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Gurpreet Singh

The recent incident involving Manjinder Singh Sirsa, a BJP Sikh MLA from Delhi, who slapped two convicts in the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre, is nothing but a drama.

The two men were found guilty by the court for being involved in the state sponsored violence directed at the Sikh community following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.

The slain leader’s ruling Congress party had organized pogroms against the Sikhs across India. Thousands of Sikh men were brutally killed. Many were burnt alive by mobs instigated by the Congress party activists in connivance with the police. The victims’ families continue to await justice as the top Congress leaders involved have remained unpunished.

Sirsa and his supporters are trying to defend his action by citing emotions that are running high within the Sikh community. Had this action been done by anyone from the victims’ families it would be understandable, but since Sirsa represents a party that currently rules the country, it raises too many questions.

First of all, the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP is itself a sectarian party that was involved in similar violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Will Sirsa dare to go and slap people involved in that massacre, considering the fact that the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was complicit in the episode?

Also, it has been well documented that despite the Congress government being directly responsible for the Sikh massacre, BJP supporters participated in the carnage as foot soldiers. Indira Gandhi’s son Rajeev Gandhi won the general election that followed the massacre, with a huge mandate riding on an anti-Sikh wave that was a result of the high profile murder and Sikh militancy for a separate homeland in Punjab. The BJP during that election was decimated, as the right wing Hindu vote shifted in favour of Rajeev Gandhi, who had publicly justified the violence against Sikhs.

If Sirsa is genuinely angry, he should at least force the present BJP government to strip Rajeev Gandhi of Bharat Ratna – a highest civilian award given to him.

So much so, he needs to ask his party leaders what have they done until now to deliver justice for 1984?  This isn’t the first time that the BJP has come to power. There has been a BJP government in the past too, so why do the victims’ families continue to suffer?

Sirsa isn’t the only Sikh face. Tejinder Bagga, another Sikh BJP supporter, has been openly defending a right-wing media commentator whose twitter handle was withdrawn for making provocative posts, including the one that justified the 1984 Sikh massacre. She had described it as a reaction to the killings of innocent Hindus in Punjab by the Sikh militants. Will Sirsa dare to slap Bagga?

An Indian diplomat posted in New York also recently linked the anti-Sikh massacre with the violence perpetuated by Sikh separatists. If Sirsa is so concerned, he should first ask his political masters in power to stop this vilification campaign against those seeking justice, rather than trying to get media attention by slapping some mobsters and playing with the sentiments of the Sikh community.

Sirsa is in the habit of making a big fuss about religious sentiments being hurt by the Bollywood stars, but all the time has himself tried to exploit the sentiments of the Sikhs by indulging in gimmickry.

His silence on the ongoing attacks on religious minorities in India ever since Modi became Prime Minister in 2014 is equally problematic. If he claims to be a real Sikh, then he must follow what Sikhism teaches us, which is to stand up for the rights of others as well.

Turning to the so-called secularist Congress party, they too have lost moral grounds to condemn the BJP on the question of communalism. It’s a shame that the Congress has not sincerely acknowledged its involvement in the massacre. The Congress leader, Rajeev Gandhi’s son Rahul Gandhi, has repeatedly denied his party’s involvement in the bloodshed. Although former Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made an apology for 1984 to the nation, he never admitted the complicity of the party or the state. Until the Congress makes an honest acknowledgement and tries to amend its mistakes, the BJP will keep taking advantage of the issue of 1984 to hide its own crimes.

Gurpreet Singh

November 27 marks the tenth anniversary of the passing away of Vishwanath Pratap Singh aka V.P. Singh - the former Prime Minister of India.

Singh died following a battle with cancer. He had served the world’s so-called largest democracy as Prime Minister from 1989-1990 and left behind a rich legacy of secularism, but the news of his death was eclipsed by the Mumbai terror attack a day before on November 26, 2008. While the incident that left 166 people dead rightfully captured media headlines, there was certainly more to the virtual silence over the news of his death.

Though Singh came from a royal family, history will always see him as a leader with poor man’s lens.

He had started his political career with the Congress party from Uttar Pradesh. However, he later parted ways with the party under the leadership of the late Rajeev Gandhi. The turning point came when he was forced to resign as Defence Minister in Gandhi’s government after he came to learn about high level corruption in the country’s defence deals.

He later cofounded Janata Dal, which came to power with the help of the left parties and the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). This was a new political experiment that brought the left and the right together to form a non-Congress coalition government.

Singh took over as Prime Minister under very challenging circumstances. There was an insurgency going on in Punjab for a separate Sikh homeland, while Kashmiri militants were also calling shots for independence. Gandhi had left behind not only the legacy of corruption, but also communal politics. He rode to power riding an anti-Sikh tide in December 1984, in the aftermath of the Sikh massacre organized by the Congress party following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister and Rajeev’s mother, by her Sikh bodyguards. The slain leader had ordered a military invasion on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar in June 1984 to flush out religious extremists who had stockpiled weapons inside the place of worship. The ill-conceived army operation left many devotees dead and several important buildings inside the complex heavily damaged. This had enraged the Sikhs worldwide and led to the murder of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984.

As if this wasn’t enough, the BJP had intensified its campaign for building a Ram temple at a disputed site of Ayodhya. The BJP claims that Mughal emperor Babar had destroyed an original temple that stood at the birthplace of Lord Ram – a revered Hindu god in Ayodhya - and had built a mosque to humiliate the Hindus. They wanted the mosque to be replaced with a temple. Their vicious campaign culminated in the demolition of the mosque in 1992 by Hindu mobs. To outdo the BJP, Rajeev Gandhi also allowed the Hindus to perform prayers at the disputed site, and further precipitated the crisis by letting public broadcast relay a TV serial based on Ramayan.

Singh therefore had a tough road ahead. In spite of these challenges, he never wavered from his stand on secularism and proved himself as a diehard defender of diversity.

In order to assuage the feelings of the Sikhs, he travelled to the Golden Temple Complex in an open jeep to start a dialogue with the Sikh leadership. Years later, while he was visiting US for cancer treatment,  he told me during a phone interview for Radio India in Surrey that he had especially asked a Sikh soldier with an unsheathed sword to be deployed behind him when he addressed the nation on Independence Day, to let the world know that his government trusted the Sikh community and wanted to restore their confidence in the Indian mainstream.

A Sikh friend of mine was the son of Harinder Singh Khalsa, a former Indian diplomat and currently an Aam Aadmi MP, who had resigned in protest against the army attack on the Golden Temple Complex. He told me that Singh’s government gave his father a safe passage to return to India. Khalsa, who was posted in Norway, was framed by the Indian authorities and couldn’t come back home until V.P. Singh came to power.

Singh had also taken a very strong stand in support of affirmative action for Dalits or so-called untouchables and backward groups, by increasing their reservation quota in public sector jobs. This enraged the BJP and the upper caste elite. There were angry protests everywhere in the country. I still remember that in Chandigarh, where we lived at that time, the upper caste elite spearheaded agitations against Singh and he was publicly abused by the protesters. One night they asked the people who lived in our locality to switch off the lights in the entire block to protest against reservation. My father, who supported Singh and disliked Rajeev Gandhi, was firm and decided to defy these dictates. He honestly believed that Singh was doing the right thing by trying to help uplift the communities that were oppressed for years by the upper caste elite.

The BJP was openly inciting the protesters. After all, it believes in the caste system that is still practiced by orthodox Hindus, and desires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. Even as the BJP was supporting Singh’s coalition government from outside, it was constantly flexing its muscles on the question of caste and religious identity to consolidate majority Hindu votes for a future election.

Singh’s government finally fell when the BJP was adamant to carry on its controversial chariot march to Ayodhya. It happened in November, 1990, when a chariot march led by BJP leader L.K. Advani was stopped in Bihar under the orders of Singh’s trusted ally, the staunch secularist Chief Minister Lalu Yadav. Both Singh and Yadav did not want the BJP to vitiate communal harmony in the country. Singh obviously knew the risk involved, but instead of going with the flow for political survival, let Yadav go ahead and arrest Advani. This led to a vote of no confidence against Singh in the parliament. While Singh did receive support from the left parties, his government was defeated in the no confidence motion and soon became history.

Singh’s exit from power gave right wing politics room to grow in the coming years. Not only was the mosque in Ayodhya razed to the ground under the command of the BJP, it led to more violence and bloodshed. There were anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai followed by serial bombings blamed on Islamic extremists.

In 2002, a train carrying Hindu pilgrims returning to Gujarat from Ayodhya, where a makeshift temple still stands, caught fire leaving more than 50 people dead. The BJP government in Gujarat, led by the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, blamed Muslim extremists for the incident. The whole episode was followed by anti-Muslim massacres engineered by the BJP supporters.

The Mumbai attack that happened exactly ten years ago cannot be seen in isolation from those past incidents of communal violence and serial blasts, which have their roots in the sectarian politics of 1980s. Ironically, Singh, who stood for secularism and humanism, passed away when Mumbai was under siege.

I still remember him warning me during the interview that the BJP poses a great danger to secular fabric of Indian society. Incidentally, this interview took place after the 2002 violence in Gujarat.

Today under Modi, Muslims, Christians and Dalits are being targeted all across India by Hindu extremists with impunity. Had Singh been allowed to run his government, or had he ever been given a brute majority by the Indian electorate, the history of India would have been different. It would have been very easy and comfortable for Singh to align himself with the Hindu majority and enjoy the fruits of power, instead of standing up for minorities and the oppressed communities. Instead, he chose the most difficult path to become a champion of the underdog. His legacy has become even more relevant when we look around to see how leaders like Modi or Trump are openly indulging in divisive politics and promoting majoritarianism, while minorities continue to live in fear.  The silence over his death and its tenth anniversary only shows how majoritarianism has penetrated into the media industry. This is not to suggest that Singh was a perfect politician. He may have had many limitations and contradictions, like other political figures, but we must give credit where it belongs and keep alive the memories of his contribution to social justice.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

 

It is time for Canada to stand up and break its silence over what is going on in the world’s so called largest democracy.

One way of doing this would be to give India-based world renowned author Arundhati Roy Honorary Canadian Citizenship, an honour earlier given to political figures such as Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi for standing up for human rights and democracy in other parts of the world. Though Suu Kyi was stripped of the Honorary Citizenship recently for remaining indifferent to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by the Buddhist extremists and army officials, the fact remains that Canada had earlier recognized her resistance against military dictatorship.

Roy, whose birthday falls on November 24, has been to Canada at least twice, including her last visit in connection with the launch of her latest novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Her previous novel, The God of Small Things got her the Booker Prize Award. Both novels give voice to the poor and marginalized in India. While her first novel takes a critical look at the Indian left for its hypocrisy on the question of caste-based oppression, the second one is more critical of the current right wing Hindu nationalist regime under which the minorities continue to be tormented.

Roy is a no nonsense writer who has established herself as a powerful essayist. She has traveled extensively, displaying her ability to question the power anywhere in the world. She has faced threats and intimidation for writing in defence of the people of Kashmir fighting against state violence for their right to self-determination. She is one of the rare authors who have taken pains to travel to tribal areas to understand the root cause of the Maoist insurgency which the Indian state has frequently branded as the single largest internal security threat.

An exceptional writer with a poor person’s lens, she was in the forefront of the struggle against a controversial dam in Gujarat that displaced many indigenous peoples. She has also challenged the conventional history by questioning Mahatma Gandhi on his position on the caste system and race. Recently she has come out in public to openly criticise Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who represents the Hindu supremacist group RSS that aspires to turn India into Hindu theocracy.

An online petition https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-1896 launched by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) on October 19, is gaining momentum and has already gathered more than 100 signatures. Sponsored by Member of Parliament from Surrey, Randeep Singh Sarai, the petition needs 500 signatures by February 2019. Sarai had earlier written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on behalf of IAPI and others asking to strip Suu Kyi of her Honorary Citizenship.  

On her birthday, we appeal all Canadian citizens and residents to sign the petition and help us in breaking the silence over growing fascism in India under Modi government. Notably, Canada has also given Honorary Citizenship to Malala Yusufzai – a young Pakistani woman who survived a violent attack by Taliban for defending the right to education for girls in her country. If Canada can be considerate for what is happening in Pakistan in the name of faith, it must not overlook what is happening next door in India under the garb of secularism and democracy. The Hindu extremists have assassinated several progressive writers and scholars, while Muslims and Dalits or so-called untouchables are being targeted with impunity, and yet Canada remains indifferent. Together we need to change this.

 

Gurpreet Singh

The month of November, which brings back memories of the fallen heroes of World War I, has a special significance for two minority communities – the Jews and the Sikhs.

It triggers the ugly flashback of persecution of these two groups by the members of dominant communities with the backing of the state.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the "night of broken glass" when violence against Jews broke out on November 9, 1938 following the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a Polish Jew teenager.

This was in retaliation for the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany. Since the assassin’s parents were among those expelled, he shot at Ernst vom Rath, a diplomat attached to the German embassy on November 7. Rath died two days later, after which the Nazis organized a pogrom against the Jewish people, accusing them of a wider conspiracy against Germany. Homes, businesses and places of worship were destroyed while dozens of Jews were killed. The night of broken glass is a reference to the glass littered on the streets following the bloodshed.

Likewise, the Sikhs were also targeted during the first week of November, 1984, after Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31 by her Sikh bodyguards at her official residence. Her bodyguards were outraged by an army invasion on the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar in June that year. Gandhi had ordered a military attack to flush out religious extremists who had stockpiled weapons inside the place of worship. The ill-conceived army operation had left many innocent worshipers dead and some important buildings heavily destroyed. This had enraged the Sikhs all over the world. Gandhi’s murder was followed by well-organized anti Sikh massacres across India by the slain leader’s Congress party.  Although it claims to be secular, the Congress went the Nazi way, and attacked Sikh homes, businesses and gurdwaras, and raping Sikh women, to punish the entire community. About 3,000 people were killed in the national capital of New Delhi alone. Unlike in Germany, New Delhi streets were littered by more than broken glass. After all, tyres and kerosene were used to kill innocent Sikhs by way of necklacing.  

In both cases, the Nazis and the Congress party systematically scapegoated minority groups and consolidated their power by othering them in the eyes of the majority Germans and Hindus, while the police and fire fighters remained mute spectators.

This month, the two communities came together at Gurdwara Singh Sabha in Surrey to commemorate the victims of the two holocausts that took place in different parts of the world. Genocide Remembrance: Moving From Darkness To Light, mainly organized by Sikh activist and researcher Sukhvinder Kaur Vinning, was attended by award-winning social justice Jewish educator Annie Ohana. The two women never forget to acknowledge the cultural genocide of other groups, including the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, and believe that remembrance is important to challenge the attempts to make people forget history and move on.

Indeed, one who forgets history is condemned to repeat it, yet bigotry continues to grow unchallenged. The November is not just an occasion to remember the past, but also an occasion to reflect on the present. Racism against Jews remains alive, considering the recent murders of 11 Jewish worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh by an anti-Semitic white supremacist; meanwhile, attacks on non-Hindus, especially Muslims, Christians and Dalits or so-called untouchables, have grown in India under a right-wing Hindu nationalist government which is clearly taking advantage of a culture of impunity started by the Congress in 1984. The current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely blamed for repeating 1984 in 2002 against Muslims in Gujarat, where he was the Chief Minister.  

The hypocritical privileged society keeps telling the minority communities to forgive and forget, but never fail to forget Remembrance Day or even the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Busloads of tourists are brought to the former residence of Indira Gandhi, which has now been turned into a museum, and yet the Sikhs are repeatedly lectured to bury the past. Those who are scared to discuss these dark chapters of history need to shed this fear and accept the reality of an unevenly divided world, living with selective memory and a false sense of belonging. To change this discourse we need to first recognize all the historical wrongs and fix them through reconciliation, and then make sure they are not allowed to be repeated by populist leaders such as Trump and Modi.

 

 

Jeff Shantz

Surrey is gripped by a crime panic, one that sees all public debate and discussion framed by calls for more police in the city. This crime panic is produced by and reinforces a fear politics that is promoted by law and order politicians, businesses that want public space to serve primarily business interests and, of course, by police themselves (and their promoters) as they seek even more funding and resources.

The recent municipal election in Surrey did nothing to tone down this raging crime panic. In fact the election only served to ratchet up fears as politicians, from mainstream coalitions to would-be progressives, tried to out-do each other in calls for more police, more funding for police, and more extensive policing. The only debate was over whether the city would continue to over-fund an already too pricey RCMP or to waste even more public money on a new municipal force.

The victorious Safe Surrey Coalition and their mayoral retread Doug McCallum have upped the stakes in Surrey by serving notice at their very first council meeting after being sworn in that they will end the RCMP contract (a good thing) and replace the RCMP with a new municipal force (a bad thing).

Over-Policed in Surrey: Layer Upon Layer of Policing

Despite the crime panic driven calls for more and more expansive policing powers in Surrey and the law and order agendas of various political groupings, the fact remains that Surrey is already over-policed. Even more, policing in Surrey is a model of layered and integrated surveillance, regulation, and control. This layered policing (of police forces and functions extending through streets, schools, malls, workplaces, sports) is a Surrey model that police are actively taking to other towns and cities in British Columbia.

In Surrey there are 835 formal RCMP officers. The city spends upwards of 30 percent of its budget on formal police functions to the tune of $151 million. In addition to the formal, full-paid RCMP officers, the RCMP also deploy auxiliary officers and networks of volunteers, including students in co-op work placements and practicum assignments. This is free labor, provided by public universities that should know, and do, better. It frees up regular RCMP officers from things like traffic control to do other “harder” policing tasks like hassling homeless people or scaring youth.

Beyond the RCMP are city bylaw enforcement officers. These are city workers who have targeted homeless people for harassment as on 135A Street, the Strip. They have also targeted poor residents, as in the trailer parks along King George Boulevard, for crime panic staples like alleged drug use or sex work. Bylaw and RCMP actions against poor residents have led to evictions of trailer parks, their closure, and sale. Thus increasing homelessness in Surrey and removing some of the few remaining sources of lower cost housing in the city. This has nothing to do with serving and protecting (except perhaps for gentrifying developers) and actually decreases public safety for people who have now lost their homes.

In addition to these city paid examples are the business funded police. These include so-called street ambassadors, paid by and serving Business Improvement Associations/Areas (BIAs) and private security for businesses. Despite having no jurisdiction or authority they often target visibly poor people on the streets for harassment and intimidation, forcing them to leave areas without cause. The Surrey Board of Trade (SBT) website actually provides information to businesses on how to “move homeless people along” and urges businesses to take aggressive stands against homeless people. The BIAs and the SBT have privileged access to council and public safety meetings.

In addition to the more obvious policing operations there are also the  “community” groups that pose as alternatives to policing but which are actually deeply connected to police. These include the police linked and oriented Yo Bro, Yo Girl, which pose as a community sports and leadership initiative but are geared toward recruitment for forces, and the Surrey Crime Prevention Society. The latter recruits youth to do policing work on the promise of community service and resume building. Crime Prevention Society members openly direct their attention toward low level, relatively harmless, activities, such as small drug use or trade and graffiti. This leads to criminalization of people for minor activities and brings them into the criminal justice system. Now they are “known to police” or face a criminal record for virtually nothing of consequence.

Surrey has worked recently to integrate police even further into social service agencies and activities. The SMART Program (Surrey Mobilization and Resiliency Table) brings together police and corrections with housing, health care, income assistance, education and other services. It allows the police to track people throughout a range of access to social needs. The SMART Program meets each week. They aim for 24 to 48 hour response to intervene on people in their purview.

We can also mention the integration of policing within our schools. Police liaison officers and so-called “zero tolerance” policies frame youthful activity through a crime panic lens as budding gang behavior, and mobilize stigmatizing control responses. Students are removed from their home schools, dispersed across the district, isolated, and highly surveilled, either by police or school authorities who report to police or by both. These penalized youth may struggle to finish school, take longer to finish, or drop out completely, separated as they are from home, friends, family. But the police will record that at least they did not join a gang—with no evidence that they ever would have anyway. 

Some Costs

Surrey already spends far too much money and resources on police. And this is so even as crime rates are both falling and lower than the promoters of crime panic would have it. The current RCMP detachment has a 2018 budget of $151 million, which is topped up by the federal government by another ten percent (for an amount over $15 million). That ten percent would be lost to the city and made up by local residents through taxes. While Vancouver residents now pay $422 per capita each year for police, Surrey residents pay $272, which is already too much.

None of this even yet speaks to the staggeringly large costs associated with the transition from the RCMP to a municipal force, which Safe Surrey and Doug McCallum have promised. Bruce Hayne, former Surrey First member and candidate for mayor with Integrity Surrey in 2018, has estimated the transition cost to be between $80-120 million. That is wasted money that would be better spent on just about any other more needed city service. Even Surrey First mayoral candidate Tom Gill’s lowball figures put the transition costs at outrageous amounts of between $30-50 million.

Behind the Panic: Realities of Crime in Surrey

The much-discussed increase in crime in Surrey that politicians like to point to at every chance is, in fact, a myth. Politicians, media, and the Board of Trade insist that crime in Surrey is spiralling out of control—that is not the reality.

In 2017, Surrey recorded 12 homicides (Vancouver had 19). That number is 20 percent lower than the ten-year average of 15. In 2017, violent crime on the whole was down by 11 percent. Assault generally was down by four percent. There were three homicides in Quarter One (Q1) of 2018. That is down 25 percent from Q1 of 2017. The violent crime numbers are largely unchanged. In 2017 there were 59 shootings in Surrey, in 2016 there were 61, and in 2015 there were 88.

The Maclean’s magazine report on “dangerous cities” uses the Statistics Canada Crime Severity Index (CSI), which accounts for both volume and seriousness of crime. In 2017, Surrey did not place in the top 30 most dangerous cities in Canada, ranking at 32nd place. Surrey was well behind North Battleford, Saskatchewan (#1, 353), Red Deer, Alberta (#5, 207), Prince George (#11, 154), Kamloops (#23, 128), and Victoria (#30, 119) to name only some examples. Accounting for only violent crime (leaving out non-violent crimes), Surrey was listed even lower, at 44th place. Rates for homicide in Surrey were about the Canadian average. Rates for sexual assault were well below the Canadian average.

Maclean’s released its 2019 listing of most dangerous places in Canada (based on 2018 numbers) on November 5, the very day that McCallum and Safe Surrey took office. Offering further evidence against the claims of the panic purveyors who call for more policing, Surrey has now fallen to 47th place, behind Belleville, Ontario, Brandon, Manitoba, Truro, Nova Scotia, and Courtenay. Surrey, in fact, showed a substantial drop in the CSI and, against the “crime is growing out of control in Surrey” rhetoric, the city has shown a change of -9.84, among the larger drops in Canada. The Violent Crime Severity Index has Surrey dropping again to 63rd place.  

Youth crime is an ongoing and central narrative of the crime panic in Surrey. This too has been greatly overstated. According to Maclean’s, in 2016 Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses were 9.72 per 100,000, well below the Canadian average of 16.74. There were 50 actual incidents. Now, with 37 Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses, the Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses rate for Surrey is down to 7.14, again well below the Canadian average.

Conclusion

Fear is being promoted by politicians and businesses for their own ends, out of proportion to the reality of crime in Surrey. People do have reasons to be afraid about aspects of urban life -- alienation, isolation, economic insecurity, political exclusion, etc. But police will not address or resolve the causes of fear or crime and will not stop the social forces that lead to crime as a manifestation.

We need to keep in mind that calls for increased spending on police occur in a climate of austerity, spending cuts to social services, and demands for “belt tightening” for working class residents. If there is no money, or too little money, for schools, community centres, and youth services, then why is there always more funding for cops? Even would-be progressive groups like Proudly Surrey have covetously eyed the city’s surplus—for a new municipal force, for more spending on cops.  

Divesting from police and investing in people will only come about through our collective organizing against expanding police power. We can’t rely on the state to make it happen; we need to build a grassroots campaign that agitates and mobilizes for the worlds we want. For more information about getting involved in Surrey, see: https://www.instagram.com/againstdisplacement/ and contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Already Over-Policed: Against Policing and Crime Panic Politics in Surrey

Jeff Shantz

Surrey is gripped by a crime panic, one that sees all public debate and discussion framed by calls for more police in the city. This crime panic is produced by and reinforces a fear politics that is promoted by law and order politicians, businesses that want public space to serve primarily business interests and, of course, by police themselves (and their promoters) as they seek even more funding and resources.

The recent municipal election in Surrey did nothing to tone down this raging crime panic. In fact the election only served to ratchet up fears as politicians, from mainstream coalitions to would-be progressives, tried to out-do each other in calls for more police, more funding for police, and more extensive policing. The only debate was over whether the city would continue to over-fund an already too pricey RCMP or to waste even more public money on a new municipal force.

The victorious Safe Surrey Coalition and their mayoral retread Doug McCallum have upped the stakes in Surrey by serving notice at their very first council meeting after being sworn in that they will end the RCMP contract (a good thing) and replace the RCMP with a new municipal force (a bad thing).

Over-Policed in Surrey: Layer Upon Layer of Policing

Despite the crime panic driven calls for more and more expansive policing powers in Surrey and the law and order agendas of various political groupings, the fact remains that Surrey is already over-policed. Even more, policing in Surrey is a model of layered and integrated surveillance, regulation, and control. This layered policing (of police forces and functions extending through streets, schools, malls, workplaces, sports) is a Surrey model that police are actively taking to other towns and cities in British Columbia.

In Surrey there are 835 formal RCMP officers. The city spends upwards of 30 percent of its budget on formal police functions to the tune of $151 million. In addition to the formal, full-paid RCMP officers, the RCMP also deploy auxiliary officers and networks of volunteers, including students in co-op work placements and practicum assignments. This is free labor, provided by public universities that should know, and do, better. It frees up regular RCMP officers from things like traffic control to do other “harder” policing tasks like hassling homeless people or scaring youth.

Beyond the RCMP are city bylaw enforcement officers. These are city workers who have targeted homeless people for harassment as on 135A Street, the Strip. They have also targeted poor residents, as in the trailer parks along King George Boulevard, for crime panic staples like alleged drug use or sex work. Bylaw and RCMP actions against poor residents have led to evictions of trailer parks, their closure, and sale. Thus increasing homelessness in Surrey and removing some of the few remaining sources of lower cost housing in the city. This has nothing to do with serving and protecting (except perhaps for gentrifying developers) and actually decreases public safety for people who have now lost their homes.

In addition to these city paid examples are the business funded police. These include so-called street ambassadors, paid by and serving Business Improvement Associations/Areas (BIAs) and private security for businesses. Despite having no jurisdiction or authority they often target visibly poor people on the streets for harassment and intimidation, forcing them to leave areas without cause. The Surrey Board of Trade (SBT) website actually provides information to businesses on how to “move homeless people along” and urges businesses to take aggressive stands against homeless people. The BIAs and the SBT have privileged access to council and public safety meetings.

In addition to the more obvious policing operations there are also the  “community” groups that pose as alternatives to policing but which are actually deeply connected to police. These include the police linked and oriented Yo Bro, Yo Girl, which pose as a community sports and leadership initiative but are geared toward recruitment for forces, and the Surrey Crime Prevention Society. The latter recruits youth to do policing work on the promise of community service and resume building. Crime Prevention Society members openly direct their attention toward low level, relatively harmless, activities, such as small drug use or trade and graffiti. This leads to criminalization of people for minor activities and brings them into the criminal justice system. Now they are “known to police” or face a criminal record for virtually nothing of consequence.

Surrey has worked recently to integrate police even further into social service agencies and activities. The SMART Program (Surrey Mobilization and Resiliency Table) brings together police and corrections with housing, health care, income assistance, education and other services. It allows the police to track people throughout a range of access to social needs. The SMART Program meets each week. They aim for 24 to 48 hour response to intervene on people in their purview.

We can also mention the integration of policing within our schools. Police liaison officers and so-called “zero tolerance” policies frame youthful activity through a crime panic lens as budding gang behavior, and mobilize stigmatizing control responses. Students are removed from their home schools, dispersed across the district, isolated, and highly surveilled, either by police or school authorities who report to police or by both. These penalized youth may struggle to finish school, take longer to finish, or drop out completely, separated as they are from home, friends, family. But the police will record that at least they did not join a gang—with no evidence that they ever would have anyway. 

Some Costs

Surrey already spends far too much money and resources on police. And this is so even as crime rates are both falling and lower than the promoters of crime panic would have it. The current RCMP detachment has a 2018 budget of $151 million, which is topped up by the federal government by another ten percent (for an amount over $15 million). That ten percent would be lost to the city and made up by local residents through taxes. While Vancouver residents now pay $422 per capita each year for police, Surrey residents pay $272, which is already too much.

None of this even yet speaks to the staggeringly large costs associated with the transition from the RCMP to a municipal force, which Safe Surrey and Doug McCallum have promised. Bruce Hayne, former Surrey First member and candidate for mayor with Integrity Surrey in 2018, has estimated the transition cost to be between $80-120 million. That is wasted money that would be better spent on just about any other more needed city service. Even Surrey First mayoral candidate Tom Gill’s lowball figures put the transition costs at outrageous amounts of between $30-50 million.

Behind the Panic: Realities of Crime in Surrey

The much-discussed increase in crime in Surrey that politicians like to point to at every chance is, in fact, a myth. Politicians, media, and the Board of Trade insist that crime in Surrey is spiralling out of control—that is not the reality.

In 2017, Surrey recorded 12 homicides (Vancouver had 19). That number is 20 percent lower than the ten-year average of 15. In 2017, violent crime on the whole was down by 11 percent. Assault generally was down by four percent. There were three homicides in Quarter One (Q1) of 2018. That is down 25 percent from Q1 of 2017. The violent crime numbers are largely unchanged. In 2017 there were 59 shootings in Surrey, in 2016 there were 61, and in 2015 there were 88.

The Maclean’s magazine report on “dangerous cities” uses the Statistics Canada Crime Severity Index (CSI), which accounts for both volume and seriousness of crime. In 2017, Surrey did not place in the top 30 most dangerous cities in Canada, ranking at 32nd place. Surrey was well behind North Battleford, Saskatchewan (#1, 353), Red Deer, Alberta (#5, 207), Prince George (#11, 154), Kamloops (#23, 128), and Victoria (#30, 119) to name only some examples. Accounting for only violent crime (leaving out non-violent crimes), Surrey was listed even lower, at 44th place. Rates for homicide in Surrey were about the Canadian average. Rates for sexual assault were well below the Canadian average.

Maclean’s released its 2019 listing of most dangerous places in Canada (based on 2018 numbers) on November 5, the very day that McCallum and Safe Surrey took office. Offering further evidence against the claims of the panic purveyors who call for more policing, Surrey has now fallen to 47th place, behind Belleville, Ontario, Brandon, Manitoba, Truro, Nova Scotia, and Courtenay. Surrey, in fact, showed a substantial drop in the CSI and, against the “crime is growing out of control in Surrey” rhetoric, the city has shown a change of -9.84, among the larger drops in Canada. The Violent Crime Severity Index has Surrey dropping again to 63rd place.  

Youth crime is an ongoing and central narrative of the crime panic in Surrey. This too has been greatly overstated. According to Maclean’s, in 2016 Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses were 9.72 per 100,000, well below the Canadian average of 16.74. There were 50 actual incidents. Now, with 37 Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses, the Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses rate for Surrey is down to 7.14, again well below the Canadian average.

Conclusion

Fear is being promoted by politicians and businesses for their own ends, out of proportion to the reality of crime in Surrey. People do have reasons to be afraid about aspects of urban life -- alienation, isolation, economic insecurity, political exclusion, etc. But police will not address or resolve the causes of fear or crime and will not stop the social forces that lead to crime as a manifestation.

We need to keep in mind that calls for increased spending on police occur in a climate of austerity, spending cuts to social services, and demands for “belt tightening” for working class residents. If there is no money, or too little money, for schools, community centres, and youth services, then why is there always more funding for cops? Even would-be progressive groups like Proudly Surrey have covetously eyed the city’s surplus—for a new municipal force, for more spending on cops.  

Divesting from police and investing in people will only come about through our collective organizing against expanding police power. We can’t rely on the state to make it happen; we need to build a grassroots campaign that agitates and mobilizes for the worlds we want. For more information about getting involved in Surrey, see: https://www.instagram.com/againstdisplacement/ and contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

The victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre were remembered at a justice rally held in Surrey on Sunday, November 4.

Organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) at Holland Park, the rally was well attended by South Asian activists who came together to denounce the pogrom aided and abetted by the Indian state following the assassination of then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.  

The rally was started with a moment of silence for the victims of the recent attack on a Synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 Jewish worshippers dead. 

The speakers were unanimous in their demand for justice to the victims’ families and punishments against those involved in the conspiracy. They also agreed that the massacre had set a precedent for violence against other minorities, especially Muslims under the current right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government. 

Among those who addressed the rally was Surrey Centre Liberal MP Randeep Singh Sarai, who had also raised the issue of the Sikh massacre in the House of Commons. Sarai assured that he and his colleagues will continue to raise their voices for justice to those who suffered.  

Others who spoke at the event included Conservative Party supporter and TV broadcaster Harpreet Singh, New Democratic supporter and human rights lawyer Amandeep Singh and Joseph from Communist Party of Canada (Marxist Leninist). 

Barjinder Singh, who has been instrumental in organizing an  annual blood drive in memory of the victims of 1984, also spoke on the occasion. The drive has saved 130,000 lives since it began in 1999. 

Muslim activist Sayed Wajahat also spoke in solidarity with the Sikhs who continue to fight for justice.

Prominent poets, Amrit Diwana, Preet Manpreet and Sarabjit Baaz recited poems dedicated to victims of the 1984 violence.

Among those present were Guru Nanak Sikh temple, Surrey President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, anti-racism activist Avtar Singh Dhillon,  and IAPI members Parshotam Dosanjh, Navtej Johal and Gurpreet Singh.

 

 

 

 

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) has honoured a world-renowned Sikh philanthropist who has made headlines for organizing relief camps in various conflict zones—including Syria and at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border—with a Radical Desi medal for standing up for human rights and needy without discrimination.

The medal was presented to him at the Surrey Arts Center following a conference organized by Spark Within Youth (SWY) on Sunday, October 28. Ravi Singh was a keynote speaker at the event.    

He is the founder and CEO of Khalsa Aid, which was created in 1999 to help people in humanitarian crises due to wars and calamities.

He had also refused to accept a nomination for an “Indian of the Year” award from a British Indian group because of the anti-Sikh massacre in November 1984.

Thousands of innocent Sikhs were killed across India following the assassination of then-Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards.

They were outraged by an Indian army attack on the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of Sikhs, in June that year.

The army operation was launched to flush out religious extremists who had stockpiled arms inside the place of worship.

The ill-conceived military operation left hundreds of innocent worshippers dead, and many important buildings were destroyed.

This enraged the Sikh community, who believed that the army attack could have been avoided by using other means to deal with the situation.

The November 1984 massacre was organized by the members of the slain leader’s Congress party with the help of police, but subsequent non-Congress governments also failed to punish the guilty, even as Sikhs continued to campaign for justice and closure all over the globe.

None of the senior Congress leaders who were seen instigating the mobs have been convicted.

Singh believes that such action was important as the ugly events of 1984 encouraged an era of impunity, which has led to other minorities in India continuing to face persecution.

Under a right-wing Hindu nationalist government in India, attacks on all minority communities have grown.

Singh and his group have received a harsh backlash on social media from Hindu fanatics for standing up for Rohingya Muslims, who came under attack from Buddhist extremists and the army of Myanmar.

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) has launched an online petition asking Canadian Parliament to give Indian author Arundhati Roy Honorary Citizenship.

A Booker Prize winner and an author of international fame, Roy is known for her strong stand on human rights, social equality and democracy.

Based in India, Roy has been facing death threats and intimidation for questioning the power and standing up for the underdog. She has been consistently raising her voice through writings and public lectures for religious minorities and oppressed communities at personal risk. Not only has she tirelessly tried to raise awareness on these issues through her essays and storytelling, she has time and again showed up at the grassroots level movements against displacement and state repression of poor and tribal peoples.    

She has a big following not only in India, but all over the world. She visited Vancouver at least twice, once during Indian Summer Festival and once to promote her latest novel Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

IAPI was established in 2017 by members of the Indian Diaspora in BC in response to growing attacks on religious minorities and social justice activists under a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party government in New Delhi.

IAPI believes that Roy deserves such an honour, which has earlier been given to several well-respected individuals, such as Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama and Malala Yousafzai for standing up for human rights. Early in October, Aung San Suu Kyi was stripped of Honorary Citizenship under international and domestic pressure for her silence over the persecution of Rohingya Muslims.    

Surrey Centre Member Parliament Randeep Singh Sarai has sponsored the petition numbered E-1896 which can be found on the Canadian House of Commons website by going on the link petitions.ourcommons.ca

If the petition succeeds, Roy will be the first person of Indian origin to be given Honorary Canadian Citizenship in recognition of her work on human rights in the world’s so called largest democracy.

Gurpreet Singh

The Nobel Peace Prize committee should immediately intervene and strip a children’s rights activist of the prize given to him in 2014.

Kailash Satyarthi not only attended the annual event of Hindu supremacist group Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) at its headquarters in Nagpur, India, but went to the extent of praising the organization. He even suggested that the RSS branches all over India could serve as a “firewall” to protect children, particularly girls.  

The RSS, of which the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is a part, aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. The organization was banned in the past following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, a world renowned leader of the passive resistance movement in 1948. Gandhi was opposed to the religious partition of India in 1947 and was targeted for standing up against violence against Muslims by the Hindu fanatics. His assassin Nathuram Godse previously belonged to the RSS.

The RSS is also known for its anti-Muslim and anti-Christian stance. Its cadre have been involved in violence, not only during partition but also in post independent India.

Ironically, Satyarthi is a known Gandhian, and was given the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his work to save children from exploitation. In complete contradiction to what Satyarthi claims to stand for, the RSS through its drills poisons young minds and has reportedly transported tribal girls to far away schools in order to Hinduise them, on the pattern of Indian Residential Schools in Canada. 

That Satyarthi spoke as a Chief Guest at the RSS event has shocked many, including myself. Being a publisher of Radical Desi magazine, I had put him on the cover of its November, 2014 edition, which was dedicated to 30 years of the anti-Sikh massacre. Satyarthi had saved many Sikhs during the violence that followed the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh body guards on October 31, 1984. The mobs, instigated by activists of the slain leader’s Congress party, lynched innocent Sikhs with police connivance. However, the mainstream overlooked this important aspect of Satyarthi’s story, and Radical Desibelieved that it was necessary to amplify it, so that people should know that many Hindus also tried to save the Sikhs from bloodshed. Some activist friends had expressed their outrage over this decision, citing that Satyarthi is a corporate media creation, but I tried to defend myself, saying that the choice was made only because the Radical Desi edition was dedicated to the anti-Sikh pogrom, and by putting Satyarthi on cover, we were only trying to showcase an act of humanity and compassion in the time of crisis.

Today, when I look back I feel ashamed and let down by Satyarthi, who has failed to stand up against the forces of bigotry. He may have done a great job by saving the lives of Sikhs in 1984, but Muslim and Christian lives are also important. For the record, RSS considers Sikhs as part of the Hindu fold, something strongly resisted by the Sikh activists, who maintain that RSS has an agenda to assimilate them. That the BJP-RSS supporters were also complicit in anti-Sikh massacres has been well documented.  

If Satyarthi has any shame, he must apologize for attending an event organized by those who are bent upon destroying humanity and  the  secular fabric of India. In the meantime, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee must take away the prize given to someone who has tried to give legitimacy to a group whose founders saw men like Hitler and Mussolini as their role models and supported the holocaust.

 

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