Authoritarian bullies are learning that it's easy to push Canada around
Just over a week ago, a Georgia Straight contributor was interrupted by an Indian diplomat as he was about to donate to flood relief in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
The contributor, Gurpreet Singh, was invited onto the stage at North Delta secondary during an event commemorating the Hindu and Muslim holidays of Onam and Eid. They were being celebrated jointly in a spirit of brotherhood between the two religions by a local South Indian organization.
It's worth noting that in India, Muslims, and Christians are being persecuted by Hindu extremists, who want the country to turn its back on the vision of its founding fathers.
Intellectual and moral giants of the past such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar didn't always agree with one another. But generally speaking, they tried to advance equality for everyone, regardless of religion or caste.
India's constitution, which was written by Ambedkar, outlaws discrimination and embraces freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the abolition of untouchability.
The event in North Delta seemed to reflect that spirit of Gandhi, Nehru, and Ambedkar.
But when Singh mentioned that this idea of India was "really under stress right now under a right-wing Hindutva government", he was shouted down by an Indian diplomat who was also on the stage.
Deputy consul-general H. Venkatachalam told Singh to "stop, stop", then started to walk off the stage and seemed prepared to leave the event altogether.
At that point, the organizer encouraged the diplomat to stay and turned off Singh's microphone.
Singh, who's with Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, left with members of his group. (The photograph above shows him and his group in the school hallway outside the gymnasium.)
The actions of the diplomat symbolized and reflected the intolerance of India's government to criticism for what's happening to minorities in that country.
He could have let Singh speak, and then asked for an opportunity to present a rebuttal. But instead, the diplomat tried, and succeeded, in silencing Singh.
The government's critics, including Singh, believe that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party wants to amend the constitution and turn India into a Hindu nation. This is the case even though one in five Indians is not Hindu.
Since hardcore Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, several journalists have been murdered, including Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari and Bengaluru columnist Gauri Lankesh.
While there have been conflicting claims about who's responsible for Bukhari's assassination—a Muslim extremist group was blamed by the government—the killing of Lankesh can clearly be linked to her ongoing criticism of the Modi regime.
Meanwhile, "cow vigilante violence" continues in India against so-called "beef eaters", i.e. Muslims and Christians, by extremist Hindu mobs. Reuters reported that between 2010 and 2017, 28 Indians were killed and another 124 were injured, most of which occurred after Modi came to power.
India's most famous intellectuals, Booker Prize–winning author Arundhati Roy and historian Ramachandra Guha, have been extremely critical of the rising tide of intolerance in the world's largest democracy.
Recently, advocates for some of the poorest Indians were arrested even though, according to Guha, the ones he knows were advancing their viewpoints in accordance with India's constitution.
It's an extremely serious situation. It's especially so when you consider that India is home to nearly 18 percent of the world's population, according to the latest United Nations estimate.
Yet despite the rising repression that's taking place in such a large country, the outburst of the local Indian diplomat was greeted with silence by politicians and nongovernmental organizations that purport to support human rights and civil liberties.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland did not summon India's high commissioner to Canada, Vikas Swarup, to explain to him that Singh was speaking in a public building—a school—where the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies.
Under section 2(b) of the charter, Canadians are guaranteed the right to freedom of expression.
No, Freeland and her staff chose the path of least resistance by ignoring the conduct of the diplomat on Canadian soil. This only serves to embolden diplomats representing dictatorships to try to silence their diasporas in Canada.
The leader of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh, also remained quiet about this event occurring on Canadian soil, even though he hasn't been hesitant in the past to criticize the activities of the Indian government in India.
Two B.C. cabinet ministers were on the school stage at the time, Bruce Ralston and Harry Bains. They stood by silently and have remained publicly silent about the Indian diplomat's behaviour. Surely, they're not ignorant about what's going on in India under the Modi government.
Ralston is the minister of jobs, trade and technology. This makes him the minister most responsible for attracting investment to the province. But at what point does a harmonious relationship with the government of India—and the potential of more trade and investment—supersede constitutional rights in Canada?
We've seen a similar game being played with China when it comes to Taiwan. Taiwan is an independent country with its own flag, national anthem, national health-care system, constitution, elected president, and elected national assembly. Yet the government of China maintains the fiction that Taiwan is a long-lost province when in fact, Taiwan is a former colony.
Even Canadian corporations have gotten into the act, with Air Canada referring to Taiwan by the blasphemous phrase "Chinese Taipei". The Royal Bank tried to do this but abandoned the idea in the face of potential boycotts by Taiwanese Canadians.
Canadian politicians fall into line because they don't want to take any risks with trade or investment from China. In international diplomacy, bullies are rewarded by our federal and provincial politicians.
Similarly, we witnessed a supine reaction from Conservative politicians when the Saudi Arabian government tried to bully Freeland for fairly tepid comments in opposition to the arrest and torture of pro-democracy dissidents in the kingdom.
The Conservatives also sided with the Modi government when it appeared to set up Trudeau for criticism during his trip to India in February.
But it's not just politicians who won't criticize India.
Nongovernmental organizations that profess to stand up for human rights and civil liberties also kept their mouths shut about the Indian diplomat's actions in North Delta.
There's been nothing from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Amnesty International, the World Sikh Organization, and others.
These are organizations that ask the public for money to defend causes that they deem to be worthy of their attention.
Don't get me wrong: I admire the BCCLA for its long-standing record on promoting the constitutional right to physician-assisted death.
I give credit to Amnesty International for its consistent record of advocacy for Indigenous peoples.
And the WSO deserves praise for its advocacy for same-sex couples to be allowed to marry, as well as its opposition to discrimination against turban-wearing Sikhs in the public service in Quebec and the RCMP.
Yet there's been nada after an Indian diplomat shouted down a Canadian human-rights advocate for merely using the words "right-wing Hindutva government". This happened in a school where the human-rights advocate was about to give money to support flood relief in his country of birth.
If that's not something that troubles our politicians and our NGOs, maybe we need some new politicians and new NGOs in this country.More