B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s apology statement, released Thursday, has become a controversial topic, especially in the Fraser Valley.
The premier issued the apology after a leaked internal document described the Liberals using non-partisan government staff resources to improve the party’s standing with ethnic communities.
The document refers to “quick wins” for popularity with ethnic voters, referring to a 2008 apology in the B.C. legislature for an incident in 1914 in which the charter ship Komagata Maru carrying 376 Indian immigrants was turned away from the Vancouver harbour. The ship was forced to anchor in the harbour, where it stayed for two months before finally returning to Calcutta, with all but 22 of the original passengers aboard. A riot broke out upon the ship’s return to India, in which 20 passengers were killed.
“I think using an apology, to go out and win the ethnic vote, is not acceptable,” said Moe Gill, long-time city councillor and independent candidate in the riding of Abbotsford-West.
Gill said political parties “should not use tragic events that happened in the past,” in order to gather more votes.
In 2008, the federal government apologized for the incident and a week later, the B.C. government did the same.
Gill said the newly released document makes that apology hollow.
As for Clark’s apology last week, Gill said he doesn’t think it has been accepted.
“I for one don’t accept it and I think many others in the ethnic community don’t accept it as well.”
But Liberal MLA for Abbotsford-West, Mike de Jong, said the premier’s apology was the “proper thing” to do.
“I think people appreciated the fact that the premier fully appreciated the significance of what was in the document and made an unequivocal apology,” said de Jong.
He said the strength of the province is the “diversity we enjoy” and it is important for all levels of government to reach out and make sure people from all communities feel included.
“But there are appropriate ways to do that,” he said.
De Jong said he had not seen the document before it was publicly revealed and understands why there would be a negative reaction to it.
“I think some people are offended and I feel the same way.”
He said it contains inappropriate language and in a coupe of instances actions that would be equally inappropriate.
He said he was particularly offended by the reference of a “quick win” in regards to the Komagata Maru apology.
“I can speak directly to that, because I moved the motion. I can say with certainty what the motivation was, to recognize an event and an injustice that was perpetrated many, many years ago but remains a poignant reminder for many of a different time in our history when prejudice and inequality reigned.”
Jatinder Sidhu, president of the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association said he feels the overall reaction to the controversy is one of anger, but also discouragement.
“This is how people get ticked off, when they find out that the government and the policy is not sincere towards certain communities. That makes people disbelieve in any political system,” said Sidhu.
He added that is why many Canadians don’t get out and vote.
“People feel that you (politicians) are all the same.”
According to Sidhu, it’s “not healthy” having these kind of policies and the party have to stop making these kind of mistakes.
“The backlash could be sit at home and not vote for anybody. That’s my fear.”
Calling himself a “die hard Liberal” Sidhu said the issue can’t just be ignored and he is glad an inquiry is taking place.
“Whatever the outcome is, the party needs to act on it very seriously.”
Satwinder Bains, from the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, said in her opinion, people are usually well intentioned, but it is a misplaced intention.
She said some people want to look at communities and address cultural communities as a kind of sidebar as though they live separate lives.
“People’s conversations now are ‘you know we are ethnic Canadians too’ let’s become part of the bigger picture. Let’s start looking at being integrated into the Canadian system so people look at issues that effect ethnic groups or cultural groups as being as important or as needed as any other group. Why is all this targeting going on?” said Bains.
Some of the ethnic communities have been in Canada for close to 200 years and there is still a “sense of separateness” which she said is frustrating.
“This area of multiculturalism and race relations and diversity is a very new territory. It may feel like it’s old, like we’ve been at it for 30-40 years, so ‘how come people don’t know?’ But at some level I still think that people are like ‘what is this about?”‘
Bains doesn’t believe that any serious damage has been done, noting that communities are very forgiving and know governments make mistakes. But there has to be deeper conversations with government.
“People feel like they have to have a different set of thought processes or ideas and yes, they do at some level. But at the same time, let’s integrate them, let’s make them part of our Canadian thinking. And I think that’s where the benefit will be … We are a long way from that.”
Bains called it an uncharted road and “we are writing the road map as we go along” and mistakes will be made.
“This is part of that bumpy, scrapey road.”