and Western populists (among others), culminating in the collapse of the Progressive Conservatives and the rise of both the Bloc Québécois and the Reform Party, being the most obvious example.

Those fault lines can change with time. It has been long enough since the height of the sovereignty debate that federalism may not be as divisive a topic as it once was.

Minority rights, in a country continuing to undergo profound demographic change, now look more like the sort of subject on which a party will suffer if it tries to have it both ways, as the NDP got a whiff of in the last campaign, when it managed to cede defence of niqab-wearing women to the Liberals outside Quebec and alienate Quebec supporters by belatedly taking that side.

Pessimistic New Democrats might see a Catch-22, since foregoing Quebec hardly seems like a viable path to government or even back to Official Opposition. But less than two years ago, the Liberals demonstrated it is possible to win a majority of seats in Quebec un-apologetically presenting as a party sympathetic to and aligned with minority populations.

Whether the Liberals’ supporters in 2015 were fully on board with religious accommodation, or just willing to overlook it, many of them are presumably accessible to a pluralistic NDP as well.

It need not necessarily be Mr Singh leading it. There are plenty of perfectly defensible reasons, from lack of federal experience to believing he lacks policy substance to being put off by the flashy manner in which he presents himself, that New Democrats could decide he’s not their guy.

But whoever winds up as their leader should be wary of trying too hard to keep inside the tent anyone who would reject Mr Singh because he wears a turban. It’s a good way to eventually have the tent collapse altogether.

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@aradwanski – Canada: Palbinder Kaur Shergill is the first turbaned Sikh woman judge of provincial Supreme Court

She has represented the interests of the Canadian Sikh community in many cases, including on the right of Sikh students to wear the kirpan in schools.

Vancouver-British Columbia-Candada, 24 June 2017. Indian-origin Palbinder Kaur Shergill on Friday became the first turbaned Sikh woman judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Canada. Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould announced the appointment on Friday under a new judicial application process that was introduced in October last year.

Shergill has been appointed with immediate effect, as sitting Justice EA Arnold-Bailey retired on May 31. She has represented the interests of the Canadian Sikh community in many cases, including one dealing with the right of Sikh students to wear the kirpan in schools.

Welcoming the decision, World Sikh Organisation President Mukhbir Singh said, “The appointment of Justice Shergill is another milestone for the Sikh community in Canada. It is a matter of great pride that today we have the first turbaned Sikh appointed to the judiciary in Canada.”

Shergill migrated to Canada with her parents from Rurka Kalan in Jalandhar at the age of four. She grew up in Williams Lake, British Columbia, and received her law degree from the University of Saskatchewan and now lives in Surrey.

A news release by the department of justice, Canada, said that before being appointed Supreme Court justice, Shergill practised as a lawyer and mediator with her law firm. She was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2012 and is a recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for Community Service.

Justice Shergill has been involved with many legal and non-legal organisations, including the Cabinet of Canadians, the Trial Lawyers Association of BC, and the Canadian Bar Association, said the news release.

We welcome your comments at – SFJ Issues Defamation Notice to Indian High Commission In Canada

Sikhs for Justice –

Toronto-Ontario-Canada, 10 June 2017. A Canadian Human rights group served a demand letter on India’s High Commission in Ottawa seeking retraction and apology for its defamatory statement against “Sikhs For Justice” (SFJ) published in various newspapers on June 07-08.

The letter addressed to High Commissioner, Vikas Swarup, was served on June 09 at the office of Indian High Commission in Ottawa.

On June 07-8, various newspapers including Toronto Star and Ontario Herald published a story about CRPF Officer Dhillon’s visit to Canada.

According to the published news reports, “the High Commission of India in Ottawa would not comment on Ottawa’s treatment of Dhillon, but told the Star that the court petition brought by the Sikhs for Justice was “frivolous, malicious and baseless”.

SFJ’s June 09 demand letter claims that “the High Commission of India’s statement regarding Sikhs For Justice dated June 07-08 is defamatory per se. The Defamatory Statements were stated to discredit Sikhs for Justice’s reputation and undermine its ability to do its work.

Sikhs for Justice hereby gives notice pursuant to the Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43 that absent timely retraction and apology, Sikhs For Justice will be filing defamation lawsuit”.

“Indian High Commission has accused SFJ of filing a frivolous case in the Canadian court which is a very serious allegation” stated Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, legal advisor to SFJ.

“If Indian High Commission did not retract its statement and apologize within 10 days of being served with the Demand Letter, we will file a defamation lawsuit under the Canadian laws”, added Pannun.

“Nothing causes more damage to the reputation of a not-for-profit organization, whose purpose is the advancement of the human rights of minorities, including Sikhs, than defamatory statement like the one which you made and published.

You used your position of influence among the Indian diaspora as High Commission of India who controls Canadian Sikhs visas to India, to accuse, without any basis in fact, of SFJ of filing “frivolous, malicious and baseless” petition seeking arrest warrants of CRPF Officer TS Dhillon”, SFJ’s demand letter further states.

Scroll.In – Ontario passes motion describing 1984 anti-Sikh riots as ‘genocide’, India dismisses move

The central government has rejected the ‘misguided’ motion, said MEA Spokesperson Gopal Baglay.

Toronto, 7 April 2017. India on Friday rejected a motion passed by the Ontario Legislative Assembly describing the 1984 anti-Sikh riots as “genocide”, reported PTI. The motion, which was moved on Thursday, was passed with 34 Members of Provincial Parliament voting in favour and only five against it.

“We reject this misguided motion which is based on a limited understanding of India, its constitution, society, ethos, rule of law and the judicial process,” Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Gopal Baglay said. The Centre’s views on the motion have been conveyed to the Canadian leadership, he added.

The motion was passed by MPP Harinder Malhi belonging to the ruling Liberal Party of Ontario. The motion said the Legislative Assembly of Ontario should seek to condemn all forms of violence, hatred, prejudice, racism in India and other parts of the world, “including the 1984 Genocide perpetrated against the Sikhs throughout India”.

Several Sikhs, who had gathered in the gallery of the Legislative Assembly, cheered and shouted slogans as the motion was passed, ANI reported.

The riots had broken out on 1 November 1984, after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. During the riots, as many as 2,433 people had died in Delhi alone.

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CBC News – Kaur Project explores diverse identities of Sikh women in the Lower Mainland

Many Sikh women have taken the name Kaur as a statement of independence from their male family members

Anna Dimoff

Vancouver, 19 February 2017. Two Vancouver women are harnessing the feminist origins of the traditional surname Kaur to give voice to Sikh women in the Lower Mainland.

The Kaur Project profiles Sikh women through portraits and first person narratives.

The creators, photographer Saji Kaur Sahota and writer Jessie Kaur Lehail, developed the website to share the untold stories of power and resilience from women who have accepted the name Kaur.

“We wanted to do something that was creative but had a theoretical framework behind it and really to showcase the diversity of Kaur and Sikhism in general,” Lehail told On The Coast guest host Belle Puri.

The name was meant to be an equalizer, allowing women to live their lives without the influence of their fathers or husbands, explained Lehail.

Mapping untold stories

Sixty women have shared their stories with the pair so far, but Lehail says that it wasn’t easy to get there. Many of the women they asked were puzzled at first and didn’t quite understand why they were being asked about the name they adopted.

“I believe it’s because no Kaur has ever been asked, ‘what’s your story?’ Then to have your picture taken and your story told, it’s a little intimidating.”

Each woman’s name is followed by a quick description using identifiers like “warrior,” “survivor and mom,” “poetess” and “healer.”

“It’s kind of interesting the titles that we give these Kaurs. We don’t identify them, when I interview them over the phone that’s the first question I ask; how do you identify yourself?

“Usually they don’t have an answer and as we go through our 20-minute interview session. I ask them the same question again and they are usually able to identify themselves, which is such a beautiful and empowering ability to have.”

Inspiration in diversity

Lehail has been inspired by many of these stories but also feels the weight of the task that she and her partner are taking on. Every story she hears reminds her that there are ten more waiting to be told.

One recent interview that has stuck with her was with a woman who had lost her mother to cancer. She told Lehail that it took two years to even talk about her mother after she passed.

“So this girl, last fall, did a beautiful cancer memorial shaving of her head*. It was there she discovered how her features look like her mother,” said Lehail.

The experience of interviewing this diverse intersection of women has been a cathartic experience for Lehail and she says it has allowed her to discover more about her own identity as a Kaur.

“I think as a South Asian woman, as a Canadian, as a Sikh. As someone who works, who has her own business, I have so many identities. And I think as a daughter of immigrants you kind of grapple, and you’re supposed to have these hyphenated identities but really you could be anything and everyone.

“It’s been very interesting to see that you can have all these multilayers and identify on so many levels.”

The encouraging words of her mother, “you can learn something from every person you speak to,” ring in her mind as she continues to grow this project.

* Patients undergoing chemotherapy against cancer often lose their hair, Man in Blue – 1985 Air India bombings: Canada frees lone Sikh immigrant convict

Although the parole board has allowed Inderjit Singh Reyat to return to a normal life, it has barred him from undertaking any political activity.

The Parole Board of Canada has set free a Sikh immigrant from India who was convicted in the 1985 Air India bombings that killed 331 people. Inderjit Singh Reyat is the only person convicted in the case.

He was found guilty of making bombs that were stuffed into luggage and planted on two planes departing from Vancouver, and of perjury, reported AFP.

Although Reyat was released from prison a year ago, he was ordered to live in a halfway house. The parole board has now lifted that condition. Board spokesperson Patrick Storey told AFP that Reyat can now lead a normal life, “living in a private residence”. Reyat had been in jail for two decades.

However, his parole officer has already decided with whom he will live so that there is no chance of any “negative influence on him”. The parole board has also barred him from establishing any contact with families of the blasts victims. He cannot undertake any political activity and also has to undergo counselling.

On June 23, 1985, all 329 people aboard Air India Flight 182 were killed when a bomb in it exploded near the Ireland coast. The second bomb killed two baggage handlers in Japan’s Narita airport.

Investigators found out that Reyat had bought dynamite, batteries and detonators when he was working as a mechanic in Canada. Two others, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, were also accused of conspiring the explosions.

However, they were acquitted because of lack of evidence. It was believed that the explosions were planned to avenge Operation Blue Star in Amritsar’s Golden Temple.

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BBC News – Ottawa launches inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women

Ottawa, 3 August 2016. Canada has launched an investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women that will cost nearly C$14m (£8m) more than expected.

Five independent commissioners will provide recommendations to deal with violence against the country’s indigenous women.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced the inquiry at an emotional ceremony in Gatineau, Quebec.

The inquiry will last at least two years and cost up to $53.8m (£30.8m).

Though the federal government has launched the commission, each province has agreed to allow the commissioners to look at all jurisdictions, including whether local law enforcement or governments played a part.

The commission will also have the authority to summon witnesses to testify.

The investigation is expected to focus on the systemic causes of violence against indigenous women as well as recommendations on prevention.

A 2015 United Nations report revealed that young indigenous women in Canada were five times more likely to die under violent circumstances than non-Aboriginal women.

Families of victims have argued that police do not investigate missing indigenous women with the same scrutiny for cases involving white women.

The five commissioners are Marion Buller, British Columbia’s first female First Nations judge; Michele Audette, a former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada; Qajaq Robinson, a Nunavut-born lawyer who focuses on aboriginal law; Marilyn Poitras, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan; and Brian Eyolfson, a First Nations lawyer who served on the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

The investigation is set to begin in September and will run through 31 December, 2018.