• Single coordinator needed to end humanitarian crisis in DTES

    Op-ed originally published in The Vancouver Sun on March 19, 2021. Photograph by: Jesse Winter / Reuters

    The humanitarian crisis in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has been decades in the making. Rooted in Canada’s traumatic colonial legacy, the ongoing effects of poverty and racism combined with the proliferation of drugs and a patchwork of ineffective government policies have abandoned thousands of Downtown Eastside residents and created a social and economic crisis for the City of Vancouver.

    A long-term, collaborative, and integrated strategy led by a single oversight body is needed now if we are to put an end to this crisis.

    The Downtown Eastside represents two per cent of the geographical area of Vancouver, and with 20,000 people is home to less than three per cent of the city’s population. But 21 per cent of all service calls to the Vancouver Police Department and over 20 per cent of the mental health service calls originate from the neighbourhood.

    The life expectancy in the Downtown Eastside is about 65 years, compared to 84.5 years for the general population. Since 2016, the opioid menace has killed roughly 1,600 people in the city, with many of them in the Downtown Eastside. These numbers are not just statistics — each one of these people is a parent, brother, sister, or child. They are members of our families and communities.

    These losses represent a history of collective failure through policy and neglect.

    To accommodate Expo 86, over 1,000 residents of single-room occupancy hotels were evicted from their homes to accommodate tourists. They were left on their own, scrambling to find shelter.

    The closure of Riverview Hospital in 1987 displaced hundreds of people suffering from mental illness and addiction, and the B.C. Liberal government extensively cut service for the most vulnerable and marginalized.

    The real estate boom has made housing unaffordable while governments have consistently failed to invest sufficiently in social housing options. Rampant illicit drug supply has fuelled the substance use and increased criminality in the city.

    Today, the City of Vancouver is severely challenged by the social and economic impacts of this crisis.

    Heavy call loads on police, fire, health, housing, and mental health services providers are becoming major stressors on personnel and resources.

    Over $1 million per day is being spent in the Downtown Eastside by various agencies. Thanks to the countless community organizations such as Atria Women’s Resource Society, Wish Drop-in Centre Society, Union Gospel Mission, Downtown East Side Neighbourhood House Society, Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre, Covenant House, and others, many receive desperately needed nutritious meals and safe housing and support services.

    The joint Vancouver Coastal Health and Vancouver police mental health outreach Car 87/88 program is also a lifesaver for many. While much is being done, the effort is largely a patchwork of public and not-for-profit attempts to provide short-term, reactive relief.

    This crisis will not be resolved through such an approach. We need a collaborative, long-term solution now.

    Two reports have recommended such a strategy. The 2009 Vancouver police report “Project Lockstep: A United Effort to Save Lives in the Downtown Eastside” called for a director to be established who would coordinate and collaborate with all agencies working in the neighbourhood.

    In 2014, the Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addiction concluded that a collective impact initiative be developed for all the service providers.

    Again in 2017, the newly appointed B.C. minister of mental health and addictions, Judy Darcy, was encouraged to increase collaboration and administrative oversight.

    To date there has been little action. Why?

    Poverty, mental health needs, addiction and homelessness are not going away. They need a long-term integrated service delivery model with a single oversight body.

    The provincial government and Vancouver city council should create such an oversight body to lead multi-sectoral and multi-agency partnerships. Comprehensive wrap-around services must be more effective through efficient investment of taxpayers’ money and deliver more compassionate care.

    Let us be pragmatic and bridge our ideological, political, gender, class, and racial divides to create long-term innovative pathways for ending this humanitarian crisis and finding sustainable solutions for lasting transformation.

  • Justin Trudeau, Kas Guha, and Barj Dhahan

    We Should Support Immigrant Women Entrepreneurs

    Op-ed originally published in The Vancouver Sun on September 11, 2014

    Kas Guha came to Canada 10 years ago from an area in India known for silk manufacturing. Over the years, she has worked in many retail and non-profit jobs but she always dreamed of connecting Canadians with the beautiful weaving by artisans in her home region. She turned her dream into a reality in 2013 and launched Ethnik Yarn, bringing hand-woven textiles, apparel, and accessories made by artisans in several Indian villages to Canada.

    Kas’s story has me wondering how many other immigrant women have similar dreams that have not yet been realized. There are many efforts under way in Canada to ensure support for women in business, as well as programs to support immigrant entrepreneurs, but is enough being done for female immigrant entrepreneurs specifically?

    The importance of women in business is well documented. It has been found that organizations with more women in top management positions achieve 35-per-cent higher return on equity than their peers. Women also tend to be better team-builders, better at assessing the resources needed to accomplish certain goals, better at combining intuitive and logical thinking, and better at managing money. Women also tend to focus more on the greater good, engaging with communities and participating more actively in social responsibility projects. Ethnik Yarn, for example, sponsors campaigns to raise awareness about cervical cancer in Bengal, India.

    Yet the barriers to women in business persist. Women have a more difficult time securing financing for their businesses, which may be due to the bias of investors or other factors such as women’s tendency to take fewer risks than men. Many women also need to balance work with a greater share of responsibilities at home than their male counterparts, and as a result many women tend to get involved in business at a later stage in life, which can also be seen as a strike against them. Today, women still only represent 35 per cent of all self-employed people in Canada.

    Comparatively, Canada is doing well in terms of the number of over-all women in business; Statistics Canada reports almost half of all small- and medium-sized businesses are entirely or partly owned by women, and contribute to the creation of almost 10,000 jobs every year. There are a number of provincial programs to support women in business such as The Women’s Enterprise Initiative, which has offices in four provinces.

    In B.C., the provincial government has created the Women’s Economic Council to advise women in business and expand opportunities for women in key business sectors in the province. However, there is no national strategy specifically aimed at supporting women in business.

    Both federally and provincially, we recognize the importance of engaging with diaspora populations to share knowledge and grow the economy. The government of Canada offers support services for all Canadians hoping to start a new business, and last year announced a Start-Up Visa program to attract immigrant entrepreneurs to the country. Similarly, the B.C. Provincial Nominee Program provides information and support for newcomers hoping to start or bring their business to the province.

    But we have not explored sufficiently the ways in which we might leverage the knowledge and networks of female immigrants interested in starting businesses in Canada. Many immigrant women have unique skills, including market intelligence, that they have learned from their home countries, and innovative ideas that could contribute to their home communities as well as to Canada. But immigrant women also face unique challenges when coming to our country: Sexism and racism intersect in ways that can hold them back from realizing their full potential.

    By overlooking the role of female immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada, and the ways in which we might support them, we are potentially missing out on important opportunities to bolster international trade and create jobs both here and abroad. I applaud the various efforts, particularly at the provincial level, to support women in business and to encourage immigrant entrepreneurship, but I would also welcome a deeper look at policy and program initiatives that focus on female immigrant entrepreneurs. How can we support the Kas Guhas of our country to ensure we are not missing out on a potentially more creative and diverse society and economy?

  • Barj Dhahan and Stewart Beck in Delhi

    Asia Pacific Foundation Looks to Expand to South Asia

    The new president of the Vancouver-based think tank is looking to expand Canadian relations with South Asia and Southeast Asia.

    Asia Pacific Foundation’s new president, Stewart Beck, was Canada’s former High Commissioner to India, and has extensive experience working in the region. Barj Dhahan met with Mr. Beck in New Delhi earlier this year during a visit to India with the Governor General.

    Business in Vancouver interviewed Beck and Barj Dhahan about the appointment and the value of expanding ties with South Asia and Southeast Asia.

    Stewart Beck and Barj Dhahan

    Brenda Beck, Vasu Chanchlani, Stewart Beck and Barj in New Delhi in 2014.

    Read an excerpt from “Stewart Beck: East-West Connector,” published in Business in Vancouver on August 25, 2014:

    Vancouver businessman and philanthropist Barj Dhahan said Beck was a leader in focusing on not only entrepreneurship between India and Canada but also education during his tenure as high commissioner. Beck’s appointment to the foundation is timely, given the growth and opportunities in South Asia, said Dhahan, who is past chair of the Canada India Foundation.

    “Stewart’s appointment is very timely because, as a country and a province, we are certainly looking at Asia, not just at China and Japan but all of Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. It’s timely that the foundation has a broader focus on all of Asia,” Dhahan said.

    Beck is eager to apply his India experience, coupled with a career-long belief in educating young people on what he calls “business ecosystems,” to shape the next chapter for the foundation.

    He wants the foundation to be well positioned to act as a catalyst to engage young entrepreneurs on both sides of the Pacific as regional Asian economies grow stronger.

    “It’s the Wayne Gretzky thing: skate to where the puck is going to be,” Beck said. “That’s part of the role I think the foundation has.”

    Beck’s hockey analogy comes from experience. Dhahan said that, along with other Canadian officials, the former high commissioner would host an ice hockey tournament in northern India to introduce young Indians to Canada’s national sport as a bridge-building exercise. He was known to bring shipments of hockey sticks, skates and pads from Canada to India.

    “A lot of people in India know about our national sport as a result,” said Dhahan.

    That kind of bridge building pays dividends for both countries, Dhahan said.

    Stewart Beck in Delhi

    Richard Bales (Canadian Consul General, Mumbai) Governor General David Johnston, a guest, and Stewart Beck.

    Read the full story at Business in Vancouver.


  • Vancouver Skytrain travel investment

    Canada Needs an Infrastructure Plan

    All levels of government must collectively identify needs.

    Op-ed originally published in The Vancouver Sun on August 5, 2014

    Barj Dhahan op-ed Vancouver Sun

    We need to invest now in public transit to accommodate the one million new residents expected during the next 30 years, yet there is much debate about which projects to focus on and where the funding will come from, according to Barj Dhahan, the founder and chief executive officer of Sandhurst Group.

    Former chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank, Justin Yifu Lin, was presented in May with an honorary doctoral degree from UBC for his contributions to the field of economics and development. Lin has written extensively about the importance of investments in infrastructure to promote healthy economies. He has recently proposed the development of a Global Structural Transformation Fund, sparking me to reflect on the need for a comprehensive infrastructure plan for Canada.

    Investing in infrastructure has been shown to be a key factor in the development of robust economies. According to the World Bank, a 10-per-cent increase in infrastructure investment leads to a one per cent growth in GDP. Lin has said that, “Such investment also creates jobs, both in the short term, by creating demand for materials and labour, and in the long term, for related services. For example, every $100 million invested in rural road maintenance translates into an estimated 25,000-50,000 job opportunities.”

    In cities, improving transit infrastructure not only creates jobs, but has also been shown to increase productivity as people are more easily able to get to and from places of work. The economic benefits of infrastructure investment are clear, but how do we ensure the most efficient and effective infrastructure planning?

    In late March, the New Building Canada Plan was launched by the federal government, allocating $53 billion during 10 years to infrastructure development. While the plan includes funds to address needs at different levels, there is confusion about how this money will be allocated, when it will be allocated, and who will make those decisions.

    There are critiques that the plan does not make sufficient funds available for the first two years, and many municipalities are left wondering if they will be able to address serious local infrastructure problems any time soon.

    What is troubling about this plan and similar funding sources, is that money is allocated based on a competitive process. Provinces and cities must submit applications to fund their specific needs and hope their project will be selected. The problem is exemplified by the current debate around public transportation investments in Metro Vancouver.

    It is clear we need to invest now in public transit to accommodate the 1 million new residents expected during the next 30 years, yet there is much debate about which projects to focus on and where the funding will come from. Metro Vancouver mayors recently presented a transportation investment plan covering major projects for the next 10 years but the provincial government rejected the mayors’ hope to use carbon tax revenues to help fund the projects.

    Should each municipality be left on its own to come up with the funds? Should Surrey compete against Vancouver to fund each of its proposed rapid transit projects?

    Currently, there is no sustained source of federal funding to address transit or other core infrastructure needs for municipalities; the ongoing debate between Metro Vancouver mayors and the province highlights this major gap.

    What is needed is a comprehensive infrastructure plan for the country based on ample dialogue between experts and all levels of government that clearly lays out an investment plan for the short, medium, and long-term with funds earmarked for specific projects.

    Stakeholders would need to come together to clearly define the country’s major infrastructure needs and to formulate agreements in principle about project priorities, criteria, and funding sources in order to make efficient decisions.

    Such a strategy would contribute to economic growth not only by investing in infrastructure, but also by facilitating strategic planning to ensure that projects are undertaken in a timely manner and on budget. It would allow for government, industry, labour and community groups to strategize regarding material and labour needs, generating a steady flow of employment opportunities for Canadians.

    Most important, it would not pit municipalities against each other, but instead would include regular dialogue and consensus-building between all levels of government to make sure no one is left in the dark, both figuratively and literally!

  • Barj Dhahan Smiling

    News: India untapped opportunity for B.C. companies

    Originally published in Business in Vancouver on May 12, 2014.

    The number of students from India enrolling in Simon Fraser University has been rising steadily over the past four years but business connections between India and British Columbia are still hampered by a lack of easy access, according to a Surrey businessman.

     “India has gone through massive economic growth in the last 10 to 15 years,” said Barj Dhahan, who sits on Simon Fraser University’s India Advisory Council. “Amazing technological innovations are taking place in India. The middle class is growing by millions every year, the buying power in U.S. dollars is quite high, so those people have high aspirations for themselves and the goods and services they want. And so it offers opportunities for B.C., Surrey and Canadian businesses.”

    That growth has brought more students to B.C. from India such that they now make up around 4% of SFU’s international enrolment, Dhahan said.

    However, with that growth come growing pains. While Dhahan said India is receiving more recognition as a key international business partner, airline companies have been hesitant to follow suit.

    A key barrier to increasing B.C.’s business connections and opportunities in India, he said, is the lack of non-stop air service from Vancouver to India’s major cities.

    In November 2012, Business in Vancouver reported that Vancouver Airport Authority (YVR) executives were negotiating with carriers to launch non-stop flights to such places as Peru, Chile and India (“Airlines to launch new international non-stop services from Vancouver” – biv.com; November 20, 2012).

    However, in an interview at the time, YVR director of aviation marketing John Korenic noted that strong demand for business-class tickets was key to the viability of non-stop flights between Vancouver and major cities in India such as New Delhi.

    Anne Murray, YVR vice-president of marketing and communications, said Dhahan’s request is still on the authority’s radar.

    “India is a market that we are very interested in. We are constantly looking for an airline partner that could provide non-stop flights to India, the largest market with no direct service from YVR.”

  • Barj Dhahan with Dr. Arvind Gupta and Others

    Welcoming Reception for Dr. Arvind Gupta

    Community welcomes new UBC President Dr. Arvind Gupta

    The incoming President of the University of British Columbia, Dr. Arvind Gupta, was welcomed at an intimate reception hosted by Barj S. Dhahan on Thursday, April 17.

    The reception introduced the university’s new president to key business and community leaders who gathered at Seasons Restaurant in Queen Elizabeth Park. Barj S. Dhahan, a well-established local entrepreneur and UBC Alumni, has led a partnership between Canada India Education Society and UBC Nursing to support nursing programs in Punjab.

    Dr. Arvind Gupta was named the 13th president and vice chancellor of the University of British Columbia earlier this year and will become president on July 1 for a five-year term, while retaining his position at UBC as professor of computer science.

    Arpen Thandi, a UBC alumni who has used her Liberal Arts degree to become a Senior Account Executive at Edelman (the world’s largest public relations firm) stated “we as alumni are committed to working with the University of British Columbia to continue to advance our education system,  be involved in the community and provide future generations with opportunity, especially that of innovation and experience in the global marketplaces in developing countries such as India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.” This statement embodied the essence of the evening.

    The feedback from those who attended was uplifting and supportive of the evening of building community.

    Barj Dhahan Speaking

    Jeanette Lee,  Dr. Michelle Periera, Dr. Arvind Gupta, Barj Dhahan

    Jeanette Lee, Dr. Michelle Periera, Dr. Arvind Gupta, Barj Dhahan

    DSC_4928“Thank-you again so much for inviting me to this special evening – I was most inspired by many of the stories (liked those thoughts of your fathers and others) and also by the global thinking towards collaborative innovation projects. I think that Dr. Arvind Gupta is also the right choice and am looking forward to see what changes he is able to facilitate and accomplish….You are quite the powerhouse….I am quite honored to be in your company!” – Jeanette Lee 

    Barj Dhahan, Zeala Cortes, Dr. Arvind Gupta and His Excellency Shuja Alam, Consul General of Pakistan

    Barj Dhahan, Zeala Cortes, Dr. Arvind Gupta and His Excellency Shuja Alam, Consul General of Pakistan

    Arran Stephens, Barj Dhahan, Dr. Arvind Gupta, Ratana Stephens, Todd Shuffle

    Arran Stephens, Barj Dhahan, Dr. Arvind Gupta, Ratana Stephens, Todd Shuffle

    “Thanks so much, Barj. You put on a great show! And, made the community proud.” – Arran and Ratana Stephens

    Isa Solacito, Dr. Michelle Periera, Dr. Arvind Gupta and Jojo Solacito

    Isa Solacito, Dr. Michelle Periera, Dr. Arvind Gupta and Jojo Solacito

    “First of all, Thank You very much for having us at the reception for Dr. Arvind Gupta. It was truly a very inspirational evening, and we admire you for your commitment to higher education for young people not only in BC but many other parts of the world. We are also grateful for the various community work and support you and your many business partners bring to the city and the province. Again, thank you for giving us an opportunity to meet to Dr. Gupta.” – Jojo and Isa Solacito

    Dr. Sally Thorne, Barj Dhahan, Rita Dhahan, Dr. Michelle Periera and Dr. Arvind Gupta

    Dr. Sally Thorne, Barj Dhahan, Rita Dhahan, Dr. Michelle Periera and Dr. Arvind Gupta

    “And what a delightful event it was. I hope that everyone felt it was a valuable time of connection as Dr. Gupta embarks on this incredible new adventure. He has stepped up to a  major responsibility that will affect the lives of so many, and I am sure that knowing he has a community around him will be a real strength of his presidency. I am very much looking forward to working with him over the coming years.  And it was an absolute delight to catch up on so many of your amazing family members.  Incredible people all of them.” – Dr. Sally Thorne

  • John Oliver Barj Dhahan

    News: Couple Funds High School Literacy Program

    Couple’s high school literacy program is one for the books.

    By Paul Waldie, originally published in The Globe and Mail on January 31, 2014.

    The donors: Barj and Rita Dhahan

    The gift: Helping to raise $100,000

    The cause: Vancouver’s John Oliver Secondary School

    The reason: To fund reading programs for at-risk students

    Barj and Rita Dhahan know how difficult it can be for immigrants to fit into a new community. Mr. Dhahan immigrated to Canada from India at the age of 10 while Ms. Dhahan’s parents came from Germany. Both attended John Oliver Secondary School in south Vancouver, an area known for its multicultural makeup, and both saw how new arrivals often fell behind in reading and other subjects.

    “I understand that immigrants can have challenges,” Mr. Dhahan said from Vancouver, where he founded Sandhurst Group, a real estate development company. “There are so many different traditions, different cultures and different backgrounds.”

    Now successful business people, the couple are leading an effort to raise $100,000 for a literacy program called the Wonder of Reading. The couple and some family members have contributed $18,500 and they hope to raise the remainder through a network of contacts and John Oliver alumni across the country. The money will go toward a breakfast program, night school classes and student-to-student tutoring.

    “We have Grade 11 and 12 kids reading to elementary school kids and making home visits,” he said, adding that that encourages parents to read with their children. “Some students need extra help, and this is what we are trying to do. We don’t want any of these kids left behind.”

  • View of the House of Commons

    Dhahan Parliamentary Internship Program Announced

    Carleton University and the Canada India Centre for Excellence announced the Dhahan Parliamentary Internship Program, a new initiative that offers young Canadian students the opportunity to learn about the inner workings of Parliament and complete course-related research. The amount of the award is $10,000 and is available for fall 2014 and winter 2015.

    The internship will be given to a third-or fourth-year undergraduate student at Carleton. Students from all faculties will be considered. The recipient will work under the direction and guidance of the Dean of the Faculty of Public Affairs who will find an appropriate MP or minister to match with the student. It is expected that the recipient will intern in more than one office over the course of the year.

    The first intern will be announced on March 28, 2014.

  • John Oliver Alumni Pledge

    News: John Oliver alumni pledge to raise $100,000

    John Oliver Alumni Pledge to Raise $100,000 for Wonder of Reading Legacy Fund

    Originally published by Vancouver School Board on January 21, 2014.

    A group of John Oliver Secondary alumni, spearheaded by local business owners Barj and Rita Dhahan, has established the Wonder of Reading Legacy Fund to support the school’s reading programs and raise funds targeted at student literacy.

    Administration, staff and alumni were all smiles on Monday morning when they met on the John Oliver Secondary School steps to celebrate the community’s commitment to literacy at the school with a cheque presentation of $22 000.

    “As an alumnus of John Oliver, I believe it is important to provide equal opportunity to all students and enhancing student literacy is an important way to give back to the community,” says Barj Dhahan. “We care deeply about, and feel connected to, our community and school.”

    Looking for ways to contribute and give back to the school, the Dhahan family learned of John Oliver’s recent Wonder of Reading campaign and they committed to reach out to their community on behalf of the school once again. The alumni community is aiming to raise $100 000 for their former high school.

    The money raised will support the many reading and literacy initiatives the school has undertaken, including the Wonder of Reading, night school classes that boast an almost 100 percent success rate with at risk and vulnerable students, programs in which John Oliver students engage with preschool and elementary aged children and their families in reading support, after school tutor clubs run by students for students, and reading programs aimed at students on school sports and other teams.

    To view photos CLICK HERE.

  • Barj Dhahan Literacy Funding

    News: Grads repay school with gift of reading

    Vancouver couple leads fundraising drive for literacy program.

    By Cheryl Rossi, originally published in Vancouver Courier on January 21, 2014.

    John Oliver alumni Barj Dhahan and his wife Rita are funding a breakfast program at the school for disabled students for the next three and a half years.

    When Barj and Rita Dhahan heard in November about disabled students arriving with empty stomachs at John Oliver secondary school, they decided to fund the life skills class’s breakfast program for the next three and a half years.

    “We both looked at each other and I said, you know Rita, this is our school, we went here. I think we should do something,” Barj Dhahan said.

    And when JO principal Tim McGeer made a presentation to the Fraserview Rotary Club, to which Dhahan belongs, about the Sunset school’s extensive literacy programs, they acted again by leading fellow John Oliver alumni to pledge raising $100,000 for the school’s Wonder of Reading Legacy Fund.

    The Kerrisdale couple and JO graduates presented cheques totalling $22,500 at the Sunset school Monday morning, ahead of Family Literacy Day Jan. 27. Much of the money came from the Dhahans and their family members, with contributions from other former students.
    John Oliver secondary, along with 23 community partners, held a massive literacy event in September to launch its Wonder of Reading campaign.

    Low levels of interest in books, reading and language have been reported in the Sunset community.

    “The educational attainment [of] 16 per cent of the JO parent population is about Grade 9,” McGeer said.

    Some homes lack books, the money to buy them or the understanding that literacy is linked to brain development and dropout rates, he added.

    McGeer says teachers at JO have noticed that a significant percentage of their students are starting Grade 8 with Grade 3 or 4 reading skills. They start preschool with a deficit that continues throughout their education.

    “These kids are just as smart, just as able, just as loved as any other kid, they haven’t had access or engagement with literature, it’s just that simple,” McGeer said.
    “The more they read the more neural connections you create, the more language you have, the more neural resilience you have. You apply that to different areas of your schooling and your life. The more you read the more you dream, the bigger you dream because it just is creating brain capacity.”

    Dhahan attended JO for grades 11 and 12, graduating alongside Rita in 1975.
    A commercial property owner and Tim Hortons and Esso gas station franchisee, Dhahan recalls three English, creative writing and literature teachers at John Oliver who inspired his appreciation of reading and writing.

    “We’ve been really blessed so we feel this is a small way to give back to the school that provided me a great education,” Dhahan said.

    “Not only for economic prosperity, but for wellness and health and the community’s prosperity, we need to ensure that our kids have equal access to learning.”

    He said his desire to help comes from his upbringing.

    “I was raised up with the idea that whatever you earn, give a tenth of that to those who are in your community,” he said. “Give wherever there are needs.”

    Dhahan said anyone interested in donating to John Oliver should call the school.

    Photograph by: Dan Toulgoet