Speakers at a forum organized by the Indo Canadian Workers’ Association have overwhelmingly rejected the Conservative government’s immigration policies.
The September 9 event at a Sikh temple hall in Surrey was dedicated to Bhai Bhaag Singh, a South Asian community leader and publisher shot dead in Vancouver by British immigration agent Bela Singh on September 5, 1914. This occurred less than two months after the Komagata Maru was forced to leave Vancouver’s harbour carrying more than 350 South Asians who were prevented from setting foot on Canadian soil.
ICWA leader Surinder Sangha told the crowd of more than 300 people that Bhaag Singh died after fighting racist immigration policies, and that the community needs to revive activism to respond to contemporary challenges posed by the Conservative government. He insisted that “only strong activism” would be a fitting tribute to Bhaag Singh, which was why it was important to hold a “meaningful forum” to denounce the policies of the government rather than organizing a symbolic memorial service.
ICWA organizer Kulwant Dhesi told the forum the government is “making excuses” by accusing the South Asian community of indulging in immigration fraud. “Only a small percentage of people do illegal things,” Dhesi stated. “Why is the government punishing everyone in our community for this?”
On September 10, the federal government issued a news release alleging that nearly 11,000 people have been “potentially implicated in lying to apply for citizenship or maintain permanent resident status”. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney also announced in the same release that the federal government will strip up to 3,100 Canadians of their citizenship due to fraud.
“Canadian citizenship is not for sale,” Kenney declared. “We are taking action to strip citizenship and permanent residence status from people who don’t play by the rules and who lie or cheat to become a Canadian citizen.”
Most speakers at the forum criticized delays in family reunification, tightening of visa rules, the new citizenship test, and the lack of recognition of foreign credentials.
Among them was Paramjeet Sandhu, who broke down in tears when talking about how his Canadian-born daughter is married to a man who lives in India. “Please help me,” Sandhu pleaded. “My son-in-law is not getting a visa, although it’s a genuine marriage.”
The visa has not been provided even though Sandhu’s daughter has become a mother. Anne Murphy, a UBC professor married to a man of Indian origin, was also in attendance. Her husband had also faced difficulty getting a visa to travel to Vancouver.
Meanwhile, Manjeet Deol, a former teacher in India and a freelance Punjabi newspaper columnist, questioned why foreign credentials aren’t being recognized in Canada. And Irfan Malik, a local leader in the Pakistani community, alleged that his compatriots, as Muslims, are suffering doubly in a post–9/11 world because of racial profiling by immigration authorities.
Dhesi pointed out that although the forum was open to all political parties, New Democrats were the only ones to appear. NDP MPs Jinny Sims and Jasbir Sandhuand NDP MLA Harry Bains all spoke to the crowd. No One Is Illegal activists also showed up and distributed fliers critical of Conservative policies.
Other prominent speakers included moderate Sikh leader Balwant Singh Gill, Surrey Hindu temple leader Vinay Sharma, Punjabi writer Sadhu Binning, and Vancouver Co-op Radio host and filmmaker Imtiaz Popat.