Categorized | Canadian Politics

Canada’s Traditions Will be Defended

Posted on 28 August 2013 by admin

Amneet Singh

Ottawa

The blue-helmeted peacekeepers that so famously have facilitated peace in times of war are a matter of pride for Canadians. It was Canada that developed the signatory symbol for the United Nations now known so famously and respected so widely. But have we lost our way?

 For so long Canada has been an international symbol of peace. As defenders of it and promoters of social justice, we have acted as beacon of neutrality and country defined by its politeness. But, over the last decade this credibility diminished, we began to close the door on refugees fleeing war-torn countries, denying them healthcare upon their arrival and prioritizing dollars over compassion.

In 1995, when a civil war had already climaxed in Punjab – Jaswant Singh Khalra was in the midst of an international tour. As Mr.Khalra toured Europe and eventually arrived in Canada, he stood before politicians in June of 1995 on Parliament Hill, pleaded for their assistance in his quest for justice and showcased evidence of targeted killings and disappearances of upto 25,000 Sikh youth in Punjab by government forces. He was applauded and politicians took the opportunity for their photo-ops, to be shared with an ever-growing and active South Asian voter base.

In June of 1995, beneath the fancy photo-ops and toe curling tales that Jaswant Singh Khalra narrated, an unfortunate series of events began to unfold back home in Punjab. There was a plan to put an end to embarrassing expose of fake encounters and disappearances by the police and Jaswant Singh Khalra was the target.

After traveling much of the world, Jaswant Singh Khalra had become unbearable nuisance to the perpatrators of these crimes. Mr, Khalra’s peaceful movement, empirical data and undisputable evidence was more dangerous than anything the state had ever seen. As a result, upon his return to India, Jaswant Singh Khalra became a victim like those he advocated for, he was kidnapped, tortured and disappeared by the Punjab Police in September 1995.

 With the disappearance of Jaswant Singh Khalra – the world was left in shock. Amnesty International pleaded for action to be taken and eventually named him an International Defender of Human Rights on the 50th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. His evidence was co-opted by the Government of India, a National Human Rights Commission was established , files were sealed and investigations stalled in a case that remains unfinished, 18 years later.

 When Jaswant Singh Khalra delivered his last international speech in Canada and paid for it with his life – how did the Government of Canada react? It didn’t. After successive Liberal and Conservative Governments Khalra’s evidence was ignored and any discussion surrounding human rights was equated to terrorism and/or extremism. Former Liberal MPs and leader Michael Ignatieff called the Sikh communities attempts to raise the issue “visceral” and a shield for extremists to promote a hidden agenda. The Conservatives ignored the issue entirely. But, under the leadership of Jack Layton and now Tom Mulcair the diasporas desire for recognition of trauma and suffering, the need for healing was prioritized. Jack Layton defended the community’s right to share its story as a fundamental right in a democracy and in April 2013 Canada’s New Democrats, under the leadership of Tom Mulcair adopted this position as a party policy. With thunderous applause MPP Jagmeet Singh stood before 2000 delegates from across the country at the Federal NDP Policy convention and challenged them to reaffirm Canada’s role in the world as a defender of social justice and a reputable promoter of peace. With a standing ovation the call was heard and a resolution Recognizing Jaswant Singh Khalra as an Important Defender of Human Rights was formally adopted.

But above all, a focused and determined opposition under the leadership of Tom Mulcair sent a strong message – that Canada’s traditions would be defended, people would be put before profits and policy and substance would form an unwavering opposition ready to govern on principles Canadians once proudly claimed on a world stage.

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