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Artist Gives Disney Characters A South Asian Flair

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

Thusyanthe Srisachiananthadasan, an artist based in Germany is known for taking well known Disney characters like Aladdin and Princess Jasmine and giving them a traditional South Asian look.

Art has been a passion for her since a young age:

“Since the age of 16 I have always loved painting and knew it was my passion. Hence why I enrolled into Croydon college and studied art and design to further improve my skills and knowledge. It also let me learn more about myself and what I desired in life, which is when I decided that my path in life was to become an artist.”

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Tamil Canadian Makes Strides In the Pageant World

Posted on 16 March 2017 by admin

I hope to be a source of pride to a nation that celebrates it’s 150th year of being at the forefront of all that is progressive.


Anne Kasthuri Saverimuthu, reigning Miss York Region and a Top Ten Finalist for Miss Canada Globe, is flying to Florida this May to represent Canada at an international pageant. Here is her story:

Born and raised in Markham, I grew up in a home consumed by second-generation ideologies and an immense pressure to succeed in every aspect of my life. Pageants, however, were not on my parents’ checklist of milestones and achievements.

The pageant world, for the most part, is known to be a Caucasian dominated playground. In my experience, most individuals are quick to label pageants as superficial contests of physical appearances and false smiles. However, I have discovered that it takes an overwhelming amount of hard work and dedication to compete in these competitions.

I was quite hesitant at first, since I am clearly a minority and have no prior experience in pageantry. Despite this, I set aside my insecurities and applied to become a contestant. I passed the regional assessments and then moved on to the national pageant competition. The pageant itself lasted a full ten days, with practice starting from as early as 6am and ending at 2am the next day.

 Right from the beginning of my first pageant it was evident that I definitely stood out, not only in appearance but also in terms of how I chose to approach the pageant. Choosing to embrace my differences instead of hiding them, I incorporated my Tamil background in all aspects of the competition. For my costume component (which was designed to express Canadian heritage in an attire format) I handmade a design that showcased my roots, as seen in the picture below.

 For the ten days that I was competing, I strived to recognize both of my cultures. I also created a platform based on Covenant House – a charitable organization advocating to diminish the present issue of homeless youth in Toronto. This is a cause I am quite passionate about. What may have seemed like a superficial endeavour to others, quickly transformed into a pursuit of purpose. I came out within the Top Ten of my category from an original pool of a 1000 applicants.

 Competing in the Miss Canada Globe competition allowed for several things to happen in my life. Firstly, I am able to proudly represent Canada, a nation filled to the brim with diversity and culture. Secondly, it has given me the opportunity to represent and bring awareness to a cause I feel strongly about on a large pageantry platform. Lastly, I have been given the chance to break down barriers of the preconceived pageant world.

 I hope to continue to break barriers as I head to Florida this May. I will be representing Canada in an international pageant, not only as a Canadian but as an individual of Tamil heritage. I will do my best to represent all that I value; my character, nation, culture, and pursuit of social change. I hope to be a source of pride to a nation that celebrates it’s 150th year of being at the forefront of all that is progressive.


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Artists need to turn global turmoil into art that activates people to progress: Alysha Brilla

Posted on 09 March 2017 by admin

Alysha Brillinger  better known by her stage name Alysha Brilla is an Indo-Tanzanian-Canadian musician. Born in Mississauga, Ontario and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, Brilla started singing in her early teens in local bands and at various festivals, including the Coalflats and Kitchener Blues Festival, where she was the 2008 winner of the Grande River Youth Legacy contest.

 Brilla briefly attended Humber College’s Jazz program in Toronto while playing local gigs and building a fanbase.

In 2010, she was signed to Lava Records/Universal Republic.

Brilla was a featured performer at the 2010 Kitchener Blues Festival and Gala.[4] Alysha is now independent and runs her own music label, Sunny Jam Records Inc. and has released three self-produced studio albums on that label. The first two were Juno Award nominated.

Here is our interview with Alysha Brilla:

Please tell us a bit about your academic/family background?

I come from a mixed family. My mom is a white, Canadian born woman and my father was born in Tanzania, but is diasporically Gujarati. I grew up in a mixed Christian/Muslim household and it fostered a lot of discourse around race, religion and politics.

As far as academia goes, I have always been critical of academia and the institutionalization of knowledge. I just directed a short documentary called “Indigenizing Post-Secondary Education”. Though I was put into advanced classes after being tested intellectually ‘gifted’ as a youth, academia didn’t feel relevant to me and I never formally studied music.

•   Why be in the arts?

The arts have always been a medium I could turn to in order to process this very beautiful, but flawed world. Music saved me when I was growing up and it continues to allow me to communicate when I feel the need to convey something.

•  What is it for you? American music or Indian music?

Both. I am both Canadian born/raised and Indian at heart. I like fusion music and I think that’s a result of being a fusion of cultures, myself.

•   Why do you think many modern songs & music videos are not like evergreen songs & music videos of the past?

I think there is beautiful music being created right now. Artists create because they need to express something. It can be political or be a simple love song, but it always reflects the times. What is needed right now are artists who can take this world’s turmoil and alchemize it into art that activates people to think, feel and act towards progress. We are an evolving species; physically and intellectually, and it is important we remember that change is necessary and when energy becomes stuck, it becomes sick. We have to let life flow and embrace the diversity of humans.

•   Do you believe art is for entertainment or for social awareness? One can argue that with so much disturbance in life, people would like to enjoy art for relaxation purpose only.

I believe art is for both. A political song can relax someone just as a simple love song can engage social awareness, depending on who is singing and listening to it. At the end of the day, music is meant to make you feel something. Make you dance, make you sing, make you angry, make you happy, make you fall asleep…it is to illicit and move your being to another state.

•   What’s your family’s reaction to your profession choice?

My mom has always been a huge support and I certainly wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing had it not been for her encouragement in my teenage years. My father (being brown/Immigrant), had a lot of trouble with me wanting to pursue music and of course wanted me to be a doctor/lawyer/engineer. Now he appreciates it and of course, he is a musician at heart, too.

•   Is it a profession where you can make money?

It is for me at this point in my career, and I am grateful I can make a living from my art. It is a blessing.

•   Do good looks matter? Do they get you into the door?

“Good looks” are pretty culturally subjective. There are certainly standards of beauty that (especially) young women are held to when trying to enter any sort of performance-based industry. If a person who has an opportunity personally finds you attractive then yes, good looks can get you into a door.

•  How do you keep yourself fit?

Yoga, my bicycle, salsa dancing. :) . I have autoimmune health considerations, so I have to treat my body with a lot of love and care especially since I travel so much.

•  How much time do you spend on social media?

Definitely a few hours a day.

•   What kind of pressures do you feel as a professional?

I’d say the biggest pressure I feel is to make sure my fans feel connected and that when we meet, they feel like it is a positive and memorable moment for them.

•   Is the industry different for men vs. women?

Definitely. That’s another book I will write, though.

•   How much pressure do you feel to maintain a certain figure and looks?

Firstly I will say that I am privileged to not have to deal with the constant media bombardment many women have to lose weight. I have always been really thin and as a teenager, I would actually feed myself until I was sick trying to gain weight. After dealing with autoimmune health issues, my priority now is just to be healthy. I don’t care if someone thinks I’m too skinny or don’t have the curves they want me to- this is my body and it is the mechanism with which I hold my guitar, the muscles which expand and contract to create my singing voice and the eyes and ears through which I see the world. Of course I have dealt with a lot of insecurity, especially when I first entered the industry, but at this point I honestly don’t care. I’m not here for the male gaze and I hope all people can love their bodies. They are gifts.

•   What and who do you turn to when depressed?

I turn to music and I turn to water. Water has always healed me. It can be taking a bath, looking at the river, lake or ocean…it brings me back to the earth and reminds me that I am part of something bigger than myself.

•   Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Touring the world, living in B.C., learning and learning and learning. Writing and producing a lot of music.

•   What would you like to change in the world. Do you associate yourself with any charities?

I would like the world to have balanced knowledge. This means listening to Indigenous peoples and groups of people who have throughout history and presently had their voices minimized within the context of education, leadership and spirituality. We need to listen to women, non-binary folks, BIPOC people, queer folks…all the people who for one reason or another, haven’t had a place at the table. Now is the time.

I just released my song “Changing The World” on a compilation album by the United Nations called “Music To Inspire”. All the proceeds from the album go to United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking. So many women and girls are affected. They need healing. This world needs healing.

•   Your favourite male artist

Bob Marley

•     Your favourite female artist

Amy Winehouse

•   What are you currently working on, and what’s coming up in the future?

I am currently finishing writing for an album I want to release next year. I’m really excited about the songs that are coming out right now…they are about the hope, the change, the unity and the awareness. Messages I hope to see more, everywhere.

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M-103: Liberal Government Will Support Iqra Khalid’s Motion Condemning Islamophobia

Posted on 25 February 2017 by admin

Federal Liberals will support a backbencher’s motion calling on the government to condemn Islamophobia and study the best ways to quell an “increasing public climate of hate and fear.”

Motion 103, tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid has sparked divisions among Conservatives and raised the ire of those who argue its adoption could have a chilling effect on free speech.

The non-binding motion has also been the subject of rumours and innuendo from some right-wing blogs in Canada and the United States suggesting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seeking to somehow criminalize criticism of Islam.

Khalid addressed some of those concerns at a press conference with Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly. The pair was surrounded by Liberal MPs in what Joly called a “demonstration of solidarity.”

Joly said that the government was voicing “strong and clear” support for Khalid’s motion. She later said that while all Liberal MPs will be free to vote based on their own beliefs, there will be “very strong support” from caucus.

“M-103 is about ensuring that, in Canada, we stand for free and respectful exchanges of ideas and opinions,” Joly said. “And there is no place for hatred and no tolerance of abuse.”

Khalid noted that the motion came on the heels of an e-petition tabled in the House in Commons, signed by nearly 70,000 Canadians, condemning Islamophobia.

If M-103 passes, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage will be asked to develop a “whole of government approach” to combat systemic racism and “contextualize hate crime reports so Canadians can understand what is happening on the ground,” Khalid said.

The Mississauga MP said that while the motion makes specific mention of Islamophobia, it is “broad in scope to include all marginalized communities.”

Khalid also noted that she and other colleagues have received hateful comments over the motion in recent weeks that only highlight the work that needs to be done.

“This strengthens my resolve to continue to combat this issue,” she said.

‘This is not legislation’

Khalid denied the motion could in any way restrict the rights of Canadians to express their views on things such as sharia law or face-covering niqab veils.

“This is a motion, this is not legislation,” Khalid said. “And I would be the first person to oppose anything that infringes on our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This motion is about having a study on how we can tackle important issues like systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

But several Tory leadership hopefuls have already made it clear that they will not support M-103. Kellie Leitch tweeted last month that the motion does not treat “all religions equally” and suggested it grants “special privileges” to Islam.

In recent days, other rivals have joined Leitch in criticizing Khalid’s effort and announcing they too will not support the motion.

Andrew Scheer released a statement saying M-103 is not inclusive.

“It singles out just one faith,” Scheer said in a release. “I believe that all religions deserve the same level of respect and protection.”

Maxime Bernier suggested that while M-103 is not a bill and lacks teeth, it could be a “first step” in restricting the fundamental right of Canadians to express their opinions on a specific religion.

“We should reaffirm everyone’s right to believe in and criticize whatever belief they want, whether it is Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, atheism, or any other,” Bernier said in his release.

Tory leadership contenders seek specifics

Tory leadership Kevin O’Leary also told The National Post he won’t support the motion. “It is ill-conceived and it is a slap in the face to other religions and to other races,” O’Leary told The Post.

Both Scheer and Bernier took specific umbrage with the fact that the motion does not define Islamophobia. At the press conference Wednesday, Joly said Islamophobia is the “discrimination of Muslim people and people who are of Muslim faith.”

A reporter noted that Tory MPs have said they approached Khalid with ideas for amendments and were shut down. Khalid said the wording of the motion, as it stands, has broad support from MPs, organizations, and Canadians at large.

“Watering down the words of this motion is not in the best interest of all these people,” she said.

Ambrose accuses Liberals of playing games

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose has also said she won’t vote for the motion. Ambrose took to Facebook to explain that while M-103 won’t bar free speech, she is concerned the term “Islamophobia” could be used to shut down legitimate debate and “to intimidate rather than to inform.”

“I do worry that some of my work trying to empower women and girls in Muslim communities could be branded as ‘Islamophobic’ if I criticize practices that I believe are oppressive,” she wrote.

Ambrose said two Tory critics tried to work with Khalid to change the language to reflect the need to fight discrimination against all religious communities, but were denied.

“This motion is simply being used by the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister to play partisan politics,” Ambrose said.

 But at least one Tory leadership hopeful is prepared to support Khalid.

Michael Chong released a lengthy statement saying he will vote in favour of M-103. Chong’s statement said that, in light of the recent deadly attack on a Quebec City mosque, it is “appropriate and important that Canadian Parliamentarians” tackle the issue of anti-Islamic prejudice.

Chong said it was untrue that the motion grants special treatment to Canadian Muslims, noting how the House has passed motions in recent years dealing with Jewish people, Yazidis, and Egyptian Coptic Christians.

 “Motion 103 does not set us down the path of sharia law in any way, shape, or form,” Chong said.

MP says she was told to ‘go home’

Khalid, who was born in Pakistan and immigrated to Canada from England, recounted the bigotry she faced as a “young, brown Muslim Canadian woman” when she tabled the motion in December. Khalid said she was told to “go home,” even though Canada was her country.

“I am a proud Canadian among hundreds and thousands of others who will not tolerate hate based on religion or skin colour,” she said at the time. “I rise today with my fellow Canadians to reject and condemn Islamophobia.”

Police-reported hate crimes against Muslim Canadians have more than doubled in the past three years, according to recent numbers from Statistics Canada.

The full text of Khalid’s motion is below:

Systemic racism and religious discrimination

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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Trump vows to only tweak Canadian NAFTA provisions after Trudeau meeting

Posted on 15 February 2017 by admin

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won personal assurances from President Donald Trump during an Oval Office meeting earlier this week that the United States only wants to tweak the North American free-trade provisions that govern commerce with Canada.

Mr. Trudeau steered clear of controversial subjects – refusing to criticize Mr. Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries – opting instead to win the President over by convincing him Canada can help his economic agenda.

Mr. Trudeau came to the White House with the overarching aim of obtaining U.S. guarantees that Canada’s export-driven economy wouldn’t be sideswiped by the President’s plan to renegotiate NAFTA.

“We have a very outstanding trade relationship with Canada. We’ll be tweaking it. We’ll be doing certain things that will benefit both of our countries,” Mr. Trump told a joint news conference in the White House after the sit-down. “Our relationship with Canada is outstanding. We are going to work together to make it even better.”

The U.S. President promised “to have a great relationship with Canada … as good or better, hopefully, than ever before.”

But the President said the United States will be seeking more “reciprocity” in trade with Canada, which could include demands that U.S. firms are able to bid on provincial and municipal projects. And he said “you can never be totally confident” that the U.S.-Canada border is secure, hinting at two possible areas of friction when talks begin in earnest.

Some Canadian provinces and municipalities have local content or “knowledge” requirements written into their procurement policies, giving an edge to Canadian companies. Infrastructure Ontario, for instance, which oversees tens of billions of dollars’ worth of provincial transit, hospital and school construction, favours contractors with local knowledge as a way to boost Ontario-based firms. This protectionist policy is important enough that the province fought to ensure it would be allowed to remain in place when Canada negotiated a free-trade deal with the European Union.

For the most part, however, Mr. Trump reassured Mr. Trudeau that he has nothing to fear from the new administration in Washington. Mr. Trump said his main aim in revamping NAFTA was to take aim at Mexico, which has a $58-billion (U.S.) trade deficit with the United States, compared with an $11-billion surplus with Canada.

“It is a much less severe situation than what is taking place on the southern border. On the southern border for many, many years the transaction was not fair to the United States. It was an extremely unfair transaction … we are going to make it a fair deal for both countries,” Mr. Trump said.

A senior Canadian government official said Mr. Trump and his advisers did not say when they expected NAFTA talks to begin. “We have no clarity on that,” said the official, who added the Trump team got along well with their Canadian counterparts despite the ideological differences.

The Prime Minister, who was close to former president Barack Obama, is seen by many Americans as a progressive voice on refugees after letting 40,000 Syrians into Canada at the start of his term. But he resisted a push from U.S. journalists to speak out against Mr. Trump’s immigration ban.

“The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they should choose to govern themselves,” Mr. Trudeau said. “My role, our responsibility is to continue to govern in such a way that reflects Canadians’ approach and a positive example to the world.”

However, Mr. Trudeau said Canada’s policy of welcoming refugees would continue and he noted U.S. security agencies had a role in vetting the Syrians who came to Canada.

The President strongly defended his controversial immigration ban even though the executive order has been blocked by the U.S. courts.

“It’s stance of common sense and we are going to pursue it vigorously and we don’t want our country to have the kinds of problems taking place not only here but all over the world,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re not going to let it happen.”

The pair largely stuck to trade, with Mr. Trudeau repeatedly drawing parallels between his concern for the middle class and Mr. Trump’s.

“At the end of the day, the President and I share a common goal: We both want to make sure that hard-working folks can go to work at a good job, put food on the table for their families and save up to take a vacation every once in a while,” he said.

The two leaders promised joint co-operation on border security, continental defence and infrastructure spending – and to stop the flow of opioid drugs coming across the U.S. border.

“The illegal use of opioids in our society is nothing less than a tragedy. We will do everything we can to ensure the safety of Canadians and Americans,” Mr. Trudeau said.

The Prime Minister’s Office is also keen on rebuilding electrical transmission links across the international border, something that could dovetail with Mr. Trump’s promised spending on infrastructure.

Mr. Trump, for his part, appeared to pick up on Mr. Trudeau’s insistence that trade with Canada could actually help his agenda. At one point, Mr. Trump included Canada in his vision for stopping the export of jobs overseas.

“Having more jobs and trade right here in North America is better for both the United States and it is also much better for Canada … we will co-ordinate closely to protect jobs in our hemisphere and keep wealth on our continent,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he wanted a “stronger trading relationship” and “more … bridges of commerce” with Canada.

Such comments are a sharp contrast with the protectionist rhetoric for which Mr. Trump is usually known.

While Mr. Trudeau and the President did not appear to develop the friendly banter the Prime Minister had with Mr. Obama, they were cordial with each other and seemed to have developed a rapport.

Mr. Trump spent half a day with the Prime Minister and his senior cabinet ministers that included an hour-long meeting in the Oval Office, a luncheon with key administration figures, including Vice-President Mike Pence, and a roundtable with female business executives from Canada and the United States.

During a walk from the West Wing to a luncheon, Mr. Trump and Mr. Trudeau were engrossed in conversation, with both strolling slowly and Mr. Trump placing his hand on Mr. Trudeau’s back. Mr. Trump’s strategist, Steve Bannon, meanwhile, could be seen speaking animatedly and gesticulating to Gerald Butts, Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary.

Mr. Trump praised Mr. Trudeau and his father, Pierre Trudeau, at the roundtable announcing a Canada-U.S. women’s business council, after Mr. Trudeau presented him with a photograph of the elder Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump at an awards dinner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in 1981. Mr. Trudeau also gave Mr. Trudeau a sculpture of a lion, carved out of sandstone from an Ohio quarry.

Mr. Pence’s office said he and Mr. Trudeau’s ministers discussed ways to “deepen” trade, and work together on fighting the Islamic State.

Mr. Trudeau also held a chummy meeting with House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan. Seated in front a fire, Mr. Ryan ribbed Mr. Trudeau for the way Canadian hockey teams scoop up players from his home state of Wisconsin.

Mr. Ryan’s office afterward said he and Mr. Trudeau discussed “breaking down trade barriers” between Canada and the United States – suggesting that Mr. Trump’s Republican Party may be pushing the President for more free trade rather than less.

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An Unconventional Techie: Sumi Shan

Posted on 08 February 2017 by admin


On a Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. Sumi Shan’s day of work is not yet over. She speaks to me over the phone while taking a break from finalizing plans for an event for one of her many projects in the tech world, TEx Ventures .

As a graduate in Political Science and former political staffer, the tech industry did not always provide an obvious career path for Sumi.

Migrating to Canada in the 1980’s, she was raised in a political household influenced by the political climate in Sri Lanka and by her parents’ own struggles to raise her and her brother in a new country. Attending her first political rally for the Liberal Party of Canada at just 14 years old, a passion ignited within Sumi which would influence her involvement and lead her to work for a Member of Provincial Parliament shortly after finishing university.

As a political staffer at Queen’s Park, she gained invaluable professional experience in communications, issues management, policy and stakeholder relations, from working on a diverse and complex range of projects, from a Bill to accredit foreign trained professionals, to marketing provincial tourism and negotiating bilateral agreements. However, while Sumi was realizing a long-held dream of a career in politics, the life of a political aide was beginning to take a toll on her. While balancing the demands of an intense work schedule, in the middle of her political career, Sumi was persuaded into an arranged marriage in her 20’s. After realizing that the marriage was not going to work out, she made the difficult decision to divorce and simultaneously decided to explore opportunities outside of politics.

“After my divorce, I felt like I had not lived up to expectations. As a Tamil woman, there’s so much pressure to succeed in all aspects of life. I’ve learned so much from what I thought at that time was a failure. I know now that it’s not the end of the world when things don’t work out. It provided a valuable lesson in knowing myself and that I needed to a lead a life filled with purpose.”

With the support and encouragement of her family, friends and mentors, Sumi was motivated to move on to the next stage of life and began building a successful career for herself yet again as part of the Public Affairs team at the Heart and Stroke Foundation. She achieved several successes during this time, including her work for a campaign which garnered several prestigious awards and acknowledgements ranging from – the Media Innovation Awards, ADCC, AdWeek and Huffington Post Canada. At the same time, she decided to take a professional risk and start a public affairs and diversity consultation business with some friends, Sangam Consulting. Feeling an unfamiliar and exciting new joy in running a business, Sumi eventually divested the partnership and spearheaded Niche Strategies on her own to help startups in Toronto and San Francisco.

“The passion and energy in the space invigorated me. I also found that in my interactions with startup founders, especially technical ones, that they needed help with go-to-market strategies and simple stakeholder or investor relations; all of which my background in politics, strategic planning and communications could help them with.”

As a result of her work through Niche Strategies, Sumi unexpectedly caught the eye of Microsoft Canada and was taken on as the Public Relations Lead for their Corporate Affairs team. While this has since become her “daytime job”, Sumi has continued running and growing Niche Strategies as her own business.

While many people would be satisfied and even overwhelmed with this level of professional success, Sumi is also an advisor at AVM Equity, a boutique firm that provides consultation on go-to-market strategies for start-ups, in addition to being a co-founder of TEx Ventures, “an integrated, multifaceted platform that aims to provide comprehensive support to the next generation of start-ups.”

What makes TEx Ventures different than her other tech consulting endeavors? Sumi started TEx Ventures with other members of the North American Tamil community after seeing eagerness from many in the community to venture into the start-up world. Leveraging the global networks of the TEx Ventures team, it aims to help mentor, fund and accelerate the formation and growth of startups from the ideation stage to the Series A funding round.

As a self-described “unconventional techie” Sumi admitted to feeling overwhelmed from time-to-time as the face of several tech consulting companies without a “traditional” tech background.

“I’m a minority woman. On top of that, I don’t come from the tech industry. I’ve felt intimidated throughout my career as one of a handful of minority women in Queen’s Park and now in the tech world. But like everything that I have come across in life, I have learned to overcome obstacles and learn to be confident in myself. I’m lucky to have a really great support system. If I allowed self-doubt and fear to overwhelm me, I would have missed out on all the great experiences that have happened to me.”

While Sumi may be an unconventional techie, her career is only growing and her work continues to garner attention in the industry. Her advice to aspiring Tamil entrepreneurs?

“You don’t have to do it all by yourself and don’t be afraid to fail. Whether it is a matter of ego, or just not knowing – many of the Tamil entrepreneurs that I have met feel that they need to prove to others by doing everything on their own. Don’t burn yourself out. There are many resources and professionals out there that can help – you don’t have to be the expert in everything. It’s ok to fail, just learn from it.”

Shanelle Kandiah is a graduate from the University of Toronto, Shanelle recently completed her Master’s in Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University.

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Award shows should have diverse judges to represent artist community

Posted on 01 February 2017 by admin

Raoul Juneja, music producer, TV producer, columnist, activist

Raoul Juneja, also known as Deejay Ra, is a columnist, TV host, music producer and activist. He is also a media expert on urban and South Asian music. He has created and produced the award-winning national Canadian music TV show.

Raoul was born in Toronto, and was raised in New York City. He studied media at Western University where he began DeeJaying and appearing as a TV host and columnist.He has also interviewed prominent Canadian celebrities including Russell Peters and Maestro Fresh Wes.

Raoul started his professional career in 2001 founding his Lyrical Knockout Entertainment company. He also began writing articles and interviewing artists.

Here’s Generation Next’s interview with this multi-talented young man:


You are multi-talented, music producer, TV producer, columnist, activist. Do you have to spread wings far enough to sustain yourself in show business?

To some extent, but you shouldn’t get distracted focusing on too many things at once as you run the risk of not excelling at any of them. I’ve found it’s more important to have the skills to work in multiple areas depending on the flow of your career. So for example, I was producing compilations and writing early in my career, spent 4 years producing a TV show, went back to writing, and now am back producing compilations.

It seems as if South Asian artists have been booming in Canadian and American TV. Is it just an impression or has the field really grown?

Growing up I was lucky to have Aashna on YTV and Monika Deol on MuchMusic as inspirations for me wanting to become a veejay, but ‘Apu’ from “The Simpsons” was still who the mainstream would compare us to. Russell Peters, who was one of my mentors, has done amazing on TV and Netflix as has Aziz Ansari and so many others.

How supportive is Canadian government of Canadian South Asian artists in comparison to say British, Indian or American governments?

This wasn’t always the case, but in recent years I’ve seen great support from the Canadian government and industry for Canadian artists of South Asian heritage, when it comes to grants and other opportunities. Not just because they are South Asian, but because they are talented artists who present themselves professionally, which is the most important thing.

It’s great that many Canadian artists have seen success in Britain, India and America so I hear each country’s government and industry has its own unique benefits for their artists. Raghav, Jonita Gandhi and Anjulie are just three examples of Canadian artists who’ve been very successful in Britain, India and America respectively.

You have worked in mainstream media. Tell us what the mainstream media gets wrong about South Asian artists working in Canadian showbiz?

Back in the day, it was still common for South Asian artists or TV personalities to be typecast under Bollywood when it came to the Canadian industry. It was difficult even for myself and V-Mix’s host Dilshad Burman to be taken seriously at first, given that we were both South Asian but doing an urban and world music TV show that didn’t cover Bollywood.

Now there are artists like Alysha Brilla who have large mainstream fanbases, or hosts like Sangita Patel on Entertainment Tonight Canada who are interviewing the biggest Hollywood stars. More progress can always be made, but I’m proud to have tried to do my part and will continue to!

What do you think about various Bollywood and Hollywood award shows in the light of the fact that many Hollywood and Bollywood stars do not think very highly of these shows.

I believe the Bollywood and Hollywood award shows are very important but should always have a diverse team of judges, so there is consistent diversity amongst the award winners. Not just culturally, but also within genres so the artists truly feel represented as a community.

I’ve won several awards in the past and definitely feel it helped with my career, plus now I’m honoured to now be a juror for several awards shows like Canada’s Prism Prize and the Toronto Independent Music Awards.

How do you think technology has changed music and music industry?

Technology has always and will continue to change various art forms and their industries, especially music. Bootlegging has always been there, as have consumers who like to purchase music versus those who like to hear it for free, whether on the radio in the past or by streaming today.

10 years from now, how do you see technology changing this industry even further. In other words what are the jobs of future in the music industry?

I feel there has always been a need for both artists and tastemakers. Artists to create the music, and tastemakers who can curate the music to present what they feel will be most enjoyed by the public at large. Both deserve to be compensated for their work, otherwise you won’t have the art or the public will be overwhelmed and not able to absorb it all, which is happening to an extent today as we see opportunities for music journalists lessen.

What are some of the social issues near and dear to your heart and why?

Bullying is something I’m very vocal about, and I’ve been honoured to tour Canadian schools these past few years as part of the “Conquer The Fear” tour alongside Alexi Couto, Shane Kippel, Jae Cabrera and recently Scott Graham.

Over the past year, the issue of human trafficking is something I became aware of and wanted to do something about.

Both bullying and human trafficking can negatively affect youth in a huge way, leaving a lasting impact on their lives or in many instances even put their lives at risk.

Sometimes I get an impression that you prefer to be behind the scenes. Is it accurate?

Absolutely, but I do enjoy being on camera or on stage when necessary! So many get into the entertainment industry because of acting or musical talents they have, even though I acted in plays and was in bands at school I was always more interested in whose vision the actors or musicians were helping bring to light.

A common joke about TV producers or producers of music projects is that we’re the ones who no one notices if everything goes right, but we’re the ones to blame if anything goes wrong! Our job is to bring out the best in the TV directors and hosts, as well as in the artists and composers, to make sure they get the credit they deserve.

Please talk to us about your music compilation releasing with The United Nations on Jan. 31st to benefit the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons.

I couldn’t be more honoured to co-produce the “Music To Inspire: Artists United Against Human Trafficking” triple album alongside Sammy Chand, Founder of the Los Angeles based label Rukus Avenue. We’ve assembled over 65 world renowned artists to lend their songs and names to raise awareness and funds to fight human trafficking. The album is out now on Rukus Avenue, available on iTunes and all digital retailers with the proceeds going to the UN Trust Fund.

I was very moved that the South Asian music community came out in full force to support us, including AR Rahman, Anoushka Shankar, Sonu Nigam, Apache Indian and Panjabi MC. Some of my favourite mainstream artists like Joss Stone, Vanessa Carlton and Garbage were also quick to offer their help.

What are some of the other initiatives you have been part of and why?

I’m excited to be returning as the keynote interviewer at the Canadian Urban Music Conference on September 2nd, and to host at TDotFest on September 3rd. The conference and festival have been a huge live platform for upcoming and established Canadian urban artists.

I’ll also be involved with the upcoming CUT Hip Hop Awards on May 6th, a hip hop awards show which is very much needed in Canada considering Canadian artists’ huge contributions to hip hop over the past 25 years.

Working in this industry, who has inspired you the most and why?

It may seem surprising, but Professor Noam Chomsky has been my biggest inspiration ever since I read a small article by him when I was in university. I was in a business program only taking one media course, which is how I discovered his work, and just a few of his words changed how I thought about the world entirely. I immediately switched to a media program, and the rest is history!

I was very inspired by the fact that he was both a linguistics professor and an outspoken activist, which made me believe I could also combine my love for media and music with making a difference.

With all the work you do, how do you find time to eat, sleep, rest and be on social media?

Having a schedule to do all those things is integral in the music and media industries, as there’s a constant mix of busy and slow times as well as emotional highs and lows. You can easily lose your work ethic, physical health or mental health if you don’t give yourself a structure, and even in my case it took years to find the right rhythm for myself.

I find it’s also important to differentiate between meetings, networking and socializing, as well as the hard work that progresses your career. All are important but focus on things that are actively bringing you closer to your goals, even if it seems like it will take a long time to get there. It took me 15 years of working in the industry before I got to go to The Grammy’s for the first time last year, but that made it all the more worth it. I couldn’t be happier to be going back to the Grammy’s this year too!

Follow Raoul on Twitter @RAOULJUNEJA and on Instagram @LYRICALKNOCKOUT

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My Experiences With Bullying

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin


Feature image courtesy of MY Photography.

I have briefly mentioned experiencing bullying before, but after hearing about an incident in Netherlands of a young Tamil boy who took his life due to bullying, and receiving an email from a girl yesterday about similar issues she is facing, I thought I will write a blog about my thoughts on this, in the hope that this may create a ray of hope for anyone out there who feels what I felt many years ago.

I grew up in a refugee camp to begin with, and since my parents didn’t speak German, I was not able to pick up the language very quickly, so I went to kindergarten and was picked on for not knowing German. Not just by fellow kids, but also the teachers, who isolated me and never included me in anything. When I started primary school, I was picked on immediately. We didn’t have school Uniforms in Germany, and my parents couldn’t afford to dress me in nice things, so I was picked on for my dress code, not speaking German, and for being coloured. Germany in the 90s was extremely racist. I was called names just because of my skin tone.

In my last year at primary school, I used to get beaten up during break, I used to go home with bruises, and my mum believed every story I told her. My parents were never even aware of what went on at school.

When I started high school, things got better, only to then be told that we are moving to England. I hated the high school system here. Yes we had Uniforms, and the teachers had a lot more control over students and waited at the bus stops until every student got on, but that never stopped the bullies. I had to sit at the front of every class due to my language barrier (yep, I spoke no word of English at the age of 14), and the so called ‘cool’ kids sitting at the back used to chuck paper at me when the teacher wasn’t looking. On one occasion I had chewing gum chucked at me, which got caught in my hair, and I waited to use the bathroom, to cry in the cubicle because I couldn’t get it out of my hair.

I was teased for the way I looked, for having a hairy upper lip, for the way I dressed, for the way I spoke, for not being academically smart. Naturally I had no friends either. Not in Kindergarten, not in Primary school, and not during High School either. The only person I became friends with was also being bullied, so we were both always picked on.

I genuinely believed that Uni will change everything, but it didn’t. I moved out, and initially made friends with the people I lived with, but very soon they made their own friends from their courses and I was left on my own again. I tried really hard to make friends in my course, but I really struggled. I hated having group work or a lab partner, as I was always the last person to be selected. No one wanted to work with me.

I still managed to make a few friends who I am still close with to this day. But man, making friends during those days just wasn’t easy for me.

I was depressed, miserable, and just super insecure. I had the odd person I hung out with, or was desperate to have a boyfriend because I thought at least that way I won’t be lonely, but to no luck. Things never seemed to work out for me very well. (And when you are this vulnerable and lonely, you do attract the wrong kind of guys, so please please do not make the same mistake. It is better to be on your own, than wind up with a psycho boyfriend who will make you fell much worse about yourself than any of those bullies at school).

I didn’t tell anyone about it, and I didn’t talk to a therapist either. In fact none of my family members knew about it, and the teachers/lecturers weren’t aware either. Do you know what I did about it? I learned to not care about them. I figured that a few years down the line none of these people are going to matter. I took a vow that I will make something of my life, and that I will be happy, content, successful, and achieve my goals. I used to want those things, just so I can have people begging to be my friend.

Well today that doesn’t influence my decisions of course. Today I have learned to do things on my own, to be independent, and to run my own business. I achieved all the things I set out to achieve, and whoever stuck by me through this painful and long journey, are the ones I really regard as friends and who really matter to me. To me, my parents and my cousins are still my number ones, and every one else I meet along the journey come and go, and I am content with that. People who want to be friends with you because of success or fame, are never really real friends. Trust me!!!

I have considered taking my life numerous times during those awful years. I used to think no one would even notice if I am gone, and that I would probably enrich their lives by killing myself. I am telling you, I have never crossed paths with any of these bullies since leaving school, and I am glad that I never took my life for their satisfaction. Bullies make you believe that something is wrong with you, when in reality something is wrong with them. They are the miserable and unhappy ones, and they get their notion of happiness by making others suffer. It is their way of coping, their way of surviving. It is not your fault. In fact be the better person and feel sorry for them, if you are not able to do so, then just ignore them.

I could write an entire essay of what you could do to those mean bullies, but stooping to their level is never wise. We don’t know what they are going through nor why they are so bitter and unhappy. They must be fighting their own battles at home. Who cares? It is not your problem. You are loved, you have a beautiful family, and you have a roof over your head and cooked food on the table, stay strong and put up with it until you can make active choices. Yes you could change schools, or jobs, or stop being friends with the person that constantly picks on you. But does that solve the problem? It deals with the symptoms not the source. How we react to these situations is dealing with the source of the problem. Just ignore them, and don’t change. Be the same kind person you want to be.

You would think bullying only happens in schools, but no it happens at work, it happens in relationships, it even happens amongst family members. We can never get away from a bully. They are everywhere, and around us. But we have the power to do something about it. To make choices that allow us to stay away from such people. Or remove ourselves from these situations. The first step is to talk to a loved one, confide in them, and let them help you. If you don’t, then there are professionals you can talk to at school or even at work to make them aware of this.

I once had a staff member bully me at work for over a year. Since I became an expert at being bullied, I just noted down everything; anything he said or did. I never encouraged him, nor reacted to his behaviour. (Even though I used to cry at home, or in the bathrooms), and then after about six months of collecting evidence, I wrote a huge letter to HR, filed a formal complaint, and after a few interviews he was sacked. And I worked happily ever after!

Even now, I sometimes get cyberbullies. I even have some family members who bully me. I deal with it every day.

Why should you suffer for someone else? Why does the other person matter more than you? Why is it ok to feel sad, irrelevant, and lonely? Why?

No one has that right or that kind of power over you. So don’t let them!

Just use me as an example. I was bullied most of my life, and today I regard myself as a successful and independent woman. I am also about to leave my family and friends and move to another country where I am not going to know anyone and start from scratch. I got those bullies to thank! I became tough and strong because of them.

So get up, dust off, and LIVE!!! Life gets better. I promise!!!

Vithya is a London based Hair and Make Up artist who specialises in Asian Bridal Hair and Make Up, and dressing. She qualified at the London College of Fashion, has worked for M.A.C Cosmetics for almost three years, and is now self employe

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Brampton man heading to India to be ‘part of real change’ in Punjab vote

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Surinder Mavi’s political awakening began with his arrival in Canada eight years ago, when he realized bribes were unnecessary and basic rules, like stopping at red lights, were respected.

“I thought to myself, ‘Why shouldn’t the system work like this in the Punjab?” he says, referring to his home state in northern India.

On Tuesday, Mavi will be among 90 or so residents from the Toronto area flying to India to help the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) contest elections on Feb. 4 for Punjab’s legislative assembly.

“I want to be a part of real change,” says Mavi, a 31-year-old Brampton resident who helped organize the plane load of AAP election volunteers.

Mavi said the Toronto area volunteers are part of a campaign that will see thousands of Indian expatriates arrive in Dehli Thursday to help the AAP in the state elections.

For the election, Mavi will be ride an AAP campaign bus that will rally support in 16 of Punjab’s largest constituencies.

Before coming to Canada, Mavi was a politically inactive and unemployed engineer. But in 2014, after landing a job as a senior technical service analyst at a major Canadian bank, he decided it was time to act.

He joined the Canadian branch of AAP, which had burst onto the Indian political scene two years earlier with a platform of ending the culture of “bribe-taking.” Its leader is an austere former civil servant, Arvind Kejriwal.

Up for grabs in Punjab are 117 assembly seats in a state where Sikhs make up the majority of its 28 million people. The election will test the AAP’s support outside of its base in Dehli, where in 2015 it won all but three of the capital’s 70 assembly seats in local elections.

The Dehli results were a spectacular comeback for a party that, the previous year, was trounced in national elections by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). The AAP won only four seats — all of them in Punjab.

The Punjab election will also test the popularity of Modi’s BJP, which is part of the state government thanks to its alliance with the Sikh-based Shiromani Akali Dal party.

The election is the first since Modi’s bold “demonetization” policy of fighting tax evasion and corruption by scrapping India’s two biggest notes — 1,000 rupees (about $20), and 500 rupees (about $10). The policy has resulted in lengthy lineups at banks as Indians scrambled to exchange the old notes for new ones.

“It’s a good bellwether for the effect that demonetization has had,” said professor Kanta Murali, an expert on Indian politics at the University of Toronto, noting that Punjab’s farmers and large agricultural sector rely heavily on cash transactions.

Azad Kaushik, Canadian president of the Overseas Friends of BJP, notes “an anti-incumbency factor” prevalent in Punjab. But in a phone interview from Dehli, where he was visiting, he insists the BJP’s economic record and its development of infrastructure — from roads to airports — will keep its state coalition in power.

Kaushik, who accuses the AAP of having “failed miserably” as Dehli’s government, stresses his group is not a political party and therefore will not be sending volunteers to India to help the BJP in the Punjab election.

Polls in the last several months have indicated widely different results. But all show the AAP having a significant impact.

Mavi, whose parents live in Punjab, said the Toronto-area volunteers will largely be staying with family and relatives. Key platform issues, he said, are the AAP’s proposals to fight widespread drug abuse among youth and programs to give farmers more money for their crops.

He has high hopes for his party but no plans to take his wife and one-year-old son to live in India, at least not until big changes happen.

“If the system started working as it is in Canada, then there’s no harm in going back,” he said.

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Youth are struggling with sentiment that they don’t belong

Posted on 11 January 2017 by admin

Yaseen Poonah, President of Naseeha (advice)

For every phone call that gets answered, Yaseen Poonah can’t help but think about the thousands that don’t.

Poonah, founder and president of Naseeha, a GTA-based volunteer helpline for Muslim youth, started the service nearly a decade ago with the aim of giving teens across North America a free and confidential place to call for support.

Staffed with counsellors for only three hours on weekday evenings, the service has long struggled to meet the demand of teens calling from as far away as Hawaii, New Mexico and California to talk and seek spiritual guidance, on issues common to all teens.

But then came the U.S. election campaign.

Over the past year, Naseeha (which means advice in Arabic) saw its call volume increase by more than 300 per cent over 2015, according to Poonah.

“Now it’s a different ball game,” he said. In 2015, Naseeha received more than 4,000 calls. But between January and December of 2016, the service received more than 16,000 calls — many of which went unanswered simply because of a lack of staff, he said.

The concerns of Muslim youth are largely the same as those of all youth, Poonah added: “Depression, mental health, bullying, suicide, LGBT and questioning gender identity are the big ones.”

But there are some culturally specific ones: intergenerational cultural clashes, marital problems and, more often these days, discrimination. “Youth are struggling with the sentiment that they don’t belong and that is manifesting itself in unhealthy behaviours,” he said. Most of the calls Naseeha gets come from the U.S.

“We had a number of mainstream organizations in the U.S. asking us if we had enough resources available in light of a Trump presidency,” Poonah said. “Admittedly, we are a little concerned about what will happen after Inauguration Day.”

The service has been receiving calls not only from youth, but also from their parents about how to deal with the effect of Donald Trump’s presidency, he said. “It’s getting a little bit out of our scope.”

Poonah believes the boost in call numbers could also be due to word of mouth and Google searches. The non-profit, which recently received charitable status, is also listed as a crisis resource by the Toronto District School Board and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; it most recently collaborated with Kids Help Phone.

There are times when the organization has been approached by authorities, including the RCMP, Poonah said. “In the case of so-called honour killings, local authorities will sometimes ask us if we got calls from the victims,” he said.

“And when it comes down to radicalization, it’s the same. We would report it if it came up.”

On its website, Naseeha states that all calls are confidential, unless there is concern about harm to oneself or someone else, if there is suspected child abuse, or if information is subpoenaed by a court.

Dr. Gursharan Virdee, a researcher at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health who has done work with Muslim and Sikh youth, says that the discreet nature of Naseeha — which operates chat and email services in addition to a phone line — takes away many of the barriers that traditionally exist for these communities to get support.

She said that in her work with youth, many have said they wanted faith and spirituality to be a part of their counselling — something that has been missing when they access mainstream services. “If there is a lot of distance between the therapist and the client, there are some schools of thought that say that therapy might not be as effective as it could be,” she said. So Naseeha fills a large void.

She said it is possible that the recent spike in calls is due to general adolescent difficulties being compounded by heightened incidence of racism and Islamophobia.

“All of this can affect one’s sense of self, identity and mental health,” she said. It’s also why a youth may call Naseeha, “because they expect there will already be some understanding of this environment on the other side.”

The service accepts calls from anyone, but for youth who identify as Muslim, the religious advice provided by the counsellors is meant to be supportive and comforting, never preachy or proselytizing, Poonah said.

“One of the reasons the youth call us, as opposed to a different phone line, is that they are looking for someone who understands their faith, their religion or cultural context,” he said. “We never talk about heaven or hell, or sin.

“We want to be the first line of contact, without really giving any Islamic message, but we understand that they are calling us to hear that kind of advice gradually,” he said.

In one call log Naseeha shared with the Star (where all identifying information was removed), a female caller talks about relationship problems with her boyfriend, and his abusive behaviour toward her. In another call, a female discusses her confusion about her gender and desire to be a male. There is limited discussion about religion from the counsellors, unless the youth themselves bring it up.

These complex discussions can sometimes go as long as an hour, said Poonah.

“Out of the 16,000 phone calls, we are only answering less than 20 per cent of those phone calls, because of hours of operation or our lines are occupied,” he said, adding that the average call is now 54 minutes, up from 27 minutes the year before.

Currently, the service has about 25 counsellors from around the GTA, between the ages of 18 and 35. The phone lines and live chat are open Monday to Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., with two counsellors on duty. In addition to calls, the service gets emails and messages on social media, and senders are then encouraged to call in. Advice is never given over email.

Poonah has big plans for the organization, including increasing its hours of operation, doubling the number of counsellors to 50 and establishing a centralized hub or call centre. Broader plans include counselling in different languages, call centres in different countries and a round-the-clock answering service. But expansion dreams require money. Poonah estimates $8,000 a month could help make some of the items on the wish list become reality.

“We always need money, but it’s never been our focus,” he said, noting that for the past few years the organization has grown with a budget of just a few hundred dollars a month. “But now, the demand is unsustainable. We need to grow.”

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