• Are we successful in Canada?

    Are we successful in Canada?

    Originally published in The South Asian Post on February 28, 2016.

    We are as Canadian as anyone else.

    As we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday this year, let us consider the role of Indo-Canadians in building one of the leading democracies in the world. From the blueberry and strawberry farms in British Columbia’s fertile Fraser Valley to the Centre Block of Parliament in Ottawa, and from small town lumber mills to the large corporate headquarters in Toronto, Indo-Canadians occupy positions across all layers of the workforce, including posts of leadership and influence.

    Pablo Picasso, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, once said that “Action is the foundational key to all success.” Immigration from South Asia to Canada started with a small group of adventurous pioneers over a century ago. They passed on their resolve to build a better life to subsequent generations who have been striving with unflinching determination to advance socially and economically.

    That resolve however was not forged without adversity. We withstood the discriminatory immigration laws of the early 1900s that deterred family reunification and curtailed further immigration until the 1950’s. We challenged the notorious Continuous Passage Act which culminated with the infamous incident of the Komagata Maru in 1914. For nearly fifty long years we vigorously fought the illegal denial of our right to vote. Until 1947, we were barred from the professions of law, engineering and medicine, and prevented from owning property in certain parts of the country. Having overcome these barriers and obstacles we have become an integral and dynamic part of the great Canadian mosaic enriching the social, economic and political landscape of Canada.

    Today Indo-Canadians account for nearly twenty per cent of all legal professionals in the country, including occupying posts as lawmakers, judges, and senior police officers. In British Columbia, South Asian builders are driving segment of the construction industry. The same can be said of our activity in the trucking and logistics industries.

    In British Columbia Indo-Canadians grow over eighty percent of the berries and sixty percent of fruits. From a village boy who became a premier to the many who are serving as municipal counsellors, provincial legislators and federal cabinet ministers, we are shaping Canada’s politics, policies and programs affecting the daily lives of all Canadians.

    Among us are Olympians, hockey and football players, comedians and entertainers, authors and journalists, broadcasters and film makers, and movie stars and fashion models. In the world of finance and corporate board rooms we are in prominent executive roles. From Chief Executive Officers of Canada Post and TD Bank, Indo-Canadians are leading the massive technological innovation taking place in the delivery of services.

    Diwali, Vaisakhi and Eid are celebrated across Canada as are Christmas and Hanukah. Hockey Night in Canada is broadcast in Punjabi and today the President of Canada’s most iconic brand Tim Hortons is a son of Indian immigrants.

    Are we successful? Absolutely!

    Is Canada thriving? Without a doubt!

  • Furnace in India

    Welcome to 2016!

    For me 2015 was filled with wonder and a deeper sense of the greatness of Canada, my adopted home. We are blessed with democratic institutions that function reasonably well  and benefit all Canadians. The air we breathe is clean, and the food we eat is abundantly available to most. Access to education and health care is universal. Not all is perfect here, but only a few countries in the world provide this to their citizens.

    On this first day of 2016, I woke up remembering growing up on a small farm in Punjab, India, the country of my birth. My grandfather used to say two things. One, it’s a good habit to walk the land every morning and check out the fields, the animals, and reflect on yesterday and meditate on today. The second thing he used to say was, “Every day the fields are pregnant.” New life is bursting all around us.

    Birth always inspires us. Let each day be all about birthing – birthing new ideas and imaginative ways of living, farming, producing, distributing, and sharing.  Every person deserves to breathe clean air, drink safe water, eat nutritious food, get an education, have meaningful work, and, above all, to live in safe and caring communities.  This is our work together to build a better Canada and a better world for all.

    Happy 2016 !

  • Merry Christmas 2015!

    Reflections for the Holiday Season

    Today many Syrian refugees are celebrating Christmas in Canada and perhaps their first safe and peaceful Christmas in many years but without all their loved ones. I can only imagine their joy mingled with loss and sadness.

    Sixty seven years ago in 1948, my mother-in-law’s family celebrated its first Christmas in Canada in a wooden shed warmed by fire from a stove on a farm in Langley, BC. They were a displaced family without her father who had been taken away by the Soviet communists. They were among the lucky German Mennonite refugees from Ukraine sponsored to Canada by the Mennonite Central Committee with the help of a distant relative. My mother-in-law has a vivid memory of that first Christmas. She says, “There were a few feet of snow outside. The ship lap boards on the exterior walls of the shed had gaps in them. It was cold but we felt warm and grateful. For the first time in my life we were free and safe to sing songs of joy and peace. We were sad to not have my father with us. Many other Mennonite families also had lost loved ones including children and their fathers, uncles and grandfathers. We were excited to open our presents which we had ordered from the Eaton’s catalogue. Canada has been wonderful to us.”

    As a young married couple with their newly born first child, my father and mother lived through pain, suffering and death of millions in Punjab during the 1947 division of Pakistan and India. It was the largest forced migration in history with horrific violence and destruction with some great feats of kindness and sacrifice. My father risked his life protecting Punjabi Muslims fleeing to Pakistan while helping to settle displaced Punjabi Sikhs in the Indian side of Punjab.

    Jesus with his parents, Joseph and Mary, were displaced persons as well. According to the Gospel of Matthew, God appeared to Joseph in a dream, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Afraid of the ancient Jewish prophecies about a saviour being born in Bethlehem, King Herod, the proxy ruler for the occupying Romans in Judea, sent his troops to kill all the boys two years of age and under born in and around the vicinity of Bethlehem. Jesus and his family returned to their homeland after Herod had died.

    Jesus lived a simple life of compassion towards others. He crossed boundaries and challenged prevailing social norms. He healed the sick, mended broken hearts, and, proclaimed justice and peace. He forgave those who nailed him to the cross. This Christmas let us celebrate our common humanity and seek to renew existing relationships and build new ones across boundaries upon compassion and not on commerce and power.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Beyond Multiculturalism

    Beyond Multiculturalism: Seeking Unification in a Diverse Canada

    Op-ed originally published in The Vancouver Sun on February 2, 2015. Photograph by: Mark van Manen

    I will never forget my first lesson about being Canadian.

    I was 10 years old and it was my first day in my new country called Canada. I woke up and looked out the window to see a middle-aged Caucasian man walking down the street. Excited, I called out to my father, “Look! There’s an Englishman.” My father gave me a stern look and said “What makes you think he is English? You don’t know if that man is from England; he could be French, or German, or Italian!”

    I was shocked. In that moment I learned you must not make assumptions, and that a person’s outward appearance does not define their identity. But what does define the Canadian identity? Despite all of the diversity here, is there something that unites us besides the flag or hockey? Should we be seeking such a connection?

    There is no doubt Canada is multicultural. It was the first country to implement an official policy of multiculturalism in 1971, and the cultural mosaic project has been largely successful. Canada is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with one of the highest per capita immigration rates. The last census revealed 24 ethnic groups with at least 100,000 members each, and one in five Canadians reports speaking a language other than English or French at home.

    But there have been problems with the multicultural experiment. We have seen the formation of ethnic enclaves in which certain groups keep to themselves, and the clashing of cultures when one group’s practices offend another. Should signs in languages other than English and French be allowed in store windows? Should women be allowed to cover their faces in public? How do we balance competing languages, and cultural and religious values?

    Being Canadian means valuing individual freedoms, including the freedom to practice one’s language, religion, and traditions, but this must absolutely be balanced with the rights and responsibilities that come with being a citizen of a liberal democracy.

    Some come to Canada because they know the country will offer them freedom, but do not necessarily extend this right to all others; they still believe in control over their family members, over women, over other minorities. Some who have been in Canada for many generations have sexist, racist, homophobic, islamophobic and other intolerant attitudes.

    This is not okay and neither is the continuing marginalization of Canada’s First Nations. The descendants of the original inhabitants of this land have been largely left out of the diversity experiment. While various immigrant groups have thrived and prospered in Canada, this is not the case for many First Nations who have been stripped of their lands, languages, and cultures.

    Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson has claimed that what makes us unique in Canada is our acceptance of many identities; that we value each person’s uniqueness and work together in diversity. I don’t think we are quite there yet. We still have work to do in defining ourselves as a nation, in finding that something Canadian that unites us all. How can we build a caring, compassionate Canada in which people have the freedom to honour their language and culture but are bound together in a common cause for social justice and prosperity for all?

    What we need is a concerted effort to foster collaboration across provincial, international, and cultural borders. Arvind Gupta, president of UBC, has suggested that to strengthen the country, we should create a mobility fund for university students to spend one semester in another province. Facilitating such a process would be a fantastic way to help Canadians connect, learn from each other, and build on these relationships.

    Similarly, we might consider an international mobility fund to allow students to go abroad to learn other histories, politics, and world views, returning with ideas for best practices back in Canada. Both at home and abroad, we must seek to draw on the best from each world, learning to navigate different traditions and practices, and bringing together that which allows for innovation and progress.

    This type of intercultural, inter-religious, and inter-linguistic co-operation might be the key to Canada’s future. On my first day in Canada, I learned not to judge a person by the colour of their skin, that white does not mean English or Canadian. I still seek something more, something that does make us Canadian, something that unites us all.

  • Remembering the Brave on November 11th

    Most of us will pick up a poppy on our way out of the local grocery store or bank by donating a coin or two and pin it on our jacket as a sign of respect for our soldiers. On November 11th we will remember the brave men and women who died in the line of duty for our country.

    When we look around our neighbourhoods today, our community is made up of people from a variety of cultural backgrounds many of whose ancestors served in the Canadian Army during World War I. Aboriginal Canadians, Chinese Canadians and Sikh Canadians all participated in the line of duty in the war to end all wars.

    Many Native communities were not supportive of the war effort as they wanted Great Britain to recognize them as independent nations first. This was not granted and the Aboriginals were exempted from the Compulsory Military Service Act in August 1917. Nonetheless nearly 4,000 Aboriginals (Inuit, Métis, and other First Nations Canadians) and many of them from isolated and remote areas of Canada left the comfort of their homes and families to serve in the Great War.

    About 300 Chinese Canadians voluntarily enlisted during World War I even though they were denied their fundamental rights by the Canadian government of voting and entering certain professions. Chinese Canadians were also not conscripted as part of the Military Service Act.

    There is only a record of 10 Sikh Canadians who fought in WWI though thousands of Sikhs from India fought in Europe for the British Empire.  One of these 10 Sikh Canadians was the Victory Medal recipient Private Buckam Singh who came to British Columbia from Punjab in 1907. He had moved to Toronto in 1913 and enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in early 1915. He died in a Kitchener, Ontario, hospital in August 1919. He was buried in Kitchener’s Mount Hope Cemetery, the only known First World War Sikh Canadian soldier’s grave in the country. All of these brave heroes had one thing in common, loyalty for the country in which they lived in.

    A Sikh Canadian soldier during WWI. Image: Asia Canada

    A Sikh Canadian soldier during WWI. Image: Asia Canada

    Let us pause from our daily tasks tomorrow and remember the sacrifice and service of men and women who have lost their lives so that we might live our lives in peace and security. Please participate in your local Remembrance Day ceremony. Check out the list of events the City of Vancouver will be hosting tomorrow.

  • Barj Dhahan John Oliver School

    10 Things You Didn’t Know about South Vancouver

    10 Things You Didn’t Know about South Vancouver

    South Vancouver is very dear to my heart. It is where I have spent most of my life, where I graduated high school, where I’ve worked many jobs, and where I met my wife. Like many other immigrants to Vancouver, South Vancouver has played an important role in my life, and yet I am always learning more about the area’s vibrant history and current landscape. Here, I share 10 interesting facts about the area that you might not know:

    • South Vancouver was originally its own municipality: The original southern boundary of Vancouver was 16th avenue, but settlers began clearing land for farms along the north arm of the Fraser River in the 1860s, and built a narrow clearing through the forest to connect to Granville Townsite (now Vancouver). That clearing would later become North Arm Wagon Road and eventually Fraser Street. The Municipality of South Vancouver was incorporated in 1892, and only amalgamated with Vancouver in 1929.
    • South Hill is one of the oldest shopping areas in Vancouver: The stretch on Fraser Street from 41st Avenue to 50th Avenue has been bustling since a streetcar was built down Fraser Street to 49th Avenue in 1909. Some residents remember iconic businesses from that time such as Tom Fox Hardware (est. 1908) and Curry Grocers (est. 1910), and some of the original buildings from that time still stand.

    South Hill

    • Speaking of South Hill, the community members have built a fabulous website: The South Hill Community Website is an amazing project, almost like an online community centre, that links to projects, events, and businesses in the area. One of the most impressive projects is Inside Stories, a user friendly and beautiful interactive part of the website where users can click on images of local homes and shops to hear the stories of the residents inside.
    • John Oliver Secondary School is one of the oldest in Vancouver: Originally established as South Vancouver High School in 1912, my high school started out as just two surplus classrooms at Lord Selkirk Elementary. A new structure near the current location was built in 1920 on the site of the original Wilson Farm, and the school was renamed John Oliver Secondary School. That building is now called “The Barn” and still stands today behind the current structure. Many alumni like me are proud of J.O. and continue to support projects at the school like the Wonder of Reading program.

    The Barn

    • The Ross Street temple was built by the oldest and largest Sikh organization in Canada: The Khalsa Diwan Society was formally established in 1906, making it the oldest Sikh organization in the country. Vancouver’s first Sikh Gurdwara (temple) was built on 2nd Avenue by the Society in 1908 (which means it may be the oldest Gurdwara on the American continent). As the Sikh community in Vancouver grew, a larger temple was eventually necessary and the new construction on Ross Street, designed by renowned architect Arthur Erickson, was completed in 1970.

    Ross Street Gurdwara

    • The Vancouver South riding has one of the largest immigrant populations in the province: From the earliest days, the area has attracted hard working individuals and families from all over the world looking to build a better future in Canada. Today, 75% of Vancouver South residents are either immigrants or children of immigrants (compared to about 50% in Vancouver as a whole), about one-third of those are of Chinese ancestry, 15% are from India or Pakistan, and a growing population are people with Filipino or Vietnamese heritage.

    LA2699 Barj Dhahan 20140116-116-3-1

    • Langara College has graduated over 76,000 students: Originally part of Vancouver City College, Langara started in 1965 and moved to its current location on 49th avenue in 1970. In 1994 it was established as an independent public college and now offers a variety of programs for over 21,000 students every year. Since 2007, Langara has recognized the contributions of exceptional graduates with the Outstanding Alumni Award; recipients include journalist Simi Sara, former mayor Sam Sullivan, and acclaimed author Carmen Aguirre.

    Langara

    • Everett Crowley Park in Champlain Heights was built on a landfill: Along with Killarney, the Champlain Heights area in the southeast corner of Vancouver was one of the last areas in the city to be urbanized. The area where the park sits now was originally a coniferous forest housing a natural ravine and waterfall. Later the land was used for hunting and logging and in the 1940s it became the Kerr Road Dump and operated as a landfill until 1967. In 1987 it was re-opened as a park and named for Everett Crowley, a long-time resident of the area who served as a Park Board Commissioner in the 1960s.

    Everett Crowley Park

    • Killarney Market is famous: Killarney Market on the corner on East 49th Avenue is well-known for being one of the only places in the city to find certain Latin American, Asian, and European products along with a wide selection of affordable everyday groceries, fresh baked goods, deli meats, plants and flowers. It is also where Burnaby-born, Grammy-nominated singer Michael Bublé filmed the music video for “Haven’t met you yet”. The video features Bublé singing and dancing throughout the store and parking lot, features a cameo by the West Vancouver Youth Band, and has had over 4 million views on YouTube.

    Killarney Market

    • The River District will eventually house about 15,000 residents: Originally the Canadian White Pine Mill, later known as the East Fraserlands, the River District is an area of over 50 hectares along the Fraser River between Kerr Street and Boundary Road. A big construction project is underway which will include 6000-7000 homes, retail space, offices, an elementary and secondary school, parks, recreational amenities, and more.

    River District

    The River District project is just one of several such projects underway in South Vancouver. From forest, to farms, to lumber and plywood mills, to family-centered communities, to an outstanding institution of higher education, I love to learn about how the area has grown and changed over the years. South Vancouver is a fascinating part of the city with a very rich history, and much potential for a very bright and prosperous future.

  • Eran Sandler, Creative Commons

    Beyond Daycare: Providing Options for Young Parents

    We need a comprehensive childcare program with a variety of options to ensure strong, healthy, and happy Canadian families.

    A few weeks ago, The Vancouver Sun featured a front-page article on the issue of daycare costs in British Columbia, referencing a report from the Surrey Board of Trade. The report presents the case for providing $10/day childcare for British Columbians, and calls on the federal government to create a national child-care program. The argument presented is largely an economic one, focussing on the need to ensure that young parents are able to participate in the workforce. While this is an important point, we need to also look at the social, health, and other benefits of supporting young families in our country, and to provide parents with childcare choices, including the option to stay at home.

    There are strong arguments in favour of subsidized daycare programs as well as evidence of their benefits from as nearby as Quebec. In that province, parents of all economic backgrounds can access provincial childcare for only $7/day. This ambitious 2.2 billion dollar program has seen spectacular results over the last 15 years, including a 22% rise in working mothers, an 81% rise in after-tax income to families, a 50% reduction in parents on welfare, and a 50% reduction in child poverty. These results mirror other countries where investments in childcare have boasted long-term economic returns.

    While the program in Quebec is not without flaws (for example, there are still not enough spaces for all of the province’s children), its economic results are evidence enough for subsidized childcare options across the country. There are also many other compelling arguments for providing quality daycare for our nation’s children: it can help parents achieve a healthier work-life balance, contributing to happier relationships and reduced health problems, and it provides children with an early start to their education, the benefits to be seen for years to come.

    But daycare is not the only way to support young parents; there are many benefits to providing extended parental leave for mothers and fathers who want to care for children at home. The benefits of longer parental leave include economic returns such as higher rates of employee satisfaction and higher employee retention, as well as many health and social benefits. For example, allowing parents time off to take care of their kids has been shown to contribute to the long-term health of children, lower rates of depression in women, increased fertility rates, and when parental leave is shared between mothers and fathers, it can contribute to greater gender equality.

    Scandinavian countries frequently top charts for having the “happiest” people in the world and being some of the “best” places to live. They are also some of the best places to be a parent. In Sweden, parents get 480 days of paid leave, 60 of which must be shared between both parents, and in Norway they have just over a year of paid leave plus the option of an additional year unpaid. In Finland, parents are entitled to a childcare allowance if they choose to stay home with their children for up to three years. They are also entitled to shorter work hours until the end of the child’s second year in school at age 9 (since formal schooling only begins at age 7 in Finland), as well as subsidized daycare.

    The federal Liberals call for a national strategy to provide universal early childhood education and care that ensures no child is excluded due to cost or any other reason. The economic and social benefits of such a program are clear, but I hope that the conversation does not stop there. Young parents must have choices, including the option to raise their children at home without fear of losing their jobs. We should also look at options for providing subsidies to grandparents, nannies, and others who provide childcare as is currently being debated in Australia.

    Today’s children are the future of our country. Investing in childcare, including affordable daycare, extended parental leave and benefits, and other family supports, should be of utmost importance for all Canadians. Since each family is unique, we need a comprehensive program with a variety of options to ensure strong, healthy, and happy Canadian families.

  • Barj Dhahan Hiking the Inca Trail

    5 Best Hikes in Beautiful British Columbia

    One of my favourite ways to enjoy nature and bond with my family is to go hiking. British Columbia has a bounty of outstanding hiking trails nestled within beautiful forests and parks.

    Barj Dhahan and his son at Machu Pichu In November 2013, I was fortunate enough to visit Peru and experience the beautiful landscape with my son, Gabriel. We hiked the Inca Trail and climbed to Machu Pichu – it was a lifetime high for me! We’re lucky to have stunning forests and parks in British Columbia, and I highly recommend exploring them one weekend with your friends and family. It’s a great way to connect with nature, bond with family, and do a healthy activity.

    Here are 5 of my favourite places to hike in BC:

    1. Pacific Spirit Park (UBC Endowment Lands). Over the years I have walked all the trails within this park, and visited all the beaches. I like walking the trails during autumn, especially on rainy days. It’s an incredible experience.
    2. Garibaldi Provincial Park. Years ago, along with four friends I camped on the shores of Garibaldi Lake on a full moon. It was a truly magical and mystical experience to spend the night there. I love the thrill of climbing through the chimneys to the top of Black Tusk. I have done this three times.
    3. Cathedral Grove by Cameron Lake in the McMillan Park. I have childhood memories visiting this area many times when my family lived in Port Alberni. The ancient trees, some older than 800 years, stretching heaven-ward are awesome. It is amazing that these trees were there before Columbus reached the Americas in 1492!
    4. Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park near Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. I visited this park with my grade 8 class. Going into the caves was scary but exciting. I had never been ‘underground’ before. It’s a must visit for anyone interested in caves.
    5. Osoyoos Irrigation Canal Trail. There are great views of the lake as one walks through beautiful apple, cherry, and peach orchards. This area is the only ‘desert’ in Canada. My wife Rita’s family has a lakeshore property on the US side of the desert, and each summer, we went to Osoyoos/Oroville for at least a few weeks. I have wonderful memories of hiking in the mountains around the lake.

    We are blessed with such amazing natural beauty, landscapes and hiking trails in BC. We should all try to walk the hikes as much as we can. It’s good for the body and spirit!

  • Barj Dhahan Smiling

    Watch: Barj Talks About Health and Education in Punjab

    Barj is deeply passionate about issues related to education and health, and has worked on a number of international and local projects related to these two areas since the 1980s.

    Learn more about Barj and the Dhahan family’s work in providing access to health services and education in Punjab, as well as their groundbreaking international collaboration with the University of British Columbia School of Nursing in this video from Canada India Foundation.

  • Building International Collaborations in Health Sciences

    Building relationships between education and community-based institutions here in Canada and internationally is the key to economic development and supporting community growth.

    On Monday June 30, an exciting new agreement of cooperation was finalized between the University of British Columbia and Baba Farid University of Health Sciences (BFUHS). The agreement builds upon the already successful nursing collaboration between both institutions facilitated by Barj Dhahan and the Canada India Education Society.

    After a year of conversations, a statement of cooperation was signed between UBC’s Faculty of Medicine’s School of Population and Public Health (SPPH) and BFUHS. The statement was signed by Gavin C. E. Stuart, MC, FRCSC, Dean, Faculty of Medicine and Vice Provost, Health, UBC; Dr. Shivinder S. Gill, Vice-Chancellor, BFUHS; and David Patrick, MC, Director School of Population & Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, UBC

    “This is an important first step between the institutions to promote the field of Occupational and Environmental Health,” says Barj Dhahan. “This collaboration has a huge potential for improving public health especially in Punjab and Northern India.

    UBC Baba Farid University Agreement with Barj Dhahan

    Back row: Barj Dhahan, Ms. Charanjit Kaur (BFUHS, Nursing, Goindwal College), Mr. HCL Rawat (BFUHS, Nursing, Vice_Principal, Faridkot Colllege). Front row: Dr. Hugh Davies (Associate Professor, SPPH) and Dr. Rajeev Manjahs (BFHUS, International Coordinator; Head, Life Sciences, Library and Information Services).

     

    The institutions will seek to collaborate in scholarly exchange and research collaboration among faculty, student exchange, and sharing curricular information and teaching methods.

    Barj Dhahan serves as a voluntary advisor to Baba Farid University of Health Sciences and to Vice Chancellor Dr. Gill, and has worked on building successful international collaborations with Canadian universities and researchers.

    “Over the past few years, Dr. Hugh Davies and I have been in discussions regarding collaborating with Baba Farid University of Health Sciences with a focus on environmental and occupational health,” says Barj Dhahan. “BFUHS hopes that this collaboration will bring knowledge and resources towards the development of its own environmental and occupational health study programs.”

    Barj Dhahan UBC Baba Farid agreement

    Back row: Daniella Weber (International Manager, Dean’s Office, International Affairs), Prof. Karen Bartlett (SPPH, MSc. Program Director), Barj Dhahan, Ms. Charanjit Kaur (BFUHS, Nursing, Goindwal College), Mr. HCL Rawat (BFUHS, Nursing, Vice_Principal, Faridkot Colllege). Front row: Dr. Hugh Davies (Associate Professor, SPPH) and Dr. Rajeev Manjahs (BFHUS, International Coordinator; Head, Life Sciences, Library and Information Services).

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