• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

Canada How Harper Is Courting South Asians

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Canadian Federal Elections: May 2, 2011

How Harper is courting South Asians

April 24, 2011
Haroon Siddiqui - The Star, Toronto

It's misleading to say that the Conservatives are wooing the 1.3 million-strong South Asian community. They are wooing only small segments of it, the same way they are soliciting votes from selected slices of the Canadian population.

“South Asian,” a Statistics Canada designation, refers to Canadians from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and from the Indian diaspora in Africa, the Caribbean, the Far East and Fiji.

Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, minister in-charge of Conservative re-election, are not courting the 133,000 Pakistani Canadians, except one slice of that demographic. They are not after the 105,000-strong Sri Lankan Canadians — neither Tamils nor Sinhalese. They are not after the 33,000 Bangladeshi Canadians. They are not after the sizeable but disparate diaspora Indians, except for one segment.

They are really after the 500,000 Indo-Canadians. Sorry, even that's not accurate. They are after two of three main religious groups, Sikhs and Hindus, but not Muslims.

The Conservatives were initially reluctant to approach the Sikhs, seeing them as an impenetrable Liberal fortress. But following the 2006 election, in which they bombed in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, they had no option but to make inroads into visible minority communities, specifically the three largest groups — South Asians, Chinese and Arabs.

Having cast his lot with Jewish Canadians, Harper ignored the 750,000 Muslims who encompass Arabs, South Asians, West Asians (Afghans, Iranians) and others. To him, being pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli meant being anti-Arab and anti-Muslim. He cancelled funding for the Canadian Arab Federation and never stepped into a mainstream mosque.

He made an exception for the smaller but successful and cohesive Ismaili Muslim community, led by the Aga Khan, who has picked Canada as home for his Pluralism Centre and his Islamic art collection.

Harper also courted those who had fled persecution in Muslim lands — Ahmadis from Pakistan, Copts from Egypt, Maronites from Lebanon, Bahai's from Iran, etc.

That left the Chinese and the South Asians.

The Chinese were divided among those from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. But they were united in lobbying Ottawa for redress for the head tax paid by Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century. Harper offered an apology and compensation. And he stopped talking about human rights violations in China.

South Asians had overtaken the Chinese as the largest vis-min group. And India had emerged as an economic and geopolitical giant. Harper wooed India, signing bilateral deals and opening new consulates there. That pleased Indo-Canadians, especially Hindus — more particularly those with an anti-Muslim tinge.

There were also tensions between Hindus and Sikhs, dating back to 1984-85 — Indian troops storming the Golden Temple to flush out militant separatists; Indira Gandhi assassinated by her Sikh body guards; angry mobs in Delhi killing about 3,000 Sikhs in retaliation; and an Air India flight from Toronto bombed, killing all 329 on board, most of them Hindu Canadians.

Moderate Canadian Sikhs, worried about militancy in the ranks, channelled Sikhs into peaceful political process. Thus began the Sikh stampede to the Liberal party. Sikhs became the most politically active South Asians. Twenty-one of the 27 MPs and members of legislatures belonging to the Canadian Parliamentarians of Indian Origin are Sikhs, and 20 are Liberal.

On the Air India issue, Harper apologized to the families of the victims for how the Canadian probe into the bombing had been bungled. In Toronto, he unveiled a monument to the tragedy.

To the Sikhs, he apologized for Canada's refusal in 1914 to allow a ship, the Komagata Maru, carrying mostly Sikhs to dock in Vancouver. He also visited the Golden Temple, wearing the traditional head-covering, similar to what he wore last week in Vancouver at a gathering of Sikhs. And Kenney — “the minister of curry in a hurry” — has been all over Toronto and Vancouver.

Meanwhile, Michael Ignatieff has taken a more abstract stance, which he articulated during the leaders' televised debate:

“We've got to take the politics out of multiculturalism. Minister Kenney has been segmenting the country into ‘ethnic' and ‘very ethnic.' It causes enormous resentment among Canadians. Newcomers most want to be treated as Canadian. A Canadian is a Canadian . . . But if we start micro-targeting communities and putting one community against another the way Minister Kenney's been doing, that's going to break up the multicultural society.”





📌 For all latest updates, follow the Official Sikh Philosophy Network Whatsapp Channel: