As the province is getting ready for a decisive election on Tuesday (May 14), the opposition NDP remains noncommittal over the B.C. Human Rights Commission. The party platform is silent on the issue, but its leaders are talking about a review and strengthening of human-rights laws if elected.
When the B.C. Liberals were first elected in 2001, they disbanded the commission, making B.C. the only province in Canada without such a body. What we have today is the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal that only looks into complaints of discrimination and does nothing in terms of research and education.
The NDP was up in arms against the B.C. Liberals for doing so and has been continually attacking the government for disbanding the commission.
When the party issued its platform, there was a wide expectation of a solid commitment to the restoration of the commission under an NDP government. With no specific commitment to bring it back, the platform has only disappointed many progressive supporters of the NDP.
On being pressed on this issue by South Asian journalists this week, NDP leader Adrian Dix only assured them that if elected, his government would review the whole issue.
The party president, Moe Sihota, on the other hand, tried to rationalize the situation by saying that the platform has committed to strengthening human rights laws and codes at schools and workplaces.
Ironically, the federal NDP recently passed a resolution declaring that an activist from India, Jaswant Singh Khalra, was "a defender of human rights''.
Khalra was reportedly abducted and eliminated by Punjab police in India. He was documenting cases of those who were extrajudicially killed without any fair trial by the police during the Sikh militancy in India.
In addition, the party had pleaded against a death sentence imposed on a Sikh militant in India, Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, and raised its voice against mass murders of Sikhs in 1984 following the assassination of then–Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
If the NDP can be so passionate about human-rights issues in another country, why is it not taking a strong position on the domestic front? There should not be any selective approach toward human rights.
It isn’t strange why the NDP remains silent on the issue. It cannot be that the NDP is confused or is being selective out of ignorance. Apparently, the party is trying to attract more centrist and maybe right-wing votes to outdo the B.C. Liberals, and thus mimic its political rivals.
However, this silence reflects very badly on a party that is supposed to be leftist and is expected to respect social justice more than any other established political party in B.C.
The NDP recently left itself exposed by recruiting candidates with questionable views and opinions about other cultures and races.
A former NDP candidate from Kelown-Mission, Dayleen Van Ryswyk made disparaging remarks in the past about indigenous peoples and French-speaking Canadians. The NDP had her resign instead of showing her the door promptly. As a result, she decided to run independently without showing any regrets.
It was later revealed that another party candidate from Burnaby-Lougheed, Jane Shin, had used the term "Chinkasaurus" on an online gaming forum.
A few years ago, NDP MLA Harry Lalli created an email address that identified him as a Jat MLA. Jat is a term used for the dominant peasant class in Punjab, India.
This infuriated Dalits, or the so-called Untouchables, in the local South Asian community. Dalits are frequently discriminated against by Jats, Brahmins (the priests), and other so-called upper caste-groups in the caste-ridden Indian society. If the NDP really cares about social justice, it should be extra careful about the social and political values of its members.
But what can one expect from a party that recently removed socialism from its constitution? At the end of the day, the NDP has proven that in politics, ends are more important than the means.
If the last statement isn't true, the onus is on the NDP to demonstrate why; otherwise, it will always be seen as like any other political group whose aim is to grab power rather than bringing real change.
Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.