New Canadian Media

by Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s campaign says she did not know Ron Banjaree, an anti-Muslim advocate, or the organization Rise Canada would be at the event she attended Monday evening in Brampton.

“Kellie did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended,” Leitch’s campaign spokesman Michael Diamond told iPolitics in an email.

Diamond said Leitch attended a meeting organized by an organization called “Keep Religion Out of Public Schools” in support of secular and pluralistic public schools.

“Kellie does not believe that this long standing Canadian practice should be changed to accommodate one group. Other individuals and groups attended this meeting, there was no guest list sent to Kellie prior to the event. This meeting was about the place of religion in public schools,” wrote Diamond.

Leitch did address the anti-Muslim group, though, and the money raised at the event was to go toward fighting the construction of a mosque in Brampton.

Banjaree, director of Canadian Hindu Advocacy and an advisor to Rise Canada, spoke to the audience awaiting Leitch’s arrival on Monday. In a video of his address posted to YouTube — posted below — Banjaree says Rise Canada is connected to different groups, including the Jewish Defence League of Canada, the United Christian Federation and other groups he describes as “fighting the Sharia creep.”

He tells the audience that, five years ago, the group didn’t exist, but with the help of mostly Christian groups it was able to do a series of “large scale demonstrations regarding prayers, Islamic prayers, in Toronto District School Board public schools, specifically it was Valley Park School.”

“At the time they had taken over the cafeteria for school prayers. They’re still doing it, by the way,” he tells the group. He goes on to claim that those organizing the prayers have made female students sit behind the boys and in some cases have excluded them from prayers altogether.

A Caucasian man in the audience pipes up at this point: “Sometimes they do panty checks. It’s disgusting.”

Diamond wrote that the meeting was attended by “a number of people from a number of different groups, including people from Rise Canada. That is clear.

“It is also clear that Kellie was not at the event while a representative from Rise Canada was speaking.”

Banjaree recently attended a Toronto school board meeting on religious accommodation where someone ripped up a copy of the Qur’an. At that board meeting, someone else was distributing flyers from Rise Canada which called for the elimination all policies of ‘religious accommodation’ in schools.

On the recording, Banjaree welcomes Leitch as she slowly makes her way to the podium, stopping along the way to shake hands with Banjaree’s supporters.

Leitch takes questions from the audience, but it appears only one — from Banjaree — was captured on video.

Banjaree claims that India has the best human rights record in the world and should be considered a “safe country” for migration, like Canada, the United States and many countries in Europe. He says that there have been problems with people from India claiming refugee status in Canada and people involved in the 1985 Air India bombing were able to claim refugee status in Canada.

Banjaree asks Leitch to look into why India is not considered a “safe country”; she says she will.

Diamond said that while Leitch responded a question from the floor, “she did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended.

“She wants to be very clear that this guy and his opinions are repugnant and do not reflect her own views.”

Diamond said Leitch is supportive of secular and pluralistic public schools. She is committed to building a country that promotes the shared values of hard work, generosity, freedom, tolerance, equality of opportunity and equality of individuals. “That includes the freedom to practice your religion and the responsibility to be tolerant of other people’s religion.”

A blog called Anti-Racist Canada posted an exhaustive list of links to reports of controversial activity by Banjaree, including the video from the event Leitch attended with him on Monday.

At the end of the video, an attendee says that former Mississauga mayoral candidate Kevin Johnston collected $244 from supporters at the event that will go toward fighting the construction of a mosque that was recently approved by Mississauga City Council.

In early March, city council gave the Meadowvale Islamic Centre Inc. and the City of Mississauga a green light to move forward with the development of the mosque.

Johnston reportedly expressed his concerns about the mosque on his website, “Stop the Mosque”. According to Mississauga.com, Johnston wrote on his website that the mosque would drive up crime and vandalism, set back women’s rights and affect housing prices.

Some Tory leadership contenders came under fire for giving interviews to Johnston on his YouTube channel, FreedomReport.ca.

In one of his video rants, he warns Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, author of motion 103 condemning Islamophobia, that he’ll be there “with a big, fat smile” to film the moment when she’s shot by a “gun nut.”


Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.

Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 22 March 2017 20:45

Mayor Jeffrey’s Hypocritical Pandering

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

I don’t know why hypocrisy by politicians still manages to surprise me. Recently, it was being paraded in plain sight by Brampton’s Mayor Linda Jeffrey when she waded in on the recent controversy around Muslim prayer in Peel public schools.

But before I comment on Mayor Jeffrey’s latest hypocritical pandering, lets revisit Her Worship’s own entanglement with prayer in a public institution – her own council chamber.

In 2015, Brampton’s newly elected Chief Magistrate and her council acted on one of Jeffrey’s own campaign promises and dropped reciting the Lord’s Prayer at Council meetings, killing a 163 year tradition that went back to the first Brampton village council meeting of January 1853. This was done after a public meeting to discuss the plan was cancelled in the face of fierce public outrage. 

More recently, the Peel District School Board attempted to implement changes to the practice of Muslim prayer in their schools by providing prepared sermon texts by local Imams for the youth to use. This did not go over well with Muslim students, and in the process of receiving public delegations, a number of people expressed their opposition to any kind of prayer in a public school.

Some remarks had racist overtones. Public delegations were eventually stopped and the changes shelved.

"Have your backs"

Recently, in an interview on TVO, Mayor Jeffery said that she felt her expression of support for the Muslim community was needed after hearing from religious leaders, who were anxious about the tone of comments on social media and elsewhere. “I want people to feel welcome in Brampton; I want them to feel safe. I want them to know I have their backs.”

I am certain Brampton residents join me in wishing Mayor Jeffrey truly “had their backs” at Council. Given the endless squabbling and complete lack of cooperation among all Council members and Jeffrey’s inability to lead, Brampton has lurched from one debacle to another since Mayor Jeffrey was elected.

And many Bramptonians have been telling me they are fed up with Jeffrey’s constant taking credit for achievements that are in fact largely the work of her predecessor Susan Fennell and the previous council.

The funding of the Peel Memorial Centre for Health and Wellness, the original University plan, Brampton’s significant investment in expanded public transit, major infrastructure investment – all under Fennell. Jeffrey’s administration began with the failure to secure the approval to complete the LRT line through Brampton with the loss of $300 million in funding, and her record has not improved. 

Religious accommodation

Religious accommodation has been a fixture of life in Canada for years. Sikhs have worn kirpans, Muslim women the hijab, and for the most part Canadians have accepted diversity and gotten on with their lives.

While we must all defend the rights of our fellow citizens regardless of race, creed or colour, I believe politicians like our own Mayor need to remember their own public record before they wade in on any issue.

Jeffrey banned prayer in City Hall, and now supports it in Public Schools. Mayor Jeffrey needs to be reminded that, try as they might, even politicians can’t suck and blow at the same time, and voters have long grown tired of the hypocrisy of it all.


Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 19 March 2017 20:15

Refugees from U.S. are Breaking the Law

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

For many Sikhs in Canada today, the Komagata Maru incident still looms large in our consciousness.  

For anyone not familiar with this event in our nation’s history, in May 1914 the Komagata Maru sailed from Hong Kong bound for Vancouver, carrying 376 passengers.  Most of the passengers were from the Punjab, India. All were British subjects.  

At that time, Canada had a regulation referred to as “continuous passage” which stated that immigrants must "come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth, or citizenship."

The regulation had been brought into force in 1908 to curb Indian immigration to Canada. The passengers on the ship intended to challenge this regulation.  On their arrival, the ship was denied docking privileges, and eventually the ship was escorted out of the harbour by the Canadian military in July 1914 and forced to sail back to India, where 19 of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon disembarking and many others imprisoned.

The Komagata Maru story is an example of what was then the ultimate expression of colonial bigotry, exposing Canada’s deliberate process in controlling immigration by excluding those people the government of the day deemed unfit to enter. These justifications were couched in racist and ethnocentric views of "progress", "civilization", and "suitability" which all were used to support the view that Canada should remain a "White Man's Country".

Greener pastures

In terms of immigration policy, the Canada of today is the complete opposite of still colonial pre-World War I Canada.

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared that our borders are open to anyone. But this “openness” is now being tested.  Refugee claimants reacting to U.S. President Donald Trump’s tougher stand on immigration have begun to head north to what they may see as greener, more accepting pastures.  They are now daily crossings at the border, flouting the Canada – U.S. “Safe Third Country Agreement”, under which refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first "safe" country they arrive in.  

In landing in the U.S., but crossing our border as refugees, they are in fact breaking the law and this has become a difficult situation for Prime Minister Trudeau, while simultaneously making many Canadians very uneasy.

Many of us applauded our new government’s efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.  I believe a big part of the general acceptance of this policy was rooted in public perception that the process was well organized, refugee claimants were thoroughly screened and upon arrival the housing, schooling and other necessary supports were well in place.  The latest development is the opposite of organized, with claimants crossing Canada’s porous and largely uncontrolled border with no pre-screening and no homes and sponsors waiting to receive them.

Asylum shopping

Canadians are now watching to see how our government will react to this new refugee situation. If Canada does not exert its sovereignty, honour the Safe Third Country Agreement, and deter these opportunistic attempts at what can only be seen as “shopping for a yes” by claimants, this trickle will become a wave.

Canada is ill prepared for uncontrolled refugee claimants streaming into this country, and I believe the majority of Canadians expect our government to act in Canada’s best interest. This means not merely reacting to claimants crossing our borders, but to act by deterring it.  We are a country that values fair process and the rule of law.  

Today, Canada has a compassionate, principled approach to both immigration and refugees. Our government’s inability to control this developing situation may ultimately do harm to our current refugee system, ultimately causing Canadians to have a lack of faith in the system, and ultimately in the government that is charged with managing it.   

Prime Minister Trudeau will need to step outside of his comfort zone and put in place firm measures to respond to this looming crisis.  At times like these, his usual “sunny ways” approach will have to give way to more firm leadership.  

The Prime Minister is being tested here, and his next move may finally provide Canadians with a true indication of just how fit to lead Justin Trudeau really is. 

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Policy
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 14:11

Trump and the Rise of Islamophobia

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

I believe it is fair to say that since 9-11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in North America.  With the rise of ISIL and attacks in this country and other nations, terrorist movements have given rise to a greater distrust of all refugees and immigrants, most of whom are Muslims fleeing the violence in the Middle East and North Africa.  

As an immigrant myself, perhaps I feel the impact of this trend more than my fellow Canadians whose journey to this country may have been many generations in the past.  As I watch the news, and particularly the fledgling and, to a degree, struggling administration of U.S. President Donald Trump I am growing even more troubled.

Trump’s recent Executive Order banning Muslim refugees or travel to the U.S. from a select list of seven countries has run afoul of the nation’s constitution and its courts.  But as Trump searches for a new way to achieve what his executive order has failed to do, I believe there will be long-term consequences. I believe Trump’s actions will encourage otherwise constrained and silent movements within the U.S. and in countries around the globe who have long wished for a legitimate platform to express their racist or xenophobic views in the hope that these views become the policy of their governments.

Meanwhile, here in Canada, we have two recent, troubling incidents that illustrate a very different response from our government.  First of all, this past weekend in Toronto, anti-Semitic notes were found on the doors of several units at a Willowdale condo building in Toronto.  In addition, notes with the statement “No Jews” were found on the front doors of several Jewish residences in a building on Beecroft Road, close to the Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue area.

Some of the notes contained anti-Semitic slurs and some neighbours reported that their mezuzahs – blessings traditionally posted on the doorways of Jewish homes – had been vandalized.  Mayor John Tory condemned the hate-motivated vandalism and said those actions do not reflect the city's spirit. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto."

Anti-Islamophobia motion

This comes after the recent tragic murder of six Muslims at prayer in a Quebec City Mosque. Our government’s response to this tragedy was to debate Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament.  Introduced by MP Iqra Khalid, the motion asked MPs to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” 

Locally, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is strongly supporting Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Khalid in her push to end systemic racism in Canada. Mayor Crombie also said “Eliminating systemic racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia is a national call to action. No one should ever have to think twice about calling Canada home.”

Substance, not symbolism

While I feel this a well-meant act in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, racism affects a broad spectrum of people and it is short-sighted of our government to single out Islamophobia in their motion. Racism is in itself an act of violence and the murder in that Quebec City Mosque is that racist violence made manifest.  It is an act of extreme cowardice, and an insult to God.

Our government should condemn all racism equally, and with total conviction. Symbolic acts like Motion 103 should be backed up with a new, comprehensive review of the legislation and enforcement powers that can give meaning and force to such well-intended symbolic gestures.

I know from personal experience the sting of distrust, disrespect, and prejudice that racism inflicts on those who are new, or different, or who worship in a different way. Racists ignore the reality that you cannot judge a race or a religion, but that if we are judged at all, it is based on our own behavior, our own actions.  

President Trump’s anti Muslim, anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric may not, in itself, lead to the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, but the fact that a sitting President has stoked such sentiments should be reason for great concern for us all. The response of our Canadian government should be one of substance, not symbol. 


Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
Published in Commentary

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

Taxi drivers in Brampton will no longer have to pass English tests or go through geographical knowledge training after City Council removed all requirements for them to do so.

This is a decision that defies simple logic. Think about it for a moment. Can anyone with poor English and little knowledge of the city they work in be an effective taxi driver?

Of course not.

Brampton is over 260 square kilometers of residential subdivisions, industrial parks and an historic downtown core.  It has over 3,500 streets, boulevards, crescents and roads. 

Imagine for a moment you are newly arrived in Canada.  Chances are you speak your native language, and a few words of English. 

Understanding geography

You hail a taxi at the airport, and provide the driver with an address. You have no idea where the address is.  You have no cell phone to call the family whose home you are staying in. You must depend on the taxi driver to get you to your destination, taking the quickest, most safe and direct route possible. 

Now let’s assume your taxi driver has little in the way of training, speaks little English, and your driver can’t read a map book, won’t have a clue how to set up his GPS device, and can’t read  the address written on the piece of paper you have handed him. 

And even if he understood the address, the driver has had little in the way of geographic training because standards have been all but eliminated. 

My advice is you will need to buckle your seatbelt and settle in for a long, expensive and frustrating ride. 

Basic skills

There are three simple factors that make for a successful taxi driver: good driving skills, the ability to communicate effectively with clients and an excellent knowledge of the city, its roads, landmarks and amenities. 

There is only one way to ensure that every taxi driver possesses these three skills – test them against a minimum standard. 

Except in Brampton, there is now no longer a reasonable minimum standard. 

Gurmeet Singh, a local Brampton lawyer, observed that cabbies have had to pass a written taxi license test and have a proven driving record to qualify as a taxi driver.

This has been an acceptable standard for years, so why the change now? Who is council pandering to at our expense?

It is true that most of the taxi drivers come from countries where English is taught as a second language.  While Brampton has a very diverse population, understanding basic English remains a core skill that ultimately unites us all. 

Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon, one of the backers of the proposal, was quoted as saying in the Toronto Star, “The taxi industry came to us and said they want to make the system like Toronto’s, where English is mandatory, a requirement, but there is no testing for it.”

Ambassadors for the city

Of course, technology help us find our way around, but taxi cabs are often more than just a means of transportation. 

To someone who is new to Brampton, a taxi driver is often the first ambassador to our city. 

 I’m glad that Councillor Gael Miles who made the point that our cabbies must know English to communicate with their passengers.

And when I spoke to Lakhbir Manak, owner of Paparazzi Kids children’s clothing store which has many outlets in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), said,  “Toronto is a world class tourism hub. Thus, English should be a basic requirement for cabbies who represent us as the first contact for tourists in our region.

“Taxi drivers should have knowledge of major tourist attractions and act as a source of information for people coming to the city.” 

This would be impossible if we don’t hold our taxi drivers to a high standard. 

However, in Brampton, where mediocrity has become the standard, yet another important service to our citizens has been dumbed down, and we will all suffer for it.

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Commentary

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

Kathleen Wynne, the current premier of Ontario, and Linda Jeffrey, the past Wynne Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Brampton’s current Mayor, are a study in contrasts.  

As Ontario’s 25th Premier, Wynne is both at the height of her power and the low depths of popularity. But even with her popularity at below 20 per cent, she remains a powerful politician in control of her cabinet and caucus and with the ability to set and implement her political agenda. 

This is despite Wynne’s now self-admitted mismanagement of our province’s electricity system, which she now concedes has caused such hardship in the province that some are forced to choose between feeding themselves or heating their homes. 

It is a sad reality that Premier Wynne and her Liberals are looking more and more likely to hold on to power in the 2018 election as both the NDP and Conservatives appear to be parties struggling to seize any of the public’s attention, let alone imagination. 

On one hand, Andrea Horwath and her NDP seem to have little ground to stand on, given that the Liberals have all but assumed much of the left’s territory, leaving the NDP with few policy options and little to say. 

And, then, there is Patrick Brown, who with so many opportunities to pillory a Liberal government mired in scandal, continues to squander his opportunities to effectively hold this government to account while failing to be consistent in publicly expressing his own party’s policies and platform. 

The recent by-elections in Ottawa and Niagara were an indictment of an ineffective opposition that bodes well for Wynne going into her pre-election year. 

Contrast Wynne with Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey. Like Wynne, Jeffrey served as an Ontario Liberal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, as well as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.  Her predecessor, Susan Fennell, had presided over a virtual renaissance in Brampton. 

During her tenure as Mayor, Brampton saw major investments in public infrastructure, and a massive $300 million expansion of public transit funded jointly by all three levels of government despite the fact that, at the time, there was no formal program in place from the Federal and Provincial governments to fund it. 

All of that travelling to Ottawa paved the way for the single largest provincial/federal investment in Brampton’s history, but was ultimately part of what I have always believed to be an organized campaign to run her out of office. 

Her frequent travel was at the heart of unfounded accusations, innuendo and vicious allegations that lasted all of two years. After having been cleared of all but two ridiculously minor issues just days prior to the 2014 municipal election, Fennell lost to Jeffrey, who promised to clean up City Hall. 

Two years later, under Jeffrey’s leadership, Brampton's reputation has sunk to new lows. Jeffrey presides over a fractious Council that cannot agree on anything.  An LRT line that had unprecedented public support was defeated despite over $300 million in approved provincial funding. 

A search for a new chief administrative officer attracted only one candidate, who, since being hired has been on a rampage at City Hall that has seen virtually the entire senior management fired, drawing comparisons to a mini “reign of terror” with blood-soaked corridors and a civil service in disarray. 

And even when she wins, Jeffrey loses.  After recently scoring a coveted nod from her former Liberal government colleagues to locate a university in Brampton, it was revealed that even that effort is plagued with a lack of organization and little in the way of a plan, leaving Council slack-jawed, asking, “What do we do now?”

Wynne and Jeffrey are Liberals, but complete opposites: Wynne is powerful and blessed with a weak opposition; Jeffrey, powerless and cursed with a fractious and ineffective Council. 

But both have one thing in common: they both need to be replaced and 2018 can’t come soon enough.

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Politics
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 10:26

Bramptonians Sucking on a Lollipop

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

A few weeks before Brampton Council begin debate on the latest budget, the city and province delivered a big lollipop to the citizens of Brampton in the form of a University to be built in our city.

At the risk of sounding cynical, I can’t help but suspect this little bit of theatre is meant to divert the attention of Bramptonians away from the poor economic performance of our city, the recent tax increases, stagnant municipal services, and the provinces’ ruinously expensive and incompetently handled hydro mismanagement.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I, like many, believe a university campus is something Brampton needs, and needs badly. In fact, I know many parents are excited at the thought of their children obtaining a quality post-secondary education in their own city.

Downloading to taxpayers

But for anyone who listened to what was said at the Brampton press event, while Brampton has been chosen as the site of one of two new university campuses, there was no specific timeline or details about where or when this facility will be built, how it will be funded, or how much of the cost the province will download onto the backs of Brampton taxpayers in order to make the announcement a reality.  

What we do know is that there is a $90 million allotment for each of the two municipalities approved in this round of funding. Let’s remember that when then Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote his infamous letter to the Brampton citizens promising that Peel Memorial Hospital would not be closed – just before he closed it − the replacement facility’s phase I costs were over $300 million and Bramptonians were practically extorted into paying $60 million towards the project.  

If you think this is an isolated occurrence, think again.  When the province promised to finish highway 410 north to highway 10, it was only accomplished after the Region of Peel was forced to pony up over $40 million to the province.  

Citizens in the dark

Will $90 million build a university campus?  I highly doubt it.  I am convinced we are going to be put in the position of shelling out millions more from municipal coffers – your tax money – to provide land and capital funding in order to make this happen. How sweet does that lollipop taste now?

Let’s face it, we have no idea what we are getting out of this latest deal.  We know from the past the province promised to keep our original hospital open, then closed it, then tore it down.  The slogan for the new Peel Memorial was “More than a Hospital,” but in fact this too was a lie.  The new Peel Memorial will be much less than a hospital.  It will house outpatient services, clinics, dialysis, and will not have an emergency department.  Instead, it will have an urgent care centre that closes down at night, and while some services now housed at Brampton Civic are moving to the new building, Brampton is getting much less than it deserves in terms of health care services.  This does not bode well for our university.

Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon says this council worked hard work to make this university happen and Mayor Linda Jeffery maintains this is exciting news for Bramptonians. This from a council that turned down $300 million in funding for a light rail line up Main Street that over 70 per cent of the citizens wanted.  

I think the citizens of Brampton have some fundamental issues with trusting this council and these concerns are well justified.   

So, I think we can all look forward to a future that will see more tax levies for health care, our university, and whatever other lollipop the city or province thinks up to throw at Brampton, in an attempt to win our votes with our own money. That makes us all a bunch of suckers.  

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Education
Tuesday, 04 October 2016 16:24

Surrey – the Canada of Tomorrow

Commentary by George Abraham in Surrey

Canadians from the Atlantic to the Pacific are suddenly aware that their world-famous model of multiculturalism is not working as well as it should.

People in the so-called “mainstream” want immigrants to do more to fit in – perhaps by abandoning customs and “back home” traditional mores that don’t jive with the rest of Canada.

While it is hard to pin down what exactly folks who belong to the “mainstream” would want us to do, this disconnect is evident in other ways. Take Canada’s media scene, for instance.

Mainstream media are losing ground, while ethnic media continue to thrive – with new outlets opening in new markets, adding new foreign languages to an already-saturated landscape.

Redefined by immigration

This disconnect was at the heart of a presentation I made in Surrey last week, organized as part of the Walrus Talks series, and titled “Cities of Migration”. Surrey was surely a great location to hold this event; a laboratory of sorts.  

Like a handful of cities across Canada, Surrey is being redefined by immigration. Its demographics are startling: the latest census data shows that 41 per cent are immigrants, 14 per cent have arrived since 2001. There has been strong growth in recent years from India and the Philippines.

Markham, Richmond, Brampton and York are in the same league. This is where the Canada of tomorrow is being born.

While in Surrey, I ran into three folks who seem to understand that they are participants in a social experiment that may well determine if Canada will survive as a cohesive society. It is in places like this that we will know if multiculturalism is actually working in practice.

The first was a well-spoken cab driver, Amarinder Singh Dhillon, who's been at the wheel over three decades. But, his source of pride is being “the only Rotarian to drive a taxi”. “Only in Canada,” he exclaims. I agreed.

Stephen Dooley, executive director of Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus, also gets it. He saw that this city was going to be a haven for refugees from Syria – home to half of all B.C. arrivals from that war-torn Middle East nation – and hence led a study that will inform settlement strategies. However, what struck me was not the study itself, but the fact that Prof. Dooley hired seven recent refugees from Myanmar, Somalia, Iraq and El Salvador as research assistants.

That to me suggests empathy.

The last true believer I ran into was Michael Heeney, principal at Bing Thom Architects, who spoke of creating a “third space” while conceiving the edifice that houses SFU’s Surrey campus. The architects ended up redeveloping a declining shopping centre, opening up the roof to overlay the university and integrating an office tower on it.

The local Wal-Mart and university have a shared roof.

Intersecting spaces

Dhillon, Dooley and Heeney are doing what Surrey needs to succeed: creating shared spaces, fostering conversations and melding the old with the new. I suspect they are not fans of “asymmetric” integration which holds that the onus is on immigrants to fit in.

My good friend and an authority on multiculturalism Andrew Griffith wrote this in Policy Options last month: "The integration process is asymmetric: it is more important for immigrants and new Canadians to adapt to Canadian laws, norms and values than it is for the host society to adjust to them. The meeting point is not ‘somewhere in the middle’ between the host society and the newcomers, but much closer to the host society (80/20 percent, in my view).”

My time in Canada (14 years) tells me that the meeting point is indeed in the middle. The host society must do all it can to make newcomers feel at home, while immigrants must make an equal effort to reach out.

The mainstream cannot adopt the sort of “benign neglect” that no less a Canadian than a former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson referred to in her book, Room for All of Us. [Video courtesy: Stephen Hui/Georgia Straight]

A New Conversation

My talk in Surrey dealt with creating a new Canadian conversation, beginning in the media. The two solitudes of “ethnic” and “mainstream” are as far apart as Gander and Coal Harbour.

We need to find common ground and ways to work together.

Paul Dhillon and Krystele Chavez are perhaps representative of a new breed of immigrant journalists who feel vested in Surrey’s future.

“Bringing innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit to the economy, it is because of immigrants that we have kept our city demographically young and culturally enriched, therefore enhancing our influence in the nation,” says Chavez, who comes from Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, and writes for Surrey604.

Dhillon has a longer horizon. “Surrey was largely an agricultural backwater until the Indo-Canadian builders and developers built it into subdivisions and strip malls. The impact of immigrants has been immense on the city's development and its current diversity is proof that its future will also be drastically shaped by a truly multicultural and metropolitan population,” says the editor-in-chief of the South Asian Link newspaper.

Theirs are new voices that need to be heard.

George Abraham is founder and publishing director of New Canadian Media

Published in Commentary

by Our National Correspondent

Prof. April Lindgren (picture at right) of Ryerson University has made a name for herself studying ethnic media in Canada for many years. Late last year, she completed a study focused on  Brampton, titled “Municipal Communication Strategies and Ethnic Media: A Settlement Service in Disguise”, which examined the kind of steps taken by the city to reach out to its immigrant population.

This research was a follow up to a 2007 study that found Brampton unresponsive to the needs of its immigrant community. New Canadian Media first reported on the latest study here – Ethnic Media Demand More from City of Brampton. 

Q.  What was the goal of this study?

Research that was done about a decade ago found that Brampton was quite unresponsive to the needs of its increasingly diverse population. But in 2015 City Council approved an ethnic media pilot project that was probably the most pro-active in the country. This study investigates the reasons for the dramatic shift in approach.

Q.  What were your main findings?

Over the years the City of Brampton did make some limited attempts to use ethnic media to reach out to its newest residents, the vast majority of whom are Punjabi-speaking immigrants. In 2007, for instance, it began including ethnic media outlets on its list of media the receive the municipality’s English-language press releases. Our research concluded that this approach didn’t have much of an impact. When we looked at the content of the Brampton-based Punjabi Post daily newspaper over three weeks in 2011, only three of the 157 articles dealing with Brampton had anything to do with City Hall-related issues.

In 2013, the city made another attempt to get municipal news and information out to residents via ethnic media by hiring a specialty media coordinator who speaks and reads Punjabi. Then in 2015 things changed dramatically. That’s when City Councillors approved significant funding to translate Brampton’s media releases into French as well as the three most commonly spoken languages after English –  Punjabi, Urdu and Portuguese.

There were a number of reasons for this shift. First, there was growing evidence of tension between long-term residents and the city’s rapidly expanding Punjabi-speaking population. This pointed to the need for better intercultural understanding. In terms of reaching out to immigrants, improving the availability of city news and information through ethnic media is one way to help people – particularly people who aren’t fluent in English – to better understand what is going on in the city as a whole. It’s also a way to help people understand the values and priorities of their adopted place.

The election of a new mayor and many new Councillors during the 2014 municipal election was the second important reason for the shift in attitude. Unlike their predecessors, these municipal politicians thought the City did have an important role to play in reaching out to newcomers and making them feel part of the city.

The jury is still out on whether ethnic media will carry more City Hall related news now that the press releases are being translated. The pilot project is ongoing and the results will be of great interest to other municipalities. In the interim, though, I argue that the very act of reaching out to news outlets that cover ethnic communities is symbolically important for Brampton’s multicultural population. It acknowledges the importance of those media outlets as community institutions and it recognizes the city’s obligation to communicate decisions and policies to all citizens.

In the interim, though, I argue that the very act of reaching out to news outlets that cover ethnic communities is symbolically important for Brampton’s multicultural population.

Q.  Your study on Brampton specifically points to several limitations and drawbacks in the way ethnic media go about the profession of journalism. How do we as a multicultural society address this?

Brampton City officials ran into situations over the years where some ethnic media publishers linked the amount of City Hall coverage they were willing to publish to the amount of advertising the City purchased. This is obviously an ethical issue that compromises the integrity of news coverage. In some cases the problem is that publishers may not have a lot of background in journalism and therefore they don’t realize how such practices potentially undermine confidence in their publications. This is a situation where education and professional training can probably make at least some difference. This education and training should make the point that the long-term survival of any news media outlet depends on public faith in the integrity of the news coverage.

QYour content analysis suggests that ethnic media have a different "news agenda" than the mainstream media. Can you elaborate on this?

Ethnic media often do have a different news agenda and rightly so. Their competitive advantage is in telling stories about people, places and events in their community that are not covered by mainstream news media. I would argue, though, that ethnic news outlets could and should cast a wider net, that is, they should be covering more general news in a way that is relevant and useful to their audiences. Is the city planning to increase property taxes? That affects new immigrant homeowners too. Why not talk to them about the planned increase and provide a forum for their voices to be heard? In this way, newcomers get to participate in the city-wide debate. Coverage of this sort will also increase the odds that local politicians pay attention. In this way immigrant/newcomer communities can influence municipal decisions that affect them.

Ethnic media often do have a different news agenda and rightly so.

Q.  Based on this comprehensive study of ethnic media in an immigrant-rich market such as Brampton, how do you think ethnic media can better serve readers/viewers while still making a profit by keeping editorial costs down?

There is no silver bullet or single solution. One strategy would be to invite citizen experts from the ethnic community to write or talk about issues that affect people in that immigrant group. During tax season, for instance, why not ask a tax expert from the ethnic community you cover to do a newspaper Q and A or appear on a radio call-in show to talk about income tax filing? Ask a teacher from the community to write about why it’s important for parents to attend parent-teacher meetings and what happens at these meetings. Recruit a young, recent immigrant to recount what it’s like to navigate a Canadian high school or university. Highlighting community voices and providing useful, interesting information of this sort is a way to turn the media outlet into essential viewing, listening or reading – in other words it can build audience. And the bigger the audience the more attractive the media outlet is to advertisers.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 09 June 2016 17:01

Kabaddi in Brampton Schools

 BRAMPTON: With the growing popularity of kabaddi throughout India, it is now being played in Brampton’s schools and enjoyed by students. Peel District School Board Trustee Harkirat Singh and Brampton City Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon said on Thursday that they are encouraged to see the youth getting behind this traditional sport.  “Though it was a lot of work to […]

 

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