Gurpreet Singh: If Canada really cares for human rights, then it must give us a choice to say no to AstraZeneca from India

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      As we are all anxiously waiting for our turn to get vaccinated to prevent COVID-19, some people are thinking about which shot they would prefer to be injected into their bodies.

      Whereas Alberta premier Jason Kenney has already said that the residents in his province will have a choice not to get AstraZeneca, many of our political leaders have remained silent on this issue.  

      A majority of those opposed to AstraZeneca in Alberta have concerns about it being prepared with the help a cell line taken from a fetus. Since anti-abortion voices are stronger in that region, Kenney has spelled out clearly that such a choice will be given to the people based on their ethical values.  

      However, not much is being discussed in the media about the anxiety among Canadians of Indian origin whose ethical concerns are different than those of anti-abortionists and science deniers.

      Many of us do not want to take the COVISHIELD from the Serum institute of India.  

      By now, we are all familiar with the fact that 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca arrived here from India. After all, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, to provide them to deal with the shortage of vaccines in Canada.  

      This is despite the fact that Modi is a tyrant under whose watch attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown ever since he became the prime minister in 2014.  

      Modi rose to prominence as a member of the Hindu supremacist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which aspires to turn Indian into a Hindu theocracy. As part of his right-wing pro-corporate agenda, he has already introduced controversial farming laws that threaten the livelihood of small farmers and those living in rural India.

      Since these laws were passed without much consultations and debate the farmers have continued to protest over the past several months. Even Trudeau condemned the police barbarity on the agitating farmers only to make a U-turn later when he asked for the vaccine, which has disappointed many of us.   

      This reflects poorly on Canada for two reasons. First, how can Canada, which claims to be a human rights leader in the world, overlook the crimes of Modi's regime and seek his help? This has given him undue legitimacy and emboldened his supporters in Canada, who are bent upon discrediting those showing their solidarity with the farmers of India.  

      Secondly, Canada, as a champion of its public health-care system, should have produced its own vaccines rather than asking India for help.  

      I have nothing against the scientists and the health experts who are behind AstraZeneca and I don’t agree with anti-abortionists or science deniers. But I am deeply concerned with the fact that this whole vaccine deal has helped Modi rehabilitate his image in the eyes of Canadians.  

      We therefore should have a choice to refuse to accept AstraZeneca and rather get any other vaccine to send a strong message to both Trudeau and Modi that human rights are not something that can take a back seat for the sake of their relationship.