Gurpreet Singh: Vancouver city council passes motion in support of Indian farmers

Five councillors voted in favour, three others abstained, and two others and the mayor were absent

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      In a jolt to the Indian government, local Vancouver politicians have passed a motion to show support for farmers agitating outside New Delhi since November, 2020.

      Moved by COPE councillor Jean Swanson, the motion was passed by the 11-member city council last Wednesday (March 31).

      While four other councillors joined Swanson in voting in favour, three others abstained and three, including Mayor Kennedy Stewart, were absent.

      The motion says that the city stands in solidarity with Indian farmers and directs the mayor of Vancouver to write to the provincial and federal governments asking them to speak out against laws introduced by the Indian government.

      In addition, the mayor has been instructed to ask senior levels of government to express support for Indian citizens’ rights to expression and liberty.  

      Thousands of Indian farmers have been camping on the border of the national capital asking the right-wing Hindu nationalist government to roll back controversial farm laws that threaten their livelihood.

      They believe that laws, which have been passed without debate and due consultation, are aimed to ensure corporate control over the agriculture industry. The protesting farmers had to face police violence, which led to angry demonstrations across Canada by members of the Indian diaspora.

      Jean Swanson's watered-down motion was supported by four other councillors.

      A rally was held outside Vancouver City Hall on March 29. The organizers displayed more than 200 shoes on the steps leading to the building as a mark of respect to hundreds of farmers who have lost their lives during the struggle.  

      Swanson’s original motion went into the details of these laws and urged the Indian government to revoke them.  

      First presented on the night of March 10, the motion covered many layers associated with the issue. However, in the absence of unanimity on part of the city councillors, the voting was delayed and the motion was watered down.

      Notably, council was under pressure from pro-India lobby groups. A majority of speakers from the community opposed the motion and supported the position of the Indian government that is trying to down play these concerns and continues to resist international criticism over the mistreatment of farmers.  

      Barring Imtiaz Popat, a well-known social justice activist, nobody came in support of the motion.  

      Swanson had previously brought a motion against India’s discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act that discouraged Muslim refugees coming to the country from neighbouring nations. She had to eventually withdraw it after a backlash from supporters of the Indian government and its consulate in Vancouver.  

      Interestingly, that motion was opposed by Khalsa Diwan Society (KDS), the oldest Sikh body of Vancouver. Back in 2015, it welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his state visit to Canada.

      This time, however, the KDS supported Swanson’s motion.