For nearly three weeks, daily demonstrations against, what those gathered say is the mistreatment of Indian farmers by the Indian government, have been occurring in Abbotsford.
The gatherings are in response to three farm acts passed by the Parliament of India back in September.
Those against the acts state that the new legislation opens farmers up to being exploited by larger corporations and that there was very little consultation when the acts were passed.
The acts remove a government-agreed minimum price for farmers’ goods, which are sold at auctions in India. Without a minimum price, farmers believe that big companies could drive down the prices and it could be difficult to make money in years when there is a surplus of product available.
Protests began shortly after the acts were passed and have spread all across the world. They are now considered one of the largest protests in history.
India produces about 68 per cent of the world’s spices, with top exported products consisting of pepper, cardamom, chilli, ginger and turmeric. India is also a massive producer of rice, wheat, milk, fruits and vegetables.
Those protesting believe the acts could have major ripple effects for food all across the world.
In Abbotsford, many locals still have relatives who own and operate farms in India.
Some have brought that farming mindset to Canada, but others have transformed their families hard work on the land into new opportunities.
Raman Gill’s father came to Abbotsford at the age of 17, her mother came to Canada in her 20s and both of her sets of grandparents were involved in farming. The W.J. Mouat grad and first-generation Canadian is now about to enter graduate school, but said none of that would have been possible without farming.
“They sacrifice their entire lives,” she said. “I’m only able to do what I do because of my parents and grandparents and what they made for me. They did all these things just so we could have a better life here.”
It’s why Gill and so many other Abbotsford residents have participated in the daily local demonstrations.
This past Saturday saw a car rally gather at the Rotary Stadium parking lot, and more than 100 cars traveled across Abbotsford to get the word out. Daily gatherings occur every afternoon at the corner of Clearbrook Road and South Fraser Way, with locals cheering, honking their horns and holding signs.
Gill said Saturday’s large gathering was inspiring.
“It was so empowering,” she said. “To see how so many people of all ages come together for one cause shows a lot of unity.”
She said protestors have been compliant with all COVID-19 restrictions and have been co-operative with the Abbotsford Police Department, who have been present at nearly every gathering.
She said what happens in Abbotsford and all across the planet with the protests can make a difference and that the Indian government can feel pressure from what is occurring. Gill also said that food safety and the right to peacefully protest are issues that everyone should be fighting for.
“Everyone benefits from farmers,” she said. “Farmers are the reason we have food on our plates. Everyone who eats is tied to farmers. Everyone also should have the right to peacefully protest. In India you see the government using tear gas, water cannons and even the elderly being beaten by batons – they’re not being allowed to peacefully protest.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated he supported the right of farmers to be heard earlier this month, and Conservative MP for Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon Brad Vis tabled a petition regarding the ongoing protests and said he stands with those in India and locally.
— Brad Vis (@BradleyVis) December 10, 2020
New Abbotsford South MLA and current Abbotsford Coun. Bruce Banman also commented publicly on the situation.
I hope a peaceful resolution can be found in Punjab. https://t.co/pMxeDeei0r
— Bruce Banman (@BruceBanman) November 29, 2020
Outside of Banman, both Abbotsford council and Mayor Henry Braun have remained silent publicly. Abbotsford MP Ed Fast also had the opportunity to speak on the matter, but he told The News that he echoes Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s comments. O’Toole said he supports the UN Declaration of Human Rights and its protection of the right to peacefully protest.
At a livestreamed meeting of the City of Abbotsford’s Community, Culture and Environment Advisory committee on Dec.3, member Josh Reynolds suggested it would be fitting for the committee to ask Mayor Henry Braun and council to speak on the issue of the local protests and possibly offer a statement of support.
Committee chair and Abbotsford Coun. Dave Loewen told The News that the suggestion was out-of-order.
“Not because of the subject itself, but because of the Terms of Reference for all City committees, and because of the specific committee mandate of this committee,” he said.
However, Loewen did agree to mention the issue to Braun the next time they spoke. Loewen confirmed that he did mention the conversation to Braun following the meeting.
The News reached out to Braun for a comment related to the protest and he relayed the following message.
“Abbotsford City Council views civic engagement across our community as one of the things that makes Abbotsford a wonderful city to live and work in,” he stated in an email. “Our residents care deeply about issues that affect our world. Council supports the members of our community who choose to exercise their right to peacefully protest while continuing to abide by the restrictions of the current Health Orders.”
Gill said it’s unusual that the city has not yet made any official statement for the public related to the protests.
“We have someone there to vocalize to your people or your community and those people aren’t vocalizing,” she said. “It’s just a little odd to think about, are they noticing us? Are we actually a part of this community? I think it would be a good thing just to allow others to be a bit more educated about what is going on.”
She added that she believes the gatherings will continue in Abbotsford until the situation in India is resolved.
“I am hoping that he takes off the bills,” she said. “I know the farmers are not going anywhere until he does.”
Gatherings are ongoing in Abbotsford on the corner of Clearbrook Road and South Fraser Way from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.