Farmers’ mass protests in India cut deeply across Canada

Diaspora politics in play between Sikh and Hindu Canadians.
Although South Asian Hindus are 3.9 percent of the population compared to 1.1 percent South Asian Sikhs, Canadian Sikhs are more concentrated in a number of ridings thus increasing their political weight (14 ridings with more than 10 percent Sikhs, four with more than 20 percent, 10 ridings with more than 10 percent Hindus, with no riding more than 20 percent, 2011 NHS):
Surrey’s Harjit Singh Gill visits his family’s ancestral farm in India almost every year.

The farm, like most in India, is small, with crops of wheat and rice. Some of it’s leased to his brother-in-law, Parminer Singh Rangian, and others in the 3,400-person village of Maksudra in the state of Punjab.

“Punjab feeds the tummies of the rest of India. Punjab feeds 500 million people,” says Gill, standing in his large yard in the Panorama Ridge neighbourhood. This is where he began 25 years ago as an immigrant taxi driver, before becoming a builder and eventually constructing his own mansion.

Despite the states of Punjab and adjacent Haryana forming the breadbasket of India, many of its farmers make meagre livings and are in debt, Gill says. Things are even worse for farmers in other parts of India, where 60 per cent of the population of 1.3 billion relies on agriculture to make a living. But the sector only accounts for one-sixth of the country’s GDP.

Three free-market reforms proposed in September by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — designed to end government-guaranteed crop prices and ostensibly improve productivity — have provoked hundreds of thousands of farmers from the state of Punjab and Haryana to take their tractors and set up continuing protest camps in Delhi, the capital of India. Some confrontations have turned violent.

International celebrities — including U.S. pop singer Rihanna, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and lifestyles entrepreneur Meena Harris, a niece of U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris — have proclaimed support for the farmers and called out Modi. In turn, the majority-backed Indian government has labelled them “foreign individuals” trading in “sensationalism.”

Tensions have been high across Canada, which has a Punjabi-Canadian population of 700,000, most of whom are Sikhs and many of whom have farming origins. They’ve helped organize large motorcade demonstrations against the Indian government in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Chilliwack, Surrey and downtown Vancouver, outside the consulate of India.

The frequent outcries have forced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into a complex, changing dance. He’s trying to balance hundreds of thousands of Indo-Canadians who support Modi, a Hindu nationalist, against the many Punjabi-Canadian voters and others who back the aggrieved farmers.

While Punjabi-language newspapers in Canada express outrage over Modi’s proposed reforms, other Indian-language media outlets in Canada have highlighted counter-protests praising Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. One recent pro-Modi demonstration brought 350 vehicles, many bearing the flag of India, to the Indian consulate in downtown Vancouver.

In December, Trudeau, appearing to take sides, came out supporting the Indian farmers’ “right to be heard.” B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan also tweeted he “understands the anguish” of Canadians sympathetic to the farmers.

But Modi’s allies have responded by accusing Trudeau of “legitimating extremist activism” in protesting in front of India’s consulates in Canada. This month, Trudeau, who has more than a dozen Sikh cabinet ministers and MPs in his government, reduced escalating animosity by asking for desperately needed vaccines from India. In turn, Modi let it be known he’s happy to help out his “friend.”

What does Gill think of all the high-level political machinations?

He is uncompromising. The protests aren’t only a fight for justice for farmers, Gill says, they’re also a crusade to safeguard Punjab, population 30 million, from Modi and his agribusiness cronies, who are keen to gobble up small farms.

“Modi has said to the farmers of Punjab: ‘We need your grain to feed the country.’ But really he wants complete control,” says Gill, comparing Modi with populist U.S. President Donald Trump.

The battle over guaranteed produce prices is “not all about farming. It’s about protecting Punjab,” the birthplace of Sikhism, says Gill, a popular talk-show host for Sher-E-Punjab Radio AM 600 who ran in 2019 for the federal NDP.

Even though Gill says he isn’t an advocate for a separate Sikh homeland called Khalistan — “because it’s not realistic to create a sovereign country within another country” — he would like India’s leaders to treat Sikhs in Punjab like Quebecers, who have distinct status within Canada.

Getting to the root of farmers’ conflict

Given the vehemence of the protests and a recent Indian high-court ruling, Modi, whose right-wing party handily won re-election in 2019, has offered to compromise by putting the reforms on hold.

But that hasn’t satisfied suspicious farmers in India, who want the proposals revoked. Nor has it quieted protest organizers across Canada, including in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, such as Pindia Dhaliwal.

The Punjabi diaspora, from New Zealand to California, Dhaliwal says, is determined to: “Ask India why they’re killing us? Ask India why they are oppressing us, why they’re silencing us, why they are persecuting minorities?”

Modi seeks to loosen strict regulations around the pricing and storage of produce, which have protected India’s farmers from the free-market system for decades. The government currently exempts farmers from income tax and crop insurance, guarantees a minimum price for 23 crops and regularly waives off debts. But the system disappoints all sides, with critics saying it’s rife with shady middlemen.

Along with many economists, Modi has argued that offering farmers a guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) for crops prevents them from bargaining for better prices.

Opponents in Canada, including Gill, are by no means alone in mistrusting Modi’s motives.

They say his reforms were poorly conceived, not to mention pushed forward during a pandemic without consultation.

Sanjay Ruparelia, a political scientist at Ryerson University in Toronto, says advocates of Modi’s three reforms say farmers would be able to sell their harvest to a much wider range of private actors, raising their incomes and reducing food prices.

“Yet, consider the fine print,” Ruparelia says. “There is also a very real risk that agricultural deregulation will lead to farmers being paid less than the minimum support price.’’

Interviewed while travelling in India on work, University of B.C. adjunct public policy Prof. Shashidharan Enarth says the guaranteed MSP system for selling crops in India is riddled with a lack of transparency, caste conflicts and corruption.

Still, it’s better than Modi’s plan, says Enarth, who has worked for the World Bank.

“The MSP policy should be considered a public good,” he says, because it provides some stability. “The focus should be on removing corruption rather than removing MSP itself without an effective alternative.”

Although Modi promotes a free market, Enarth says it can only “work well when there is rule of law. India may be an electoral democracy, but we have rule of muscle running most institutions.”

Similarly, Surrey’s Gill says he’s appalled by the way banks, working with Modi’s government, have encouraged millions of farmers to become indebted.

Some, says Gill, have overextended themselves with mortgages to build big houses in Punjab. Others, Gill says, are borrowing too much from banks to send their offspring to Canada as students or temporary workers, in hopes they will eventually immigrate, including to Surrey, where one-quarter of the population speaks Punjabi.

Despite widespread problems with the status quo, Enarth — who has spent 15 years organizing small-scale, often illiterate farmers in India into collectives so they will gain more bargaining power — says he’s been several times to Punjab, but his organizing efforts aren’t particularly needed there.

“Punjabis are well organized, with more political muscle, and relatively wealthier than other Indians. Farmers from other states could not have sustained a 90-day protest on this scale.”

Data shows Indian farmers’ suicides rates are even higher outside Punjab and Haryana.

Punjabi farmers tend to do better than others, Gill says, because they’re industrious, have embraced modern technology and lobbied governments to build irrigation systems. They strongly advocate the secure price system for wheat, rice and barley, he says, because they have benefited from it — more than farmers from other regions, where the system has been spotty.

Even though having taxpayers guarantee how much farmers receive has often led to an excess of certain crops that go wasted, Enarth says the MSP’s value lies in the way it combats price-fixing by cartels.

India’s agriculture sector, however, is in trouble in general, says Enarth. “Reforms are needed to address the root cause of poverty among rural Indians, which is farm labourers’ very low productivity.”

At least half of farm workers in India should be helped to move into another field of work, he says.

Indo-Canadians seek to sway Indian politics

How did complex farm legislation become the focus of street activism in Canada?

“Punjabi Canadians,” says Enarth, “have very close ties with their families back home — and therefore they are exerting whatever leverage they have in terms of influencing local politics in Punjab, and among non-resident Indians elsewhere.”

Asked how some of the roughly 800,000 Indo-Canadians who aren’t Punjabi are viewing the protests, Enarth suggests many are from middle- to high-income families far removed from agriculture — and many are fans of Modi. “They’re therefore likely to be indifferent, if not befuddled.”

Some Indian and Indo-Canadian media outlets have been critical of the pro-farmers’ protests in Canada. The Vancouver-based Hindi-language outlet CanAm News is among those aiming to counteract the anti-Modi protests, according to Mirems, which translates ethnic-language media reports in Canada.

Some Indo-Canadians “believe the agenda has largely been hijacked by pro-Khalistan elements in Canada,” according to CanAm News, echoing a common view in India’s media. One article quoted the organizer of a recent pro-India car rally in Vancouver, Neema Manral of Delta, who has been a candidate for the B.C. Green party.

“There was so much anger within the community here” over anti-government protests that “we had to do something,” Manral says. While most Indo-Canadians respect the protesting farmers, Manral was determined to help organize the 350 vehicles that took part in a Feb. 6 “tiranga rally,” referring to displays of the orange, white and green flag of India.

In response to the cascade of accusations flying around the world and Canada, Ajay Bisaria, India’s High Commissioner in Ottawa, this week lamented the “flood of misinformation, blatant lies and distortions being circulated.”

“There has been an increase in rhetoric promoting violence in India. Such disinformation is aimed at defaming and harming the image of India and Indians, as well as to sow distrust and promote hatred between different communities of Indian origin in Canada.”

He called on everyone to be vigilant against propaganda and hate speech.

Now in their sixth month, the protests have become one of the biggest challenges ever faced by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party government.

Source: Farmers’ mass protests in India cut deeply across Canada

Multiculturalism is undermining democracy

Appears more extreme in UK than Canada but some similarities that bear watching:

Last Tuesday marked a truly tragic day in British politics. The day began with extensive media coverage of the Chief Rabbi’s attack on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. He asked the British public to ‘vote with their conscience’. Hours later, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) featured on BBC Politics Live, accusing the Conservative Party of tolerating Islamophobia within its party.

No doubt feeling left out, the Hindu Council UK issued a statementexpressing solidarity with the Chief Rabbi, then proceeding to label Labour an anti-Hindu party. And to top off the grievance merry-go-round, the Sikh Federation UK offered the view that there was ‘too much emphasis on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia’. When it comes to racism and discrimination, ‘others like Sikhs are overlooked time and again’, it added. What better illustration of how our wonderfully diverse democracy has become infected by the virus of identity politics and is descending into a farcical competition for victimhood.

For some time, our political class has been wedded to multiculturalism, championing difference and diversity over cohesion. In doing so, it has failed to articulate a set of moral standards that can tie together the UK’s diverse set of ethnic and religious groups.

As I have previously pointed out on spiked, one consequence of this failure is that Middle Eastern and South Asian geopolitics have become major considerations for ethnic-minority voters in this General Election. Politicians have, for some time, championed particular sides in international conflicts and disputes on the grounds of what is electorally beneficial. This has also involved developing close ties with divisive group-specific organisations. This includes the MCB, which within two weeks of the brutal Islamist murder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim shopkeeper Asad Shah in Glasgow published a position statement which declared that its members were not obliged to recognise Ahmadis as fellow Muslims.

There are many religiously affiliated organisations operating in the UK which are responsible for the crudest forms of prejudice imaginable. Individuals are accused of betraying their faith if they adopt a certain position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ongoing Indo-Pakistani Kashmir dispute, or the Khalistan secessionist movement in the Punjab region. Self-appointed community leaders position themselves as the ultimate authority on deciding what constitutes a good Jew, a loyal Muslim, a proper Hindu and a real Sikh. A flurry of religious associations, as well as organisations affiliated to foreign political parties, are now threatening to use these geopolitical positions to influence domestic electoral outcomes.

Following a Labour Party conference motion which condemned the Indian government and called for ‘international intervention’ over Kashmir, the Overseas Friends of BJP UK declared that they would seek to defeat the party’s candidates in a number of constituencies across the country. The body’s president, Kuldeep Singh Shekhawat, has claimed that ‘if the entire Indian community in the UK votes Tory, we will see a swing of around 40 seats to the Tories’. ‘This will swing the actual election result’, he said.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) has launched a campaign encouraging British Muslim voters to defeat ‘Islamophobic’ Conservative MPs – identifying 14 constituencies of importance under its Operation Muslim Vote campaign. The MPAC’s propaganda is hugely oriented towards territorial disputes in other parts of the world, including Kashmir and Palestine.

As a British Muslim of South Asian origin, I can personally say that I have heard far too much about territorial disputes taking place in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent during the build-up to what is meant to be a UK General Election. The efforts of religious organisations and affiliate bodies for non-UK political parties – large and small – to generate faith-based bloc voting should be a cause for political concern.

Only a few weeks ago, swathes of the UK were devastated by flooding, ruining family homes and small businesses. Social care for the elderly and disabled is at breaking point. Many deprived inner-city areas continue to be ravaged by crime and delinquency. Left-behind former coal-mining and steel communities have been starved of meaningful state investment in infrastructure for decades. Domestic extremist threats continue to loom over the law-abiding British majority. Brexit hangs in the balance. Territorial disputes across the globe may be of great interest to faith-based actors, but how interested is the average British voter in such issues?

The UK could be on the verge of an identity-politics breakdown. And make no mistake: our politicians are reaping what they have sowed.

Source: Multiculturalism is undermining democracy

How Ukrainian politics became the most Canadian of politics

Good piece. Ukrainian Canadians also played a significant role in including s27 in the Charter – This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians:

I watched Canada’s long history of diaspora politics reach some sort of apex on Wednesday morning, when the Foreign Affairs Minister stood before an audience at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel and delivered a 10-minute speech in effortless Ukrainian, before switching to equally fluent French and English. She then introduced the newly elected President of Ukraine, who attempted to win over the audience with a detailed speech in what audience members told me was a slightly more hesitant Ukrainian.

That Chrystia Freeland, a Canadian born in Peace River, Alta., speaks the language of Ukraine better than the country’s President – and that both felt it important to begin his term of office with a week in Canada, including multiple meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – is a double accident of history.

President Volodymyr Zelensky is, like almost a third of Ukrainian citizens, a Russian speaker, and he built his career in TV comedy by mastering Ukrainian as a second language. He speaks it very well, I’m told, but without the confidence of a native. That does not mean he is ethnically Russian or inclined to back Moscow over Brussels in the battle for Ukraine’s allegiances – in Ukraine, language does not correlate with politics.

But it does mean that he felt it important to make a strong case for his authenticity and his pro-Western views to the 1.4 million Canadians who are of Ukrainian ancestry. Those Ukrainian-Canadians are crucial to the fate of both Ukrainian leaders and, often, of Canadian political parties.

During Ukraine’s election this spring, Ukrainian-Canadian figures backed incumbent Petro Poroshenko, an outspoken nationalist with corruption problems who could only govern with the support of some extremist parties, but who had won the confidence of Western governments during Ukraine’s war against its invasion by Russia. Mr. Zelensky is an unknown commodity, especially to a Canadian diaspora that tends to be even more nationalist and anti-Russian in its sentiments than citizens of Ukraine.

Ms. Freeland’s Ukrainian ethnicity and linguistic fluency make her a standout figure in the long history of Ukrainian-Canadian relations. And Mr. Trudeau, as we know, goes out of his way to gain visibility in the homelands of electorally important ethnic groups.

But this government’s eagerness to embrace the latest Ukrainian leader, and the tens of millions it has poured into election support and military-training aid to Ukraine, are far from unique or excessive. The politics of ethnic homelands are not some new addition to Canadian life; they have been central to Canadian politics almost from the beginning.

And it all began with the Ukrainians.

A century before the country of Ukraine came into existence, in the early 1890s, Ukrainians became Canada’s first really major non-Western immigrant group. They did not share a language, a culture or a religion with existing populations; they were also the first immigrants who overwhelmingly stayed in Canada rather than moving south of the border.

Almost from the beginning, Canadian leaders realized that they needed to make the Ukrainians’ interests, and their relationship to their homeland, part of the Canadian political vocabulary.

After a second wave of Ukrainians arrived in the 1930s, fleeing Stalin’s horrors, Canadian leaders began to speak of their role using a new language of pluralism. In 1936, governor-general Lord Tweedsmuir – also known as Scottish novelist John Buchan – gave a landmark speech to a crowd of Ukrainian-Canadians in Fraserwood, Man., promoting his notion of British Empire multiculturalism: “You will all be better Canadians for being also good Ukrainians … the strongest nations are those that are made up of different racial elements.”

In other words, more than a decade before Canadian citizenship came into existence, officials were inspired by the Ukrainian experience to promote a hyphenated form of Canadianism.

This would be embraced by political leaders of both parties, in part for electoral reasons. It was Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker, a prairie man with a keen sense of retail politics, who most aggressively used this to electoral ends, playing to Ukrainians’ desire for an independent homeland. It didn’t hurt that their fiercely anti-Moscow views lined up neatly with the government’s Cold War perspective.

In 1991, prime minister Brian Mulroney’s decision to become the first Western leader to recognize Ukraine’s claim of national sovereignty, against the advice of other countries, was driven in good part by his attention to this crucial constituency. And it immediately became mandatory for every Prime Minister to be seen shaking hands with whoever happened to be leading Ukraine – no matter how unsavoury the figure, or corrupt the regime.

Given the Ukrainians’ founding role in this most Canadian form of politics, it was inevitable that at some point Canada would manage to out-Ukrainian the Ukrainians themselves. And this week, it happened.

Source: How Ukrainian politics became the most Canadian of politics

With lives at stake, Canada’s misguided vision of China demands a careful reboot: David Mulroney

Another good column by Mulroney. His reference to the naiveté of diaspora politics, highlighted, particularly relevant given recent instances of Chinese government activity in Canada (e.g., Student groups call for Ottawa to investigate alleged interference by Chinese officials on Canadian campuses):

Canada’s primary foreign-policy challenge with China has been clear for months now. We have to secure the freedom of detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and save the lives of fellow Canadians Robert Schellenberg and Fan Wei, who face death sentences from a murky Chinese legal system that takes instruction from the Chinese state. Our message to allies is clear, too: we all have a stake in pushing back against a China that uses hostage diplomacy, economic blackmail and even the threat of execution to achieve its objectives.

But there’s another equally challenging China task on the horizon. We need to start thinking about what we’ve learned from this terrible episode, and how it should shape our future relationship with China.

We’re not very good at this. The natural inclination of every bureaucracy in times of crisis is to restore the status quo ante. This happens for a variety of reasons, among them the fact that reviving an old strategy is a lot easier than thinking up a new one. But we’re also still in the grips of a misguided vision of China, one especially dear to the Canadian governing and business classes, that naively embraces almost everything that Beijing has on offer.

The current government refers to this as “comprehensive engagement,” something former ambassador John McCallum rendered more descriptively for Chinese audiences with the phrase geng duo, meaning “even more.” Just about any idea was worth considering, was the implication – as long as it lived up to our Olympian ambitions.

Few former diplomats, including this one, can claim to have entirely resisted the geng duo impulse to substitute promotion for policy. But given the undeniable evidence of China’s hostility to core Canadian interests, starting with the safety of our citizens, we urgently need to reconsider our approach.

There is no shutting the door to China, which is increasingly central to our prosperity and to solving threats to the environment, global health and food safety. But we will have to be much more thoughtful about how we do this, moving from comprehensive engagement to something smarter and more tailored to our objectives and vulnerabilities.

The days of indiscriminately encouraging China-bound travel and pumping Canadian delegations into China, a state that capriciously detains foreigners, are over. We should start by skipping events dedicated to China’s boundless appetite for international self-promotion or the delusion that China is a democracy in the making.

We also need to think carefully about trade and investment promotion, particularly in sectors like canola, where China’s immense demand gives it leverage over us. We need to work even harder at finding new markets, and doing more processing here in Canada to add value to what we sell. China seems to find economic blackmail easiest with commodities.

It’s also time to re-examine the received wisdom that shapes our China strategy, purging it of a sort of malware encouraged by China to delude the naive. This includes such fictions as the idea that China is inherently peaceful and has no territorial ambitions, that it abides by a policy of non-interference in other countries, that trade is a favour it bestows on friendly nations, and that access to its leaders is an end and reward in itself.

The idea that our China policy tends to be highly corrupted by these falsehoods is proven by our enduring gullibility on two important counts. The first is the idea that Canadians of Chinese origin are something of a shared bilateral resource, and that members of this community have a responsibility to help their fellow citizens better understand China. This fits hand-in-glove with the Canadian penchant for diaspora politics, and opens the door to Chinese interference.

The second powerful myth is that China is so uniquely sensitive that, no matter what it does, any response other than abject silence is hurtful and dangerously counterproductive. This has contributed to persistent Canadian passivity in the face of outrageous behaviour.

Getting China right will be particularly difficult for a Liberal government that has, to put it charitably, struggled with foreign policy. The government approaches the world beyond our borders with the inexplicable conviction that other countries are either as progressive as Liberal voters or aspire to be. This is wrong, and dangerously so.

We simply can’t postpone a rethink of our approach to China, and we must finally be open to the idea that, when it comes to engaging Beijing, smarter is better than comprehensive – and less is almost certainly better than more.

Source: With lives at stake, Canada’s misguided vision of China demands a careful reboot David Mulroney May 1, 2019     

It’s the Atwal effect — and nobody’s immune: Terry Milewski

Good reminder that all parties are playing this game:

The tsunami is spreading far from the epicentre of the Jaspal Atwal earthquake. And it doesn’t discriminate between political parties.

The Liberals, of course, have been the ones swept farthest out to sea. A week after Atwal — a former wannabe hitman for the Sikh separatist cause — was summoned to dine with Justin Trudeau in India, the prime minister and his national security adviser were neck-deep and clinging to a conspiracy theory.

It was an Indian plot, they said, meant to make us look soft on separatism. So far, the theory isn’t selling well.

But are the Conservatives and the NDP still high and dry? Not exactly. Take the case of the Conservatives first.

The motion that did not move

Hoping to paint the Liberals as soft on terror, the Tories drafted a parliamentary motion this week that states that the party “values the contributions of Canadian Sikhs” but condemns “all forms of terrorism, including Khalistani extremism and the glorification of any individuals who have committed acts of violence.”

It was a trap, of course. Had the Liberals voted yes to the motion, they would have been repudiating some of their Khalistani allies. If they’d voted no, they’d have been caught in bed with them.

The word “glorification,” of course, takes aim at a painful topic for families of the victims of the Air India Flight 182 bombing: the re-branding of the man who planned the terrorist act as a saintly hero.

Parmar poster

A martyr poster of Air India bombing architect Talwinder Singh Parmar is seen fixed to the exterior of the Dashmesh Darbar Temple in Surrey, B.C. on Oct. 3, 2017. (CBC)

He is Canada’s deadliest mass-murderer by far: Talwinder Singh Parmar, the architect of the 1985 bombing, whose portrait adorns Sikh temples in Surrey, B.C. and Malton, Ont. Children are being taught that the man who blew 329 innocents out of the sky was a model citizen and a persecuted martyr. (Parmar’s role in planning the attack, which was accepted as fact by both the Air India inquiry and the judicial inquiry, was confirmed by the testimony of the man, who admitted to making the bomb.)

So the Conservative motion had a sharp point on it. But there was a problem: as soon as they got wind of it, the separatist lobby, led by the World Sikh Organization, peppered Ottawa with complaints that this was an attack on all Sikhs, not just the violent ones.

A flurry of text messages went out. “They are targe[t]ing the Sikh community and tarnishing us as extremists,” one of the messages said. “Canadians are starting to see us as terrorists when we are not … Everyone please leave voicemails at the offices of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer … Please communicate to them that if the Conservatives carry through and bring this motion forward then we will not welcome them in our Gurdwaras and we will absolutely not support them in the future.”

It was a familiar tactic: claiming that a critique of extremists is an assault on all Sikhs. But by morning, the blitz of messages seemed to have worked — or so the World Sikh Organization claimed.

So, the Conservatives reconsidered — and not for the first time.

​The veneration of Talwinder Parmar became an issue in 2007 at the annual Vaisakhi parade run by the Dashmesh Darbar temple in Surrey, B.C. Then-prime minister Stephen Harper sent two MPs on his behalf: Jim Abbott and Nina Grewal. The Liberals sent Sukh Dhaliwal — an MP again today — and the NDP sent then-MP Penny Priddy.

Along with then-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, they all took the stage alongside Parmar’s son and such other separatist luminaries as Satinderpal Gill of the banned International Sikh Youth Federation. The politicians all smiled and waved as the floats rolled by with tinselled portraits honouring Parmar and other martyrs.

Afterwards, all of them insisted it was no big deal — although Campbell changed his mind the next day and said he would not have attended if he’d known about the martyr posters.

Abbott also changed his mind — in the other direction. First, he said he was “flabbergasted” to realize that the Air India bomber was being lionized in this way. But after consulting with the Conservative Party, he reversed himself and praised the parade unreservedly.

In later years, the temple management responded by fixing a large portrait of Parmar to the outside wall.

India Canada

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, centre, and Punjab state Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, right, gesture along with an unidentified person at the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest site, in Amritsar, India, in November, 2009. (Prabhjot Gill/The Associated Press)

Still, there was not a word about it from Stephen Harper — who, like Justin Trudeau, endured his share of lectures on this topic from his Indian counterparts.

Like Trudeau, Harper emphasized that separatists have freedom of speech in Canada. Neither Harper nor Trudeau thought to mention that Canadian politicians also have freedom of speech — and have rarely used it to denounce the celebration of Parmar.

Or so it was until — oddly enough — the very day the Jaspal Atwal story broke.

The news we all forgot

Nobody remembers it now, but moments before the Atwal wave crashed into his Indian tour last week, Prime Minister Trudeau made some news of his own. In fact, it might have been the story of the day — on any other day.

Trudeau was facing constant demands to clearly repudiate Sikh extremists back home. Pressed in New Delhi by the CBC’s David Cochrane, Trudeau at first ducked a question about the Parmar “martyr” posters. He merely condemned violence and extremism in general.

So Cochrane asked him again: What about those Parmar posters? This time, Trudeau said what so many Canadian politicians have refused to say: “I do not think we should ever be glorifying mass-murderers, and I’m happy to condemn that.”

That was a first. No Canadian leader had said it before. Every Vaisakhi parade, after all, is a vote-rich environment. Condemning violence in broad terms is easy. Condemning voters who revere a specific martyr is harder.

Too hard, apparently, for a politician who has long identified with Sikh grievances against the Indian government. That would be Canada’s first Sikh party leader, Jagmeet Singh, who was asked the same question about the Parmar posters after winning the leadership of the NDP last fall.

In an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics, Singh repeatedly declined to say whether the Parmar posters were appropriate. The following week, when asked again if they should be taken down, he ducked the question (again), saying, “I’m not here to tell what a community should or shouldn’t do.”

via It’s the Atwal effect — and nobody’s immune – Politics – CBC News

How the Liberals’ alleged support of Sikh separatists is fuelling Canada-India tensions

More diaspora politics and the impact on foreign policies.

All political parties court the Sikh Canadian vote given their concentration in a number of ridings (Surrey, Brampton) and their political activism:

When Prime Minister Trudeau headed to the stage at the Sikh-Canadian community’s annual Khalsa Day celebration last month, he was thronged by a cheering, photo-seeking crowd.

It was little surprise, given the Liberal leader is not only a staunch supporter of multiculturalism but also has four MPs of Sikh origin in his cabinet.

Thousands of kilometres away in New Delhi, however, Trudeau’s appearance struck a decidedly more sour note.

The appearance was the latest irritation for an Indian government reportedly worried that the Liberals are too cozy with a peaceful but “growing” Sikh-separatist movement in Canada.

It came three weeks after the Ontario legislature passed a private-member’s motion — introduced by a Liberal MPP — that called the 1984 Sikh massacre in India an act of genocide, a politically explosive label.

India’s Foreign Ministry has issued separate protests to the Trudeau government about each episode, as the Liberals’ traditional politicking among a vote-rich community, combined with the sub-continent’s fraught history, throws a wrench into the two countries’ burgeoning friendship.

“All of those things add up (and) present a picture that isn’t particularly pretty when India is looking at it,” said Anirudh Bhattacharya, Canadian correspondent for the Hindustan Times newspaper. “There was always a concern (in New Delhi) that this particular government would be somewhat beholden to the gatekeepers to the Sikh community, to some of the more radical groups.”

Tossed into the mix have been unsubstantiated allegations by Amarinder Singh, Punjab state’s newly elected “chief minister,” that Trudeau’s Sikh ministers are themselves separatists; and a thwarted terrorist cell in Punjab with alleged Canadian links.

Indian media reports suggest New Delhi was livid about Trudeau’s appearance at the Khalsa Day event April 30, though the public language was more circumspect. “We have taken it up with Canada in the past and the practice has not been discontinued,” said Vishwa Nath Goel of India’s high commission in Ottawa.

Balraj Deol

Balraj DeolFloat in Khalsa Day parade touting Ontario legislative motion on 1984 Sikh “genocide”

Quoting a Foreign Ministry statement, he was more blunt about the Ontario legislature’s Sikh genocide resolution on April 6.

“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,” said Goel.

But a spokesman for the group that organized the event Trudeau attended — and which backs the Ontario motion — said it’s only natural for the prime minister to appear at such functions, regardless of the religion.

Source: How the Liberals’ alleged support of Sikh separatists is fuelling Canada-India tensions | National Post

Does Australia’s values test have a future in Canada? Konrad Yakabuski

Yakabuski asks the valid question: could Australian dog whistle politics happen here?

To a certain extent, they already have: the use of the niqab and “barbaric cultural practices” tip line in the 2015 election, the Kellie Leitch and Steven Blaney leadership campaigns. As he notes, survey questions highlight an underlying concern about immigrant values.

That being said, while we naturally enough see the similarities with Australia – immigration-based countries, large number of foreign-born voters, considerable diversity – we often fail to see some of the differences:

  • Indigenous/white settler dichotomy in contrast to the more complex Canadian Indigenous/French settler/British settler background and a history, albeit highly imperfect, of accommodation and compromise;
  • a political system that provides greater opening for far right extremist voices;
  • a political system that results in fewer visible minorities being elected than in Canada; and,
  • a generally harsher political culture.

So while we always have to guard against complacency, we also need to keep in mind that national elections are largely fought in the 905 and BC’s Lower Mainland, where new Canadian voters, mainly visible minority, form the majority or significant plurality of voters.

The Liberal success in these ridings (they won 30 out of the 33 ridings where visible minorities are the majority) suggest that values or identity-based wedge politics are a losing, not winning, strategy:

When Malcolm Turnbull staged an internal Liberal coup to replace an unpopular Tony Abbott as party leader and Australia’s prime minister in 2015, it was hailed as victory of the moderns and moderates over the ultraconservative ideologues and their nasty dog-whistling strategists.

Guess who’s blowing dog whistles now?

The plan Mr. Turnbull unveiled last month to screen immigrants for Australian values (sound familiar?) and make it harder to obtain Australian citizenship represents a crass U-turn for a Prime Minister who only a few years ago attacked a then-Labor government for seeking to cut the number of temporary foreign workers entering the country. “If you support skilled migration and a diverse society, you don’t ramp up the chauvinistic rhetoric,” he tweeted in 2013.

Now, it is Mr. Turnbull’s turn to target the so-called 457 visa, replacing it with a program that puts new restrictions on foreign workers. The Prime Minister says the immigration changes are all about “putting Australians first.” But they are really about exploiting largely, but not exclusively, working-class resentment toward visible minorities, especially if they’re Muslims.

“If we believe that respect for women and children and saying no to violence … is an Australian value, and it is, then why should that not be made a key part, a very fundamental part, a very prominent part, of our process to be an Australian citizen?” Mr. Turnbull asked last month.

Well, for starters, because it demonstrates an astonishing degree of contempt for the very values that liberal democracies such as Australia purport to champion.

Is it really necessary to ask immigrants “under which circumstances is it permissible to cut female genitals” to convey the unacceptability of excision, which is already illegal? You can only answer yes if the real objective of such a measure is to pander to a substantial, but misguided, group of voters who seeks to alleviate their own insecurities by humiliating others.

You’d almost think this cockeyed plan was something cooked up by Sir Lynton Crosby, the Australian political strategist who may or may not have been behind the 2015 election promise by former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to set up a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline. But Sir Lynton – the knighthood was bestowed by former British prime minister David Cameron after the so-called Wizard of Oz helped him win the 2015 British election – is currently too busy exercising the political dark arts in aid of Tory PM Theresa May’s election bid.

Sir Lynton’s business partner, Mark Textor, however, happens to be Mr. Turnbull’s chief pollster. And what the polls are telling Mr. Turnbull is that white, working-class voters in Australia are increasingly turning sour on immigration. This is something of a paradox in a country in which 28 per cent of the population is foreign-born, compared with about 21 per cent in Canada, and that has long been held up as a model multicultural society.

The truth is that both the Liberals (who are actually conservatives) and the Labor Party now only pay lip service to multiculturalism. Both are seeking to scratch an itch among white working- and middle-class voters. Labor recently ran an ad in Queensland promising to “build Australia first, buy Australian first and employ Australians first.” All of the dozen or so workers in the ad were white.

Support for the current policy of turning back boats of asylum seekers, or detaining them on islands off the Australian coast, remains strong, even among Labor voters. Hence, the dilemma for Labor Leader Bill Shorten, trapped between his party’s white working-class base and the urban progressives and immigrant voters Labor needs to win elections.

Mr. Turnbull, meanwhile, is looking over his shoulder at a renewed threat from the far-right One Nation party and Mr. Abbott, who appears to be angling for his old job. He just gave a speech denouncing the “cultural cowardice” of the elites, including the folks at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and their “pervasive ambivalence verging on hostility to our country and its values.”

Does Australia represent the ghost of Canadian politics yet to come? Polls show Canadians from across the political spectrum really like Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s idea of screening immigrants for Canadian values. She’s sticking to her guns, no matter how many old Red Tory friends she loses.

Hey, if Australia can go that low, why can’t we?

Source: Does Australia’s values test have a future in Canada? – The Globe and Mail

Why Ontario should steer clear of East Asia’s identity politics

Diaspora politics in action.

While I would disagree that Japan has come to terms with its wartime atrocities (sharp contrast to Germany), Welch’s concern regarding the divisiveness of this proposal is valid (just as the Canadian Vietnamese community was split over Bill S-219 – Backward Bill Passed, but Vietnamese-Canadians Move Forward – New Canadian Media):

In recent years, China has fanned the flames of anti-Japanese sentiment, partly for instrumental reasons (an external enemy enhances national cohesion and regime legitimacy), and partly because many Chinese honestly believe that Japan is nostalgic for its imperial, militarist past, and continues to pose a latent threat to the mainland. It is hardly surprising that they do. Their government keeps telling them so. Chinese citizens are fed a steady diet of anti-Japanese propaganda in the press and in the form of late-night television dramas depicting the heroic struggle of Chinese soldiers against barbaric wartime Japanese invaders. The Nanjing Massacre figures heavily in these anti-Japanese narratives.

In fact, the government of Japan has long ago—and many times—acknowledged and repented of the country’s imperial sins. Only a handful of arch-nationalist cranks refuse to do so, and they speak only for themselves. Today, Japan is among the least militarist countries in the world. Most Japanese today see their own government as the primary source of their wartime suffering. Since 1945, Japan has been a responsible and constructive member of the international community.

One finds ample evidence of lack of empathy in Japan as well, where China’s anti-Japanese propaganda is seen as part of a larger geopolitical project to impose Beijing’s hegemony. With few exceptions, Japanese fail to appreciate the extent to which anti-Japanese sentiment in China can be attributed to a combination of ignorance and regime insecurity. But the Japanese government does not respond by demonizing China. Instead, it calls for greater cooperation and communication on issues of mutual interest, while hedging its bets through more-or-less-standard balance-of-power politics.

These two efforts to single out the Nanjing Massacre for commemoration effectively endorse and encourage Chinese misperceptions of Japan. They ask the people of Ontario and the people of Toronto to inflame and take sides in a dangerous clash of national egos. They work against, not for, stability in East Asia. This is not the Canadian way. Canadians are peacemakers and bridge-builders, not pawns in others’ domestic and geopolitical games.

At the same time, and at least as importantly, these two efforts threaten to undermine harmony here at home. More than 100,000 Ontarians have roots in Japan, and more than 700,000 have roots in China. Nothing good can come from fanning the flames ethnic hatred—except, perhaps, for cynical politicians who care only about the relative number of their constituents in their districts with Chinese or Japanese ancestry.

Finally, these measures are dangerous precedents. By taking sides in one case, Queen’s Park and Toronto City Council would effectively invite others to do the same. Ontario, in general, and Toronto, in particular, have more diverse populations than anywhere else in the world. There are not enough days in the calendar to commemorate every historical atrocity that drives an ethno-nationalist grievance.

Let us hope that our politicians see the wisdom of avoiding this particular minefield before the damage is done. No one could possibly object to commemorating the innocent victims of war; but if we are to do so, let us make the commemoration inclusive, in true Canadian fashion, rather than divisive.

Source: Why Ontario should steer clear of East Asia’s identity politics – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Canada’s new foreign policy: the end of ‘ideological fantasies’ – Michael Bell

One of the better pieces on the impact on foreign policy of the change in government, but neglects to mention some of the diaspora politics pressure given the large number of visible minority MPs:

We are at the beginning of a new era in Canadian diplomacy with the election of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister. Our place in the international community is about to undergo a dramatic and positive change. The appointment of Stéphane Dion as the Minister of Foreign Affairs is a harbinger.

Although there will be many challenges, often insurmountable, and mistakes will inevitably be made, the new Prime Minister’s world view and his commitment to international norms could not be more different than that of his predecessor.

Stephen Harper, the world’s last neo-conservative leader, is no longer with us. His modus operandi in foreign affairs viewed the international community, most markedly characterized in his eyes by the United Nations, as a threat to his deeply held but exclusionist ideology. For him, the very concept of accommodation with others constituted moral relativism: a sellout.

The result: Canada was viewed abroad as an outlier, as a contrarian, as a force for disruption. Mr. Harper’s colleagues abroad found him most often difficult, if not impossible, to deal with. For the first time in our history, and to our great shame, Canada was voted down for a seat on the UN Security Council, so much had we lost the respect of others.

Life was miserable for Canadian diplomats at home and abroad, including those charged with UN affairs; we lost the chairmanship of UN committees traditionally ours for asking; we lost any role in its consultative processes. Mr. Harper and his long-time foreign minister, John Baird, snubbed the institution. Their political staffs: “The boys in short pants” were the enforcers.

With Mr. Trudeau’s election, those days are now past. For instance, after a single day in office, he called on Canadian ambassadors abroad to engage fully with the governments, civil society and media in their countries of accreditation.

In retrospect, it is astounding that the Canadian government’s aversion to evidence-based decision-making lasted as long as it did. It is astounding that diplomacy (most often a backstage craft) was confined to the dustbin. It was depressing that truth could never speak to power. It was intolerable that bureaucrats felt it necessary to ensure that analytical assessments were censored so that the ire of the man in power was not brought down on them.

With Mr. Harper’s electoral defeat, it now seems obvious that Canadians need engagement in a very complex world in which effective policies depend on a deep understanding of foreign cultures and reliable barometers of impending difficulties. We need more reliable eyes and ears out there, not fewer. My hunch is that Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Dion will give us just that.

…A self-confident, socially adept and thoughtful Prime Minister with a feel for issues and a commitment to socially enlightened change. An intelligent, erudite Foreign Minister with a compelling, Cartesian intellect.

What a change.

Source: Canada’s new foreign policy: the end of ‘ideological fantasies’ – The Globe and Mail

Away from spotlight of national Conservative campaign, Jason Kenney runs another

Interesting list of commitments (not in the party platform), reinforcing the link between domestic (diaspora) politics and foreign policy:

He’s [Kenney] been going non-stop since the campaign began, he said, because despite all the inroads the Conservatives have made, demographics and shifting immigration patterns provide new opportunities for outreach.

“We’re not going to retain every vote we have in the last election but I think we’re doing very well,” he said.

He’s doing more, however, than just showing up.

Kenney has made several campaign promises in recent weeks that appear nowhere in the official Conservative campaign platform.

To the Sri Lankans, Kenney promised a promise to expand Canada’s high commission to the city of Jaffna, a provincial capital in that country whose population is mostly Tamil. The Tamil diaspora in Canada is among the largest in the world.

To Iranians, Kenney promised to make it easier for them to access consular services from Ottawa, as opposed to having to travel to Washington, D.C. Canada expelled Iranian diplomats from Ottawa in 2012, leaving the Iranian diaspora without access to services like passports or other government documents.

To the Armenian community, a pledge to opening trade and consular office in Yerevan, the country’s capital.

Armenian Canadians should “return the favour to the Conservative party and its candidates by voting and helping party candidates,” the head of the Armenian Canadian Conservative Association reportedly said, according to a post about the announcement on the HyeForum, an Armenian community website.

While not speaking specifically about those promises, Kenney said the Conservatives have their eye on getting diaspora communities more involved in foreign policy.

“Think tanks, foreign policy commentators say that Canada’s diversity is in principle a great strength for foreign and economic ties around the world and we have never really done that in a systematic way,” he said.

“So we’ve been trying to develop ways to more formally engage the large diaspora communities who are new Canadians to deepen ties with countries of origin.”

The Conservatives have come under considerable fire, however, for how closely they appear to link foreign policy to diaspora politics.

Since 2006, under the Conservatives, 1.6 million people became Canadian citizens, Kenney pointed out.

“There are new communities that have developed in large part since our government came to office and so that’s an advantage we did not have in the past.”

Those Canadians are looking for change just like everyone else, said Liberal John McCallum, and they are not responding well to what he calls the Conservatives’ divisive — and often entirely misleading — approach.

A recent set of ads appearing in the Chinese and Punjabi press asked readers whether Trudeau’s values — described as being about putting brothels in communities, allowing marijuana to be sold in corner stores and allowing drug injection sites in local neighbourhoods — none of those things are in the Liberal platform, McCallum said.

“It’s wrong, on principle, and it’s a sign of desperation.”

Source: Away from spotlight of national Conservative campaign, Jason Kenney runs another | National Newswatch