"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

From Vancouver to Vernon, BC voters rejected racism in the provincial election, but the fight isn’t over yet Featured


Gurpreet Singh  

“I don’t vote for foreign people”, scribbled an anonymous voter on one of the mail-in-ballots we were shown by those doing the final count for the Surrey-Green Timbers candidates on Friday, November 6.   

Being husband of the incumbent MLA Rachna Singh, who represented the riding for NDP and eventually got re-elected and has now been appointed as Parliamentary Secretary for anti-racism initiatives, I was there as a volunteer on behalf of her campaign to ensure that the final count was done smoothly.  

When one of the staff of Elections BC showed the ballot with those words written in no unclear terms, it instantly left a bad taste in my mouth. 

Although the ballot was rejected as the person had intended, the incident shook me completely. Those words were in clear reference to Rachna and her Liberal opponent Dilraj Atwal. Both candidates were of Punjabi heritage, and there was nobody else in the race. The intentions of the person were very clear - to convey hatred for those running because of their ancestry. This happened despite the fact that Surrey-Green Timbers is a diverse riding with a sizeable Punjabi population. Let’s face it. Racism is still alive and refuses to die.    

However, the results that gave an NDP majority in the end were very encouraging, considering what happened in several other ridings across the province.  

Another Punjabi candidate, Harwinder Sandhu of the NDP, who was elected in Vernon-Monashee, faced the worst during the campaign, when one of her election signs was defaced with a swastika and a misogynist word. She endured that in the past too, but this time her racist detractors were left with licking their wounds.  

She was not alone, nor the first woman of colour to suffer this. Amanda Poon Tang, a Green candidate in Kelowna-Mission, was subjected to racist and sexist vandalism as well. Unlike Harwinder and Rachna, she is of Chinese origin.  

Male candidates of colour also became targets of racism during the campaign for the October 24 election. Among them were the NDP's Aman Singh in Richmond-Queensborough, and Liberal candidate for Saanich South, Rishi Sharma.  

Singh got elected as the first turbaned Sikh MLA. Aman was more focussed on his campaign and remained discreet about it, but racial slurs hurled at Rishi became major news. 

Niki Sharma, elected as the NDP candidate in Vancouver Hastings, has been vocal against racism, and faced it in the past while running for the board of directors at Vancity credit union. Likewise, during the 2017 provincial election, Bowinn Ma, the NDP candidate who was elected in North Vancouver-Lonsdale, and her rival Liberal candidate Naomi Yamamoto, saw their lawn signs vandalized with swastikas because of their Asian heritage.

While the victories and re-elections of some of these candidates sends a strong message to the bigots in our communities, this does not necessarily mean a permanent defeat of those spreading hatred.  

The loss of Toni Boot, a black female NDP candidate from Penticton, was heart breaking.  As Mayor of Summerland, she had passionately led a campaign against racism following vandalizing of the house of an Indo-Canadian family last July.  The house was targeted with hateful graffiti.  

Right now, when the whole world is celebrating the defeat of Donald Trump as a racist US President, our politicians need to focus on racism here in BC. Considering how anti-Asian hatred has spiked in Vancouver because of COVID 19 that broke out first in China and gradually spread across the globe, this challenge has to be taken seriously. All the sweet talk about diversity and Canada being tolerant won’t do. A lot of action is needed to end this menace. With a comfortable majority, the NDP must deliver on its commitment towards social justice.  It goes to the credit of this government for bringing back the human rights commission that was dismantled by the previous Liberal government and creating a post of parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives, but the herculean task of flattening the curve of rising hate is still to be achieved.  

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Last modified on Friday, 27 November 2020 15:14
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Gurpreet Singh

Cofounder and Director of Radical Desi


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