By Muskan Sandhu
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the conference Stories of Hope: A Celebration of Canada, organized by the Association for Canadian Studies to celebrate Multiculturalism Day, were the diverse speakers who brought unique perspectives to the struggles of their communities in building an equitable Canada. The event effectively linked the “hope” to overcome these difficult times with diversity, in the process illuminating the importance of listening to myriad voices.
But how does one access these voices on days that aren’t set aside to celebrate multiculturalism? On days that do not shine a spotlight on diversity by articulating it in Canada’s official languages?
Michaëlle Jean, former Governor-General of Canada, gave us a hint in her opening remarks at the event when she thanked “those along the chain links of solidarity who persist in making the voices of the most vulnerable and the voices of the most deprived heard, their realities known.” Canadian ethnic media has been playing precisely the role of “those along the chain links of solidarity,” of making lesser-heard voices heard on days that aren’t earmarked for them, and thus this media is where one must look to hear diverse voices every day.
This isn’t to say that mainstream English and French media don’t give these voices space or importance. The perspective of ethnic media, however, differs in that it is often able to present what may be deemed as the ‘insider’s point of view,’ on issues that impact their respective communities, and give community-specific opinions on general matters. The coverage of the recent encounter between a South Asian woman and the wife of Delta Police Chief is a prime example that illustrates the existence and value of this viewpoint.
Kiran Sidhu’s alleged assault
Kiran Sidhu, a South Asian woman from Surrey, filed a complaint with Delta Police against Lorraine Dubord, wife of Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord, who according to Sidhu sprayed her down with a water hose. The alleged incident took place on June 6, when Sidhu was returning from a socially distanced party on Centennial beach and found herself trapped by a high tide as she made her way to her car parked far from the party spot. To circumvent the tides, which a police officer later informed Sidhu were 10-12 feet high, she climbed onto some rocks right next to the Dubord’s beach facing residence. While she made her way across the fence, L. Dubord came out of her house and allegedly started screaming insults at Sidhu, asking her to not touch Dubord's fence and to get off the rocks. Reportedly, L. Dubord went on to spray Sidhu down with a water hose, body-shamed her, and asked her to go back home as she didn’t belong there.
Sidhu’s friends arrived at the scene later and were seen confronting L. Dubord in a video posted by them on Facebook. Sidhu filed a police report with the Delta Police Department the next day, and was informed that the case was closed after a few days. Sidhu then filed a complaint, citing conflict of interest in DPD investigating their boss’s wife, and the case was then transferred to Surrey RCMP. L. Dubord later issued an apology, which according to Sidhu wasn’t a sincere one.
Image Source: Red FM 93.1 Face Book
Media coverage of the incident
The encounter between Sidhu and L. Dubord was covered by various prominent English newspapers from BC such as Vancouver Sun, Global News, CityNews, CTV News, and Delta Optimist. The first instance of coverage by these papers followed a similar pattern that delineated the series of events as narrated by Sidhu. These articles did have subtle differences in emphasis brought out by word choice--for example, Global News did not mention the fact that Sidhu is South Asian, or quote Sidhu’s comments that identify her as a racialized woman. On the other hand, CTV News identified Sidhu as South Asian and Delta Optimist and Vancouver Sun quoted her saying: “I was made to feel so unwelcome in these white spaces, which is something I’m aware of being a racialized woman in these white spaces as a teacher, as an active member of my union and I work on changing that.” Barring such choices, however, the articles remained almost identical in their approach of presenting the incident and the papers did not offer editorials on the matter.
The coverage of the encounter on Harjinder Thind Show, a prominent Punjabi radio show aired from Vancouver on Red FM 93.1, distinguished itself by going a step further and contextualizing the matter in terms of Delta’s community relations and the Delta police department’s role in them. In Thind’s 3.5-hour long daily morning show, the report of the encounter between Sidhu and L. Dubord was given space in both news and commentary segments. In the news segments, broadcast four times at regular intervals during the show, the incident was reported in a manner similar to that of the aforementioned mainstream articles with the exception of L. Dubord being identified as White and Sidhu being identified as Punjabi. In the segment where Thind spoke to Sidhu on call, Sidhu repeated much of what she had stated to different English media houses, both in print and on television.
Where Thind brought the issue to life was in his 6-minute long commentary on the subject. Thind introduced the issue in the context of the ongoing local discussions around racism and went on to paint a historical picture of the relationship of the Delta Police with the people of colour in its jurisdiction. Thind said:
North Delta’s policing has always been of prime quality. Jim Cessford was the Delta police chief for a long time, and, during his tenure, there was a large population of Indians and people of colour in North Delta. Cessford maintained very good relations with them. As the king does, so do his subjects; the behaviour of the police chief starts reflecting throughout the police department to a certain extent. In the last few months, there have been several reports relating to people of colour from Delta. People of colour used to say that they are proud of the Delta Police and Jim Cessford--Delta’s crime rate was very low as compared to Surrey. But recently, there have been instances where the police have been harassing people of colour with one excuse or the other, be it house calls, approaching someone randomly, or using an unworthy choice of words with truckers, such as the instance with Inderjeet Singh that I discussed earlier. Now, such behaviour meted out by the wife of the chief of the same police department, towards a Punjabi lady, is hurtful.
By presenting Sidhu’s encounter within its historical context, Thind transcended the space between the individual and the community. Sidhu’s alleged assault was not simply seen as a rare personal issue, but one that raised questions about community relations and policing in Delta. It drew attention to the fact that this wasn’t an isolated incident and was one that warranted attention to context. Thind also added an emotive layer to his analysis - L. Dubord’s behaviour wasn’t simply wrong, but also hurtful. In this fashion, Thind became the voice of the community in a matter of injustice meted out to an individual.
The role Thind played in reporting Sidhu’s story is one that ethnic media journalists play on a day to day basis. While ethnic media performs the same tasks and functions as mainstream English and French media, it also brings to the fore community perspectives on local, provincial, national, and international subjects, often morphing into a communal voice. If one were to listen closely to the stories ethnic media shares daily, multiculturalism would be an everyday celebration.
Image Source for Stories of Hope: A Celebration of Canada - Association for Canadian Studies website https://acs-aec.ca/en/main/