Extremely cold weather and a fair amount of snow didn't keep people away from a Surrey antiracism forum on International Human Rights Day (December 10).
The event at the Surrey Central library branch was organized by community activist Rachna Singh, who works for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
It was designed to generate awareness of and opposition to racist incidents that have occurred recently, including the distribution of white-supremacist flyers.
Singh told the audience that she immigrated to Canada in 2001 because of its openness. However, acts of racism in the wake of Donald Trump's election win showed her that Canada hasn't retained the vision of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and former NDP leader Tommy Douglas, who each opened doors for others.
Singh also acknowledged that land belongs to the indigenous peoples and that bigotry also exists within her own South Asian community, in the form of a caste system.
She noted that Trump's rhetoric has emboldened racism and legitimized both sexism and faith-based hate.
The event was held in the library's Dr. Ambedkar Room, which was named after legendary Indian Dalit leader and scholar B.R. Ambedkar, a coauthor of India's constitution. The location of the event held great significance for Singh, given Ambedkar's lifelong advocacy for equal rights regardless of caste.
Speakers included Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal, NDP MLAs Bruce Ralston, Harry Bains, and Sue Hammell, and former NDP MP Jinny Sims, who will run for her party in the next provincial election.
Dhaliwal pointed out that the Liberal government is dedicated to eradicating racism, noting that the Bank of Canada will introduce a new $10 bill featuring an image of African-Canadian civil-rights hero Viola Desmond.
Bains told the audience that he witnessed racism firsthand when he immigrated to Canada, and said that it is raising its ugly head once again.
Former B.C. Human Rights Commission commissioner Harinder Mahil, CUPE B.C. regional vice president Michael Lanier, B.C. Federation of Labour indigenous caucus chair Shelley Ricci, and community activists Imtiaz Popat, Pall Singh Beesla, Avtar Singh Dhillon, Shahzad Nazir Khan, and Jai Birdi also spoke, with each denouncing white supremacy and racism.
Mahil called for the restoration of the B.C. Human Rights Commission to educate people about racism and investigate patterns behind the growing threat of white supremacy.
The B.C. Liberal government dismantled the commission in 2002. The premier at that time was Gordon Campbell and the minister who oversaw its abolition was then attorney general Geoff Plant.