A recent NPA Indo-Canadian candidate for the Vancouver school board says he would join in a legal challenge against Vancouver’s at-large voting system.
Dr. Lakhbir Singh told the Straight that he sent copies of a recent Straight.com article to parliamentarians, fellow NPA candidates, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, and the South Asian media because he wants to highlight how the at-large system discriminates against candidates like him.
The piece was called "Racism is alive and well in Vancouver municipal politics", and demonstrated how candidates of South Asian descent always come last on their slates in civic elections.
Singh, a medical doctor, was one of six candidates with South Asian surnames who all came last on their respective NPA, Vision Vancouver, and COPE slates in the November 15 election.
“There is no point in voting,” Singh said in reference to the at-large system. “We’re going to lose so don’t even vote.”
In this week's Georgia Straight, which was distributed across Metro Vancouver yesterday, recent Vision Vancouver council candidate Kashmir Dhaliwal said he is considering legal action against the at-large system. Dhaliwal was the only Vision candidate not elected on the slate.
B.C.’s Indo-Canadian attorney general Wally Oppal told the Straight he finds it “disturbing” that no Indo-Canadian seems to get elected to Vancouver city council.
“Now whether that’s attributable to the at-large system, I’m not really in a position to say because I don’t know,” Oppal said. “Other people may well know more about that issue than me. But it’s interesting.”
Oppal added that if the “aggrieved parties” want to see him, he is prepared to look at the situation. However, Oppal said he can’t envision the province changing the Vancouver Charter to create a ward system without first discussing this with City officials.
Some advocates of a ward system, such as Indo-Canadian Voice editor Rattan Mall, have argued that the at-large system discriminates against candidates of South Asian descent because they must be elected on a citywide basis.
Mall has argued that if councillors were elected in local wards (neighbourhood constituencies), there would be a better chance of a South Asian candidate winning in an area with a large South Asian population.
The Straight has researched Vancouver council, park board, and school board elections since 1990, and in every instance, the candidate with a South Asian name came last on his or her party’s slate.
“I think there should be diversity,” Oppal said. “Why is it that Chinese Canadians have been elected? Maybe the Indo-Canadian candidates aren’t getting their people out to vote. I don’t know.”
Singh, who grew up in East Vancouver, recalled having his turban knocked off his head by bigger kids at Hastings elementary and Templeton secondary schools.
One of the worst experiences was the time he and his brother were chased down the street by a gang with baseball bats.
He also pointed out that racist slogans were spray-painted on his family’s Indian restaurant in Chinatown. When he was in the navy, he said, people threw beer bottles at him because of his turban.
Eventually, Singh decided to cut his hair and remove his turban, which caused a rupture within his family that lasted for four years.
Singh said that if he is ever elected to the school board, he will advocate a tough response to racism and homophobia in schools.
“I would tell them straight up, ”˜If anyone does anything—rips the turban off your head, if you’re gay and somebody starts bugging you—this is my telephone number. Give me a call’,” Singh said. “And I will be going down there with the police and the principal, and we will be handing out suspensions left, right, and centre until somebody gets the message.
"I’ll get a whole school meeting there and tell all the students at the school that this behaviour is unacceptable in Canadian society," he continued. "I’ll do the stuff that none of these guys have the guts to do because they don’t think it’s that important.”
Singh added that he is studying Mandarin in January, and he hasn’t ruled out running for political office in the future.