Uganda’s loss is Canada’s gain

Good reminder of a good program, one that has benefited both the refugees and Canada:

On Aug. 5, 1972, within two years of overthrowing the elected Ugandan government of Milton Obote, General Idi Amin Dada made the following decree: “All British Asians numbering about 80,000 will have to be repatriated to Britain—they must leave within 90 days. Non-citizens of other nationalities (other than Uganda) must also leave within three months.”

Although Amin’s decree supposedly targeted only British and other non-Ugandan South Asians, the reality was that it affected all South Asians; citizens as well as non-citizens. Random incidents of harassment, robbery, arbitrary imprisonment, and intimidation targeted the entire South Asian community—regardless of their status or citizenship. In effect, South Asians in Uganda—who were long-settled and included Hindus, Muslims, Sikh, and Christians—became stateless. While many of the Asians carried British passports, and therefore were the responsibility of Britain, others needed to find countries to accept them.

Canada responded. On Aug. 24, 1972, then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau announced Canada’s intervention and the expeditious dispatch of a Canadian mission to Kampala with the following statement: “For our part, we are prepared to offer an honourable place in Canadian life to those Uganda Asians who come to Canada under this program. Asian immigrants have already added to the cultural richness and variety of our country and, I am sure that those from Uganda will, by their abilities and industry, make an equally important contribution to Canadian society.”

A Canadian team was quickly assembled and sent to Kampala under the leadership of Roger St. Vincent, whose instructions stated: “Your Mission is to proceed to Kampala and by whatever means undertake to process without numerical limitations those Asians who meet the immigration selection criteria bearing in mind their particular plight and facilitate their departure for Canada. Your mission must be accomplished by November 8.”

From Sept. 6 to Nov. 7, 1972, Canadian officials worked non-stop to process, interview, carry out medical exams, arrange transport, and grant visas to more than 6,000 South Asians.

Those families who were unable to gain acceptance by any state were assisted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and transported from Uganda into refugee camps in Europe including Austria, Sweden, Italy, and Malta. Subsequently, more than 2,000 of these refugees were accepted by Canada.

On Aug. 24, 1972, then-prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau announced Canada’s intervention and dispatched a mission to Uganda that granted visas to more than 6,000 South Asians by the end of the year. 

In the end, between 1972 and 1974, Canada accepted more than 8,000 South Asian Ugandans, many of whom were Ismaili Muslims and Goans, as they were mostly Ugandan passport holders. Fearing what happened in Uganda, many South Asians from Kenya, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo subsequently immigrated to Canada.

Beyond the obvious humanitarian relief it provided, Canada’s response in the Ugandan South Asian exodus holds important political and historical significance. Although Canada had responded to many refugee movements in the past, this was the first time that it responded to a large-scale non-European refugee crisis, and it came on the heels of the adoption of Canada’s Multiculturalism Policy in 1971.

The successful integration of the Ugandan South Asian community over the last 50 years has been a testament of this policy, which supports linguistic, ethno-cultural, and ethno-racial pluralism.

Today, the Ugandan South Asians, most who fled their homeland with virtually the clothes on their backs, are well represented in all walks of Canadian life due to their pursuit of education, tradition of self-reliance, business acumen, and strong work ethic. After five decades, the community’s social and cultural integration may be explained, in part, by an ongoing reference and dedication to the values of the country which gave it asylum and a permanent home.

In the corridors of Parliament, Senator Mobina Jaffer was the first South Asian woman appointed to the Upper House in 2001, and Liberal Arif Virani has served as Member of Parliament for Parkdale–High Park, Ont., since 2015 and is currently the parliamentary secretary to the minister of international trade. In Alberta, the Honourable Salma Lakhani was installed as Alberta’s 19th lieutenant governor in August 2020, and in the Canadian foreign service, Arif Lalani has served as Canada’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

In the world of news media, Omar Sachedina, whose parents fled Uganda, is a well-known national affairs correspondent and also serves as a fill-in anchor on CTV National News. After working on Parliament Hill for a number of years, Farah Mohamed went on to be a founder of G(irls)20, and previously served as the CEO of the Malala Fund.

One of the world’s largest transportation engineering software companies is co-founded and led by Milton Carrasco. Dax Dasilva, whose parents also fled Uganda, founded Lightspeed Commerce, which is one of Canada largest publicly traded technology companies in Canada.

In business-philanthropy, Pyarali and Gulshan Nanji and their children have exemplified giving back to Canada, including significant donations to many hospitals. Recently, to mark the 50th anniversary of the South Asian exodus from Uganda, the Nanji Family Foundation announced that it would be providing university scholarships to 50 young refugees across the world with a $1-million family donation to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

In opening its doors to the Ugandan Asians in 1972, Canada gained a community, which has since become renowned for both entrepreneurial enterprise and community service. The process of their settlement and integration has left an indelible mark upon the conscious of the community, including civic responsibility, pride in culture and community, ethically compassionate, and pursuing the public good. Uganda’s loss was Canada’s gain.

Michael Molloy was a member of the team that travelled to Kampala and arranged for 6,000 Ugandan Asians to come to Canada in 1972. He was subsequently involved in redesigning Canada’s refugee-resettlement system and was senior co-ordinator of the program that brought 60,000 Indochinese refugees to Canada in 1979-80. Salim Fakirani is a senior lawyer with the Department of Justice. Fakirani’s family fled Uganda when he was two years old. His family immigrated to Canada after spending almost a year in a refugee camp administered by the UNHCR in Italy.

Source: Uganda’s loss is Canada’s gain

Almeida: How we keep racism alive in Canada

A South Asian critique of multiculturalism, the author arguing, incorrectly IMO, that it fosters separation, not integration, contrary to what most public opinion and other research shows for the vast majority of immigrants and minorities. Moreover, identities are complex, mixed and shifting:

The verbal assault on Jagmeet Singh in Peterborough is a grim reminder that racism still exists in Canada. We are told time and again that individuals acting out their hate-filled ideologies are a minority, but this is hardly reassuring to the many immigrants who feel the pressure to prove they’re Canadian on a daily basis.

The federal NDP leader is not a new immigrant with an “accent” although treated like one. He was born and raised here just like the people who attacked him verbally. But his brown skin and turban make him ‘un-Canadian’ in their eyes. This was not his first brush with racism (his youth is probably full of such experiences) and it certainly won’t be his last, even at his political level! Being elected leader of a federal political party was a huge step forward for him as well as Canada, but being accepted as prime minister is a difficult bridge to cross. The Peterborough incident highlights the underlying sentiment of more Canadians than we’d be comfortable admitting to.

Every individual who is a “visible minority” knows that no matter how long they have lived here their physical appearance will make them the target of white supremacists at some point in their lives. We expect and mentally prepare to deal with it in the best way possible. Some fight back, others endure it silently.

We know that racism is driven by ignorance, closed-mindedness and fear… but political hypocrisy and an over-played multicultural policy are equally responsible for keeping it alive.

Being Canadian doesn’t mean forgetting your roots but it should not define who we are either. Multiculturalism was meant to make Canada inclusive but seems to encourage us to cling to our origins rather than assimilate it into our new identity instead. That’s the monumental difference between being American and Canadian! Immigrants south of the border don’t wear their culture on their sleeves. They’re eager and happy to blend into the American melting pot.

It serves Canadian politicians well to keep us in our racial ghettos which can be exploited for their benefit at election time. They field candidates with the same cultural background who pledge to be the voice of “the community” but do little once elected. Either because election promises are meant to be broken, or they are more interested in protecting their position and must toe the line to do so.

The professional world is no different. Ask the doctor or engineer who is driving a taxi, or a former executive denied a front line job for lack of “Canadian” experience. Veiled systemic racism will have you believe that you’re just not there yet!

Our non-white skin colour does not fit the stereotypical image of a Canadian and so our origins continue to define our social and professional lives. Tell another South Asian you’re Canadian and they will ask you whether you’re Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, etc. It’s difficult to get past your brown skin.

One must also acknowledge that we won’t hesitate to play the racial card to our benefit. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it has opened the doors to many privileges which we are not afraid to explore. This does not encourage acceptance but only reinforces cultural stereotypes and resentment…and the cycle goes on.

Many Indians and South Asians are also racist. We’ve discriminated against dark-skinned people in our home countries for centuries. Moving to a different continent rarely erodes our colour bias. Take a look at the matrimonial ads asking for fair-skinned brides. We’re also uncomfortable with people from different cultures and will often instruct our kids to find life partners with a similar cultural background. Anyone else is simply not good enough.

So what’s the solution to our racist attitudes? Adopting a race-neutral approach to all inequalities. This can only happen if we stop laying so much emphasis on an individual’s cultural background and promoting their traditions.  Enough with this post-national state nonsense! It’s time to build a distinct and unifying Canadian identity!!!

Source: How we keep racism alive in Canada

How prejudice rooted in an ancient social system has migrated from India to Canada

Seeing more accounts of caste discrimination here and in the USA:

When Gurpreet Singh packed his bags last fall and arrived in Ontario from India, he soon learned there was one thing some fellow Indians in Canada hadn’t left behind in their home country — their prejudices.

The human resource management student at Durham College in Oshawa, Ont., said he is viewed as an outcast in the ancient South Asian social structure known as the caste system, but faces more discrimination from Indians in Canada than he did in India.

“I have been here for roughly five months and I have faced it in a way more aggressive or aggravated form in this country from my own Punjabi community,” Singh said. “They beat their chest with pride that they come from this caste or that caste.”

India is a main source of immigrants to Canada. It’s also a huge pipeline for international students both to Canada and the United States, and some universities are taking note of concerns around discrimination based on caste.

California State University, the largest four-year public university system in the U.S., specifically added caste to its non-discrimination policies in January. In Ottawa, the academic staff association at Carleton University passed a motion in November to include caste-based discrimination in its policies.

Singh recalled a conversation with an acquaintance in Oshawa that shocked him after she used a casteist slur to address him.

“I confronted her that you’d be behind bars if you were in India right now … The girl who uttered that word acted as if she didn’t know anything, why it’s offensive, etc.,” Singh said. “To put it in her brain in the easiest possible way, I equated the word with the N-word.”

He said it was “strange” that she knew the N-word was a slur for Black people, “but even after living in India for 23 years, she had no idea, or at least pretended to have no idea, about the thing she just said so casually.”

The Hindu caste system divides people into four sub-communities based on ancestry — Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras — and the caste of a person can often be identified by their last name. The four main castes are further divided into 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes.

The caste tradition transcends religion. Many Indians with Hindu lineage whose ancestors adopted Sikhism or Christianity retained their last names, and their caste designations.

Singh belongs to a scheduled caste, members of which are also known as Dalits. According to the caste system, scheduled castes are outcasts and do not belong to the social order.

According to the 2011 census, scheduled castes made up for 16.2 per cent of the Indian population. From 2018 to 2020, India’s National Crime Records Bureau recorded 50,202 registered cases of crimes or “atrocities” against scheduled castes. Activists from the community have long fought against caste oppression.

Singh’s last name was originally Badhan, which indicated his caste. He stopped using it, even on official documents, but he said in Canada he’s been asked for his full name so people could identify his community.

“I have had to hide my identity a number of times,” Singh said. “I had to lie twice. I told them I come from the Jatt community and my surname is something else because I felt that I might be isolated, and no one wants to feel that way when you are so far away from home.”

Casteism can cause harm

Chinnaiah Jangam, an associate professor in the department of history at Carleton University and an advocate for the rights of people from scheduled castes, believes casteism can hurt immigrants long term.

“A student or an employee coming from these backgrounds will not feel comfortable to express their own identity and they won’t feel comfortable being themselves,” said Jangam, who is the author of Dalits and the making of modern India and spearheaded the push to add caste to the anti-discrimination policies of Carleton’s academic association.

Meera Estrada, the Toronto co-host of the pop culture show kultur’D on Global News radio, was born in Canada but said she was aware she was a Dalit since childhood. She often hid her identity because other people of Indian background looked down on her community.

She recalled going to Gujarati language classes and people asking what samaj, or community, she belonged to. “And people were quite proud in saying which group they belong to, but it was always the Brahmin group or the so-called upper caste,” Estrada said.

India passed a law in 1955 to abolish “untouchability,” a term once used to describe the practice of ostracizing scheduled castes. But Estrada believes the social stigma against Dalits remains, something that became more apparent to her in her 20s.

“Aunties in mandirs [temples] trying to play matchmakers would always say, ‘Oh, this is a good boy from a good family.’ The implication there was that he is from a higher caste, and I would just feel like if that is the equivalent of good, who am I? Am I not good?”

Brahmin-only group

One matchmaking Facebook group, the Samast Brahman Society of Canada, has 4,100 members. The group’s description says its “goal is to unite all Brahmins under one roof while they can serve in all other Brahmin organizations.”

Source: How prejudice rooted in an ancient social system has migrated from India to Canada

South Asian truckers say protest convoys didn’t resonate with them, caused financial losses

Yet another story on South Asian truckers (even if the convoy really wasn’t about truckers…):

Bearing a load of produce bound for Sobeys, Nihal Singh pulled up to a border checkpoint in northern Montana late last month, only to find the path blocked by big-riggers on the other side.

Semi-trucks and protesters barred the way in Coutts, Alta., as they demonstrated against vaccine mandates, holding up Singh for nearly two days — one of hundreds of drivers stopped by the blockade. After more than 24 hours, he and a group of other South Asian Canadian truckers approached authorities to find out when they could pass.

“That’s when another guy, he came out of his truck and he was, like, being racist. He was saying, ‘Go back to your truck, go back to India,”‘ recalled Singh, a 28-year-old driver from Edmonton.

Source: South Asian truckers say protest convoys didn’t resonate with them, caused financial losses

Caste has become a university diversity issue in the US

Hard to imagine that this also happens in Canada to some extent given the large number of South Asian students and grateful for information readers may have:

Many international students from disadvantaged groups hope to leave the entrenched social structures and caste discrimination behind and start afresh as they come to the United States or elsewhere. 

But to their consternation and horror, some South Asian students have found that caste discrimination is alive and well overseas, particularly where there is a large South Asia diaspora or foreign students on campus.

Mounting evidence of such discriminatory treatment and harassment led the California State University (CSU) system to add caste to its list of protected groups in January, prohibiting caste-based discrimination, harassment or retaliation. Other universities in the US are examining whether they should do the same. 

The CSU system, with some 485,000 students and about 56,000 faculty and staff, is sending a signal out to the rest of the university sector that caste discrimination exists and that affected students and staff require protection, say inclusivity activists who have campaigned for years to include caste-oppressed students and faculty. They have called the CSU decision an important civil rights win. 

“This is very important because we can now feel safer,” said Prem Pariyar, who recently graduated from CSU’s East Bay campus with a masters degree in social work. He began the campaign for caste protection at East Bay and helped extend it across CSU’s 23 campuses. 

“At least now the university has a policy to recognise our pain and to recognise our issues,” he told University World News. “In the US people are conscious about race and religion and the like but they did not know about caste discrimination.”

“Being a protected category is important as it means people like me [and] other students will feel more comfortable to go and complain. Before adding caste as a protected category, even if students reported to the administration, they would not understand what it is. It is not racial discrimination, but it is the same logic.”

Michael Uhlenkamp, senior director of public affairs in the CSU Chancellors Office, said: “While caste protections were inherently included in previous CSU non-discrimination policies, the decision to specifically name caste in the interim policy reflects the CSU’s commitment to inclusivity and respect, making certain each and every one of our 23 CSU campuses is a place of access, opportunity and equity for all.” 

“The existing processes for reporting instances of discrimination, whether based on caste or any of the categories listed in the policy, still apply,” he added. 

‘Long overdue’

“It’s long overdue. This was a campaign that we were working on for almost two and a half years,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equality Labs, a US-based civil rights organisation fighting for the rights of Dalits, a low-caste group formerly known as ‘untouchables’.

Equality Labs has been advising institutions and companies in the US. It carried out the first survey of Dalit discrimination among the South Asian diaspora in the US in 2016. In a sample of 1,500 respondents, “the numbers are high – one in four experience some form of physical or verbal assaults, one in three face discrimination in terms of their education and two out of three face workplace discrimination,” Soundararajan told University World News.

The survey was instrumental in convincing the CSU system to include caste in their policy, along with students like Pariyar, himself a Dalit, who were willing to speak out. 

“The whole process of educating and transforming these institutions towards caste equity has been one of very powerful testimony, and storytelling by really courageous and bold caste-oppressed students and faculty and campus community members. 

“And doing so under very difficult environments where caste bigots were literally intimidating, harassing and doxing them,” said Soundararajan, who is also a visiting scholar at the Center for South Asia, Stanford University. 

Soundararajan points to various types of campus discrimination – including discrimination with housing, work or student groups “openly using caste slurs and other microaggressions as well as more serious cases of gender-based violence like harassment and assault”. 

Equality Labs has been advising a large number of universities and colleges in the US, including providing advice from legal scholars “who have already done some thinking about this – we’ve worked with many institutions, large and small on these issues”.

“In our countries of origin, while there are laws to protect against caste oppression, there is a great deal of impunity and a lack of political will to enforce them. In the United States, however, because of the struggles of black and indigenous and other communities of colour, civil rights laws still have teeth,” Soundararajan explained.

“Increasingly, American institutions that are concerned about their liability related to civil rights and human rights compliance are proactively adding caste and making it explicit,” she noted. “When it’s not explicit, all the things that come from [being] a protected category don’t exist within the campuses’ or institutions’ purview.”

But universities are also key to educating society in general. “In making caste a protected category, institutions of higher learning are positioned to take the critical issue of caste oppression and discrimination seriously and to render it visible,” said Angana Chatterji, cultural anthropologist and scholar at the University of California (UC) Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender.

“Such commitment is imperative to deepening the study of caste and generative of new knowledge formations attentive to its intersections with gender and race. And to developing support systems, curricula and interventions to dismantle caste oppression and caste privilege within the university,” she added.

Often invisible

Caste harassment can often be invisible to those outside the South Asian community, but that does not mean it does not exist outside Asia. 

“I have been experiencing caste discrimination from my childhood, but I did not imagine that caste discrimination exists in the US, but then I experienced it myself. I was discriminated against within campus and outside campus,” said Pariyar, who is from Nepal. His caste are often not allowed to sit at the same table as higher castes or share food. 

Pariyar, who arrived in the US in 2015, said other South Asians “will ask your name, what does your father do. Their intention is to know my caste identity. In the beginning the conversation is respectful, but after knowing my caste identity that respect is gone,” he said.

“This is happening in California and not just in California but elsewhere in the US,” he added, saying he was left embarrassed, humiliated and depressed by these experiences and preferred not to go to get-togethers, house parties or other parties where there were other South Asian students present. 

Others who face caste discrimination are often reluctant to speak out because, in effect, it means revealing their caste origins. Some of them drop their surname or adopt a caste-neutral surname.  

“Many people do not feel comfortable talking about this type of discrimination and they want to hide their identity because they want to be protected; they don’t want harassment from dominant-caste people,” noted Pariyar, who says he is talking to other campuses about similar protections, including the University of California system – separate from the California State University system – starting with UC Berkeley. 

“We have to take it step by step,” said Pariyar, noting the victories in the CSU system and elsewhere along the way. 

The wording varies in different institutions. Brandeis University added this category in December 2019 that says caste is a recognised and protected characteristic in the school’s anti-discrimination policy. In September 2021, UC Davis added ‘caste or perceived caste’ as a category to its anti-discrimination policy. 

Colby College of Maine revised its non-discrimination policy to add caste to its list of ‘protections for the campus community’. In December 2021 Harvard, the first Ivy League university to do so, “added protections for caste-oppressed students” to its graduate student union contract.

Before CSU included it more broadly, some student and faculty organisations passed resolutions last year calling on the university to add caste to its anti-discrimination policy. These include the California Faculty Association, a CSU labour union, as part of their collective bargaining agreement, and Cal State Student Association, a non-profit representing students across the university, in April 2021.

“The student resolutions really matter because when the voice of the students from all 22 campuses say ‘we need this’, it’s huge. So that began the engagement with the [CSU] Chancellor’s office, and they have their own legal team. So they’re confident about the choices,” said Soundararajan. “But we also connected them with top legal scholars on caste in the United States.”

Periyar says it was an uphill battle. When the CSU-wide resolution came up, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a Hindu lobby group, vehemently opposed it. Its website includes a comment by Sunil Kumar, professor of engineering at San Diego State University. 

Rather than redressing discrimination, “it will actually cause discrimination by unconstitutionally singling out and targeting Hindu faculty of Indian and South Asian descent as members of a suspect class because of deeply entrenched, false stereotypes about Indians, Hindus and caste,” he said. 

HAF had been virtually silent until then, perhaps not understanding the significance of student and faculty resolutions. But Pariyar counters: “This policy is not dividing. It is a policy of inclusion. There are marginalised students and they need to be included.”

Berkeley’s Chatterji said: “Hindu nationalist organisations in the diaspora have repeatedly attempted to silence conversations around caste oppression, gender and Islamophobia. If systems of higher education in California determine to make caste a protected category, it will have an impact not just on California, but nationally.”

A ‘caste curriculum’

Becoming more inclusive is also important in the context of broadening diversity of incoming international students. 

“It is already a topic of conversation on campuses on how to diversity the pool of international students, [to know] what are the systemic forms of discrimination that exist over time and how can US institutions make sure they are reaching a broader diversity of South Asian students,” said international education consultant Rajika Bhandari. 

“On-the-ground understanding is definitely required, because if policies are not shaped by individuals who deeply understand the context, it can fall into a kind of neocolonialist framework or a very Americanised view of another countries’ social issues,” she said. 

Social stratification by caste, prevalent in India for centuries, has variations by region and community, even within India and its neighbouring countries, as well as further afield in South Africa, East Africa and Southeast Asia – particularly in Singapore and Malaysia, the Caribbean and elsewhere with communities from South Asia, often since British colonial times. Its complexity is difficult to explain to others. 

Pariyar agrees universities will need to understand caste better in order to be truly inclusive. 

“Adding caste is not enough, application is very important,” he said. “We need a caste equity action plan”. 

“We need training and a curriculum. We need to train all the diversity and inclusion committee members, all the faculty within the CSU system about the gravity of caste discrimination, what it is and how it exists. There is visible discrimination and invisible discrimination and they need to understand that,” Pariyar said, adding that the university system needs to hire experts to train staff and faculty.  

Some of this expertise is provided by Equality Labs which says it helps institutions develop better tools and know the process of how to identify discriminatory behaviour on the basis of caste.

“Institutions need to create real metrics – enrolment metrics, application metrics – to get a sense of what the baseline of crimes or incidents are, then to be able to bring it down. Data is the key – if we don’t begin with a set of really strong KPIs [key performance indicators], we can’t measure progress,” said Soundararajan.

Source: Caste has become a university diversity issue in the US

Almost one in five Canadian truckers is South Asian, but many don’t see themselves represented in the trucker convoy

Of note (judging by television coverage, mainly white with few visible minorities in the protest):

When the freedom convoy was rolling into Canada’s capital this week, Arshdeep Singh Kang was more than 4,440 kilometres away in Los Angeles making a delivery.

The 30-year-old long-haul trucker followed the news of the convoy on his phone during rest stops, but he certainly had no desire to be part of it.

“I don’t believe in the issues they are raising,” Mr. Kang said. “I know there are some South Asian people who support this convoy, but I couldn’t see any of my people in the videos of the convoy.”

According to the 2016 census, South Asians comprise 18 per cent of all Canadian truckers. In major cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, they make up more than half the industry’s work force.

And yet many drivers such as Mr. Kang have no stake in the protest in Ottawa, even though its supporters have dubbed it a “truckers’ movement.”

Jagroop Singh, the president of the Ontario Aggregate Trucking Association, said, “Nobody invited me or any South Asian truckers I know. In fact, we don’t even know who the organizers of this protest are. Nobody asked us if we agree with their demands.”

The convoy may have started as a protest against vaccine mandates, which some truckers say threaten their livelihoods, but it has now embraced several issues. It has drawn support from far-right and extremist groups, with one vlogger even saying he hoped it would become “Canada’s Jan. 6” – a reference to the deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol last year by a mob of Donald Trump supporters and right-wing groups. Many Ottawa residents and journalists have reported seeing Confederate flags in the convoy.

Mr. Kang is a resident of Brampton, Ont., which is considered the heart of the trucking industry in the Greater Toronto Area. As of 2019, Brampton and surrounding Peel Region were home to approximately 2,000 trucking companies. But the convoy’s stand against vaccine mandates will find few supporters in the region, where 90 per cent of residents are double vaccinated as of Wednesday, and about 40 per cent have received booster shots.

Manan Gupta, the publisher of Road Today magazine, which caters to the South Asian trucking community in Canada, said “not only is there no anti-vaccine sentiment among South Asian truckers, but there is also an acute need to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible. Immigrant families in places like Brampton and Mississauga live in multigenerational families. A South Asian trucker doesn’t want to catch COVID, only to come back and infect the grandparents.”

Mr. Singh added, “I understand that mandates can be frustrating, but everyone should get vaccinated to protect their loved ones. We’ve encouraged all our members to get their shots as soon as possible. We’re even getting our kids vaccinated now.”

Ravish Garg, who regularly drives a Toronto-Chicago route, said, “I was hesitant at first, but I believe the experts. After getting my shots, I can drive carefree.”

Many of the freedom convoy’s supporters say they are not opposed to vaccines but to mandates. But Mr. Garg said opposing Ottawa’s rules won’t help. “Canada isn’t the only country in the world that has mandates. If you want to drive long-haul, you will have to enter the United States. And you can’t fight America’s vaccine mandate. It’s easier for everyone if we all just get the shot.”

Mr. Kang says the convoy may simply prove to be a distraction from some of the more systemic issues plaguing the trucking community. “They don’t stand for the issues that they should be standing for. Ask any trucker who drives through Western Canada or Northern Ontario how dangerous those roads are. There are hardly any rest stops. When you do find a place, there’s no parking,” he said.

Mr. Gupta said, “Northern Ontario has single-lane highways for trucks. Drivers have been demanding the twinning of highways for a very long time.”

While most South Asian drivers may not be taking part in the convoy, Brampton truckers are no strangers to protests. Mr. Kang was among the many agitating for better working conditions and fair wages last year. “Wage theft is a major issue across the trucking industry, not just in Brampton,” he said. “There are employers who don’t pay their drivers. These are the real issues we should all be uniting over, not vaccine mandates.”

Mr. Singh said trucking is an industry in crisis. “Inflation is hitting us hard. Drivers are quitting every day. Trucking companies are folding every day. The cost of trucking is increasing every day, but truckers are still expected to work at rates they were paid back in the 1980s. Trucking is becoming a tough business.

“If only we came together for the issues that are putting us out of business.”


How mental health issues get stigmatized in South Asian communities: Culturally diverse therapy needed

Captures some of the internal and external challenges:

A silent mental health crisis exists among South Asian communities. Many studies have shown that South Asian immigrants in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom experience high rates of mental health disorders, sometimes higher than their peers. Some of the reasons include intergenerational conflict or the stress of adapting into western society

But mental health is deeply stigmatized in many South Asian communities and symptoms are often trivialized. To counter this, South Asian families need to be more deeply educated on risk factors that can lead to mental health conditions. With this knowledge, they can identify some of the early signs of mental health issues.

As a PhD candidate in clinical neuropsychology at the University of Windsor, some of my current research involves adapting cognitive assessment methods to people who speak Urdu or Hindi. I also started @Braincoach, an Instagram stream to share my science-based knowledge. 

Straddling different worlds

Children of South Asian immigrants may face challenges associated with the pressure of straddling two different worlds. While trying to fit into a western society that prides itself on individual expression, they may find themselves navigating a culture at home where personal boundaries are blurred, and self-identity is determined by the validation of their family and community.

The collectivist nature of South Asian culture can feel comforting and supportive with close-knit family ties and a sense of connection to something larger than the self. However, in South Asian families individuals can also feel pressure to sacrifice their personal desires for the expectations of their family.

Pursuing goals that diverge from the expectations of the family and community is perceived to be selfish. This leads to heightened levels of psychological stress and interference with the identity formation process, especially when a person feels a stronger connection to the dominant western culture.

Struggles about career or dating

Two prominent causes of family conflict arise when South Asian adolescents and young adults wish to start dating or pursue a career that is discerned to be unacceptable by the parents. This creates an internal struggle among South Asians who have been socialized to believe that family loyalty is of utmost importance. 

Some may still follow through with their desires in secrecy, but live in a constant fear of being found out. Others may comply with the expectations required of them, but at the cost of losing their sense of self, their self-concept. In both scenarios, mental health and resiliency is compromised in the long term.

When young South Asian adults pursue a career that their family approves of instead of one that they find personally fulfilling, they might feel proud for maintaining family expectations. But how long does this pride last? 

Research has repeatedly demonstrated that a fulfilling career leads to better life satisfaction, and as a result, lower psychological problems. This choice is ripped away from many children of South Asian immigrants who end up feeling stuck in careers they do not find meaningful, ultimately leading to a negative impact on their overall mental wellness and relationships. 

When it comes to dating, cultural expectations of South Asian families can conflict with western norms. For many youth, entering into a relationship prior to marriage is discouraged. Consequently, many young South Asians keep their relationships hidden due to internalized shame and a fear of being rejected by their families

This is another reason for mental health challenges like depression and anxiety, especially in women who may feel like they are putting the family’s honour at risk by dating. 

Culturally relevant therapy needed

South Asians seeking psychological services often feel misunderstood by health-care providers and then get discouraged from getting further help. Traditional psychotherapy has been founded on normalized versions of western, middle-class families. These approaches to therapy are difficult to translate across language and cultures without appropriate modification. 

This means that many western-trained therapists may find it difficult to comprehend the deeply ingrained cultural nuances of South Asian communities. 

There is a strong need for culturally sound therapy. 

To encourage culturally sensitive therapy, mental health professionals must actively make an effort in understanding their client’s cultural background and belief system through continued education and consultation with colleagues from a similar cultural background. 

It is also important that South Asian youth and families have discussions about their mental health struggles and learn ways to improve them. One way to do this is to ask mental health experts to host community workshops specifically for South Asian communities. This could lead to more awareness of the diversity of mental health conditions and knowledge on how to seek help and resources within their communities


India is in a COVID-19 crisis. South Asian-Canadians are weeping from afar, but also seeing devastating parallels for our people in Ontario

Captures well some of the dilemmas facing diaspora communities:

11,627 km.

That’s the distance from my house in Peel to Delhi, India, where the majority of my family lives.

This past week has been extremely difficult as a first generation Canadian born in India. I watch the devastation occurring in my hometown, and can’t help but see the parallels happening here in Ontario within the South Asian community. Immigrants like myself are fighting two pandemics – one here and one tens of thousands kilometres away, and it weighs heavily, each and every day.

On March 23, India had 40,000 COVID-19 cases. Fastforward to April 22, that number rose to 330,000. This is what exponential growth looks like. Experts believe these numbers are vastly under-reported by a margin of at least 10 times. Even if 10 per cent of these were hospitalized, with the average COVID-19 related hospital or ICU stay being 15 days, there is simply no healthcare system in the world that has the capacity to sustain such volume.

The situation in India is grave and complex. India saw a sharp decline in cases earlier this year, with around 10,000 cases on average per day in February. This unfortunately led to a sense of complacency, with some experts claiming preemptively that the country had achieved herd immunity. Subsequently, life returned to a form of “normalcy,” with weddings, religious festivals and political rallies being commonplace. Even Kumbh Mela, which is one of the largest gatherings in the world that sees upwards of 110 million people over the duration of the festival and up to 30 million people per day, went ahead as planned.

Complacency, however, wasn’t the only factor that led us to this situation. It’s a culmination of other factors. India has one of the lowest testing capacities per capita, with only 0.4 tests conducted per 10,000 people. India also has a much slower vaccination program. While India has manufactured large quantities of vaccines, it has distributed the majority of these globally. It is one of the largest suppliers into the COVAX program, accounting for 60 per cent of global vaccine supply. Meanwhile, less than 10 per cent of India’s own population has received one dose of the vaccine, with only 1 per cent fully vaccinated with two doses.

In addition, India now has a potentially concerning new variant, B.1.617, that amongst many mutations has two critical ones — L452R and E484Q — within the spike protein, making it more transmissible and possibly able to evade pre-existing immunity. It is still unknown whether vaccines are efficacious against this variant.

The stories, pictures and videos coming out of India are devastating. Scenes of people lying on the ground on the street with oxygen masks connected to empty tanks, dying outside of hospitals that did not have capacity to take them in, health care systems collapsing. There are make-shift outdoor hospitals, mass cremations sites, and reports of families having to keep dead bodies of relatives at home for two days because there was no wood left to build a funeral pyre. Hospital with mere hours left of oxygen supply.

Many in the South Asian diaspora are carrying the burden of knowing our own family members are amongst those affected. My father, who lives with me, spends his entire day calling each and every one of his family and friends. So many infected, many hospitalized, many searching for hospitals. Daily updates, sometimes hourly. Everytime he utters Hari Om Tat Sat (a sanskrit mantra) I wait with baited breath. I feel helpless remembering we are again, 11,627 km, apart — a number I can’t stop thinking about.

What hurts my heart even more is knowing that what is occurring to my people in India is also occurring here on Canadian soil. South Asians have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The pandemic has been deeply inequitable, from support and protections to testing and now access to vaccines. Further, we are seeing additional stigmatization of South Asians due to this new variant now being found in Canada despite the fact that the primary reason for transmission remains to be structural barriers faced by our racialized communities. And like me, they are dealing with two pandemics — the one here and the one back home.

It really feels like because our skin is brown, our lives mean less. But we didn’t get to choose the colour of skin we were born into our socioeconomic status. We didn’t get to choose the country we were born in.

It was heartbreaking to see the world’s response to India’s crisis. Canada shut its borders. Simultaneously, our Premier’s office contacted the Indian high commissioner to request additional AstraZeneca vaccines in spite of the current crisis. The United States of America continues to sit on unused AstraZeneca vaccines and withhold raw materials required for India to manufacture more vaccines. This ‘me first’ strategy is not only inequitable, it is unwise because we know how the pandemic unfolds in one country will eventually happen in another.

And this is why vaccine nationalism is lethal. Your access to vaccines and subsequent right to life is dependent on factors that are out of your control. It is the stark inequities, the perpetuation of discrimination, the haves vs the have nots, the unfairness of it all that weighs heavily on me.

India gasps for air and burns with funeral pyres. But these lives don’t seem to matter. Because they’re brown.

I can’t stop crying. Because my heart can’t take it anymore.


Paradkar: Covidiots come in all colours. Using race-based data to demonize South Asians is a cruel twisting of the evidence

The politically correct response to the thoughtful discussion of the cultural aspects by South Asian doctors (South Asians play a part in COVID-19 transmission and we need to acknowledge it).

More interesting analysis and commentary would contrast the low COVID-19 rates in Richmond, largely Chinese Canadians, with the high rates in Surrey, largely Indo-Canadians to assess the relative importance of socioeconomic and cultural factors.

Average household size is largely comparable: 2.6 in Richmond Centre and 2.7 in Steveston-Richmond, 2.7 in Surrey Centre but 3.4 in Surrey-Newton.

Participation rates are slightly higher in Surrey while male unemployment rates are comparable. However, female unemployment rates are higher in Surrey. Median incomes for both men and women are largely comparable although Steveston-Richmond median incomes are slightly higher.

Both socioeconomic and cultural factors play a role, it is not one or the other:

From the barbaric East Asians and their bat-eating habits to the villainous South Asians and their dangerous socializing habits, the COVID-19 narrative has traced an interesting if richly racist trajectory in the eight months since it has afflicted us.

Across the U.K., Canada, the U.S. and other nations, the pandemic is unveiling what health experts have always known: structures birthed in bias and driven by principles of profit have gone on to exacerbate the suffering of people living in the margins.

In June, a study by Public Health England said Black and Asian people in England are up to 50 per cent more likely to die after being infected with COVID-19. 

In the U.S., analysis by the APM research lab shows Black, Indigenous and Latino Americans experience a death rate triple or more that of white Americans from COVID-19, adjusted for age.

And in Canada a StatsCan report last month found people in large visible minority neighbourhoods in B.C, Quebec and Ontario had a much higher likelihood of dying than mostly white neighbourhoods. 

There is a growing discussion, in particular, on the role of South Asians who account for nearly half the cases of COVID-19 in the GTA’s Peel region, although they populate about a third of it. Of the 1,417 new cases of COVID-19 Ontario reported Wednesday, about a third, or 463, came from Peel.

All this data. 

Data is important to pinpoint where weaknesses lie and where solutions are needed. But of what use data if the collection itself is seen as action against those inequities? Of what use data if the analysis is used to blame communities for cultural deficiencies and individuals for systemic failures?

As the Peel example shows, layer that data with anecdotes and personal experiences of irresponsible socializing and snap, a simplistic narrative is born.

In an essay published last week in the Royal Society of Canada, University of Toronto professor Rinaldo Walcott slammed the gap between calls for race-based data collection and claims it leads to better policy making.

“Race-based data can quite frankly slow down reform,” he wrote. “ ‘Doing the research’ when a problem is already identified and its solutions known, means the collection of race-based data does not actually add much to policymaking. In fact, in some cases, it can do more harm than good.” 

Toronto Public Health data has consistently shown disproportionate impacts of COVID in the city’s northwest. Sané Dube, a manager of Community and Policy with Social Medicine at the University Health Network, often takes the 29 Dufferin bus that goes through some of the worst-affected areas. “The 29 often looks like there’s no pandemic. The bus is so full. And people who are going to work are on that bus. Same with the 35 on Jane.” 

Public health could ask the TTC to provide more buses on those routes, she says, so that people — many of whom are essential workers, “you know, the people we need to work to be able to survive the pandemic” — don’t have to be on crowded buses. 

That is one example of evidence-based action. 

If Black people have long been treated as having a cultural abnormality with their broken families — think of the single-mom and absent-father tropes — without a thought to why those families have been ripped apart, now it’s the turn of South Asians to be demonized for the opposite, their multi-generation family homes and their socializing habits. 

That there is an affordable housing crisis is well-known. Earlier this month Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown announced Peel was getting an isolation hotel, a place for people with precarious employment or living in crowded housing to isolate safely. This is another example of evidence-based action. But why the delay?

“That Peel is getting this now — we are in Month 8 of the pandemic. Why are we just getting this now?” Dube asks. 

“There is complexity behind this data that goes far deeper than South Asian “culture” or “values,”” Seher Shafiq wrote in First Policy Response, a new project by Ryerson Leadership Lab and other institutions that publishes policy ideas, where she is a managing editor. 

“South Asians, like their other racialized peers on the frontlines of this pandemic, are disproportionately employed in precarious jobs in the service industry and gig economy – brewing Tim Hortons coffee, bagging groceries and delivering UberEats orders. This means they are exposed to the virus in their day-to-day lives.”

This “model minority” was hardest hit by the pandemic recession in October, according to StatsCan. 

It’s easier to pathologize communities than implement evidence-based action. Easier to berate people for parties and “multi-day weddings” than to examine if there are adequate testing sites, if they are easily accessible by public transit and if there are adequate supports for those who do test positive.

I have little doubt there are brown covidiots out there, in large homes and small, who think they are impervious to the virus and socialize irresponsibly. I have seen no evidence yet that they are disproportionately more so than any other racial or ethnic group. If there is a blip in numbers after Diwali this past weekend, will it be solidly more than the blip after Thanksgiving? More than after Christmas? 

Covidiocy may be unrelated to race but this much is clear: race and culture are very much related to who gets scrutiny and who escapes it. 

As East Asians — ironically among the least impacted by the virus — will testify, it doesn’t take long for the blame game to spill over to people and their cultures.


South Asians play a part in COVID-19 transmission and we need to acknowledge it

Important and courageous piece by South Asian Canadian doctors:

Canadian society is an interwoven matrix of multiculturalism that contributes to the strength of our nation. The South Asian community comprises a significant part of this rich heterogeneity. Today, we write to you both as physicians, and also members of this vibrant community.

South Asian culture itself is extremely diverse, but there are some themes that are common throughout the vast subcontinent. One such theme is hospitality to others, no matter what background or creed. A guest leaving your house on an empty stomach is considered a travesty, and results in long meals and conversation. 

We grew up with a strong bond with our elderly relatives, and many of us still live in multi-generational families, respecting the traditions of our ancestors before us. Our weddings, cultural holidays, and music nights celebrate not only our unique culture, but embrace the family and friends that enrich our lives. This is the ethos that shaped us as health care providers and human beings. 

COVID-19 has changed the life of everyone on the planet, and South Asians are certainly no exception. The virus that transmits from person to person (especially in close, indoor environments) are the same places we find the most comfort in our community. While we all have been given the same public health advice and messaging, it is increasingly apparent that some groups are being affected harder than others. 

It is time to acknowledge that South Asians are acquiring and dying of COVID-19 at a degree higher than other Canadians, and we need to take immediate action.

The evidence is fairly profound. In Peel Region, one of the hardest hit areas across the country, South Asians account for about a third of the population, but account for almost half the COVID-19 cases. 

COVID-19 has changed the life of everyone on the planet, and South Asians are certainly no exception. The virus that transmits from person to person (especially in close, indoor environments) are the same places we find the most comfort in our community. While we all have been given the same public health advice and messaging, it is increasingly apparent that some groups are being affected harder than others. 

It is time to acknowledge that South Asians are acquiring and dying of COVID-19 at a degree higher than other Canadians, and we need to take immediate action.

The evidence is fairly profound. In Peel Region, one of the hardest hit areas across the country, South Asians account for about a third of the population, but account for almost half the COVID-19 cases. 

In Toronto, despite only being about a tenth of the population, South Asians account for a fifth of total cases. The city of Surrey in British Columbia, where approximately 30 per cent identify as South Asian, there have been three times the number of cases of any other greater Vancouver area. 

Many well publicized COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada have been associated with South Asian events, such as weddings. When these infections are later introduced into a large, multi-generational household, it’s easy to see how the problem can compound quickly. 

What are the consequences of this spread? South Asian populations are at higher risk for dying of COVID-19. Canadian data suggests the rate of death is 25 per cent higher in neighbourhoods with large South Asian communities as compared to those with small communities. 

A large study from the United Kingdom suggested South Asians were more likely to die of COVID-19 than the general population. The high rates of underlying diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and obesity within the South Asian population are the very profile of risk factors that increase the risk of hospitalization, intensive care stay, and death with COVID-19. 

Furthermore, South Asians have a strong presence in public-facing professions in health care, commercial business, and the service/manufacturing industry, creating a higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 outside of home. 

Financial instability, particularly amongst new Canadians, creates disincentives for testing and participating in contact tracing. People afraid of losing income are liable to go to work even if feeling unwell thereby further propagating the spread of infection. 

Family structures, embracing our multi-generational cultures, create situations where young and old mix with prolonged close contact. Stigmatization, particularly of those who need to go into isolation or infect others, creates more hesitancy around testing when symptomatic. 

The next few months pose a difficult journey for COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the time for action is now. Our health care providers, communication experts, cultural and religious leaders, and the community as a whole need to embrace this challenge. 

Our values teach us the ethics of protecting our communities, and in this pandemic, protecting our most vulnerable members is a part of that. We need to examine our day-to-day activities, and provide support for one another, but in a safe way where non-essential contact is minimized. 

Indoor gatherings of individuals outside of our direct household must be temporarily stopped in order to limit spread — particularly with large celebrations, such as Diwali, upcoming. 

We need to be creative with outdoor spaces, trying to allow for some in person interaction while minimizing risk. 

We need to create virtual support networks to provide the stability and welfare of our community. 

We need to reach those suffering mental health and other consequences of the pandemic. 

Finally, we need to create culturally and linguistically appropriate materials to disseminate amongst our hardest to reach, encouraging distancing, hand hygiene, masking, self evaluation for symptoms, how to access testing, and holistic support for those who test positive. 

From a societal standpoint — a recognition of this minority community that has been hit particularly hard is paramount. Partnering with our local public health units and trying to engage our community leaders is essential for creating a position of trust. Understanding the cultural contexts that are unique to our population, such as multi-generational families, public-facing occupations, poor English literacy, and densely populated communities, allow for individualized planning that benefits society as a whole. 

The next few months pose a difficult journey for COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the time for action is now. Our health care providers, communication experts, cultural and religious leaders, and the community as a whole need to embrace this challenge. 

Creating campaigns discouraging large gatherings around festive events, rites of passage, and religious ceremonies, with local cultural leaders will help to prevent scenarios involving sustained indoor spread. Encouraging healthy workplaces, particularly reinforcing indoor masking and avoidance of prolonged close contact is paramount. 

The successes of these campaigns will not only benefit the South Asian population, but given how interwoven we are, the larger community will also prosper. The financial and human resource needs should be prioritized for the greater good of our society.

Many of our community made incredible sacrifices leaving their homes across the globe to reestablish themselves in Canada for the promise of a better life. We are fortunate in Canada to live in a society where our customs and traditions can be practiced freely, and we can contribute to the growth and success of our nation in all sectors. 

The time has come for us to recognize that collaboration with internal and external stakeholders in the South Asian community will lead to more sustainable outcomes for COVID-19 transmission, and the health of our community. 

Dr. Zain Chagla is an infectious diseases physician, St Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton and associate professor at McMaster University.Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti is an infectious diseases physician in Mississauga and a lecturer at the University of Toronto.Dr. Tajinder Kaura is an emergency medicine physician at the William Osler Health System and a clinical assistant professor (Adj) at McMaster University.