Minority communities in Canada are as populous as they are opinionated. Politicians and propagandists have long known this, and the recent WeChat gaffe has incited the mainstream media on the subject too.
There’s plenty of reason to communicate with a voting population in the language they first learned—their mother tongue. The advantage of a multilingual candidate in a multilingual riding is obvious when looking at the demographics. However this past week, the grey area that exists between celebrating Canada’s diversity and capitalizing on it was exposed. Mainstream media picked up the story of Karen Wang’s WeChat message—largely in part because of the loud responses to the matter provided by the parties themselves.
But they weren’t the only ones responding to the matter:
Opinion, commentary, editorial and news stories from Canada’s multilingual news sources—the same communities balancing on the imaginary linguistic line that is the divide between populist and electoral approaches to diversity and voting—were heard on radio shows and read in corner-store newspapers, too.
MIREMS shares this special collection of multilingual and multicultural media coverage:
Punjabi: "Cost of making racial comment against Punjabis: Karen is out of the race"
Vancouver's Indo-Canadian Awaaz reports:
The leader of the federal NDP is one of the contestants in the Burnaby by-election. The major political parties - the Liberals and the Conservatives - have put up their strongest candidates against him, and the by-election has become a topic of hot debate in politics. Recently, the Liberal candidate from Burnaby, Karen Wang, made racial comments against NDP candidate Jagmeet Singh to get favour from the Chinese community she belongs to. The comments received widespread condemnation, and the party had to withdraw her name. Now it is to be seen if the Liberals forfeit the seat or field another candidate to replace Karen Wang. Karen Wang's departure may prove to be a lucky break for Jagmeet Singh. (18/01/2019)
Punjabi: "Burnaby by-election is a litmus test for Jagmeet Singh"
Balraj Deol writes an editorial for Vancouver's Indo-Canadian Times:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced by-elections for three federal constituencies to be held on February 25, 2019. Trudeau has been postponing these by-elections for as long as he has been able in order to figure out his political gains for the upcoming October 2019 general elections. Some experts are of the view that Trudeau has been intentionally postponing the announcement of the federal by-election in Burnaby South in order to weaken the NDP. Keeping the NDP's leader away from Parliament for a long time was a strategy to make the party weak. It is also being said that under the leadership of Jagmeet Singh, the NDP has become so fragile that Trudeau does not want the party to change its leadership. If Singh loses the by-election, then the NDP can think of changing its leadership. On the other hand, more than half a dozen NDP MPs have indicated they will not be running in the next elections under Singh's leadership. The NDP is in addition trailing behind in terms of fundraising. Polls have put the party’s popularity at between 15% and 16%, which indirectly benefits the Liberals. There are rumours that Trudeau can ask a weak Liberal candidate to oppose Singh. Most Liberal and Conservative voters in Burnaby are of Chinese descent, which will divide the vote. Despite this, it is thought it will be difficult for Jagmeet Singh to win this by-election. Even former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has raised questions about a victory for Singh. One of the groups within the NDP is also raising its voice on changing the leadership. The Burnaby South by-election is a litmus test for Jagmeet Singh as leader of the NDP. (17/01/2019)
Chinese: "Thoughts on political participation of Chinese Canadians based on the withdrawal of Karen Wang"
Vancouver's Chinese Dawa Business News reports:
In this article, Chinese-Canadian news critic and former Vancouver City Councillor B.C. Lee comments on the withdrawal of Burnaby South Liberal candidate Karen Wang. Lee remarks that the interpretation of Wang's WeChat comments about NDP Leader and candidate Jagmeet Singh is primarily pending on the viewers. The Liberals have been promoting the slogan “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” and Wang's comments are hurting the party's brand image. Lee points out that for Chinese-Canadian politicians, it is critical to understand the local political culture and to communicate with voters of different ethnic backgrounds. It is good to see an increased number of Chinese Canadians participating in politics. However, it is the quality rather than quantity that makes a difference. (18/01/2019)
Punjabi: "Karen Wang: Media misrepresented my language"
An interview on KRPI Radio 1550 AM Dr. Jasbir S. Romana Show in Vancouver reports:
Karen Wang, the former Liberal candidate in the Burnaby South by-election running against NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, was interviewed by the host of KRPI Radio. The host asked Wang what she wanted to say on the social media group. Wang said she posted an invitation to Chinese people on the Chinese social media app WeChat to come join her for the opening of her campaign office. She added she did not make any racial comments. It was a misrepresentation of the language she used. The media used an electronic dictionary and misinformed people. She said that in the invitation, they wrote that she was of Chinese background and the other candidate was of Indian background. This was a fact and not a racial comment. The host asked whether the apology issued was from Wang or from the Liberal Party think tank. Wang reiterated that she did not make any racial comments. She tried to clear the misunderstanding but said that the damage has been done. She added that she will consult with her volunteers and see whether she can run for the by-election as an independent candidate or not. The host said that Wang is being punished for something she did not do. (18/01/2019)
Punjabi: "Burnaby South by-election: What is racist in Karen Wang’s comments?"
Toronto's CIAO 530 AM Des Pardes reports:
Former Liberal candidate Karen Wang in Burnaby South withdrew from the by-election in the wake of a controversy over her comments over Chinese social media. The program host Simrouz Sidhu read out the comments made by Wang, “If we can increase the voting rate, as the only Chinese candidate in this riding, if I can garner 16,000 votes, I will easily win the byelection, control the election race and make history! My opponent in this byelection is the NDP candidate Singh of Indian descent!” Sidhu said that he doesn’t see anything racist in Wang’s comments. He encouraged callers to share their opinions about Wang’s comments. Sidhu said that Wang wants a second chance. She said, “I was given advice by the party to step down, but now that I see I have been labelled as racist, I realize that the decision was wrong.” Wang sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to Liberal party president Susan Cowan to withdraw her Liberal candidacy resignation. However, the Liberal party has rejected her request to run for the party and Elections Canada has also confirmed her withdrawal as the Liberal candidate. (17/01/2019)
Chinese: "Regrets after withdrawing candidacy?"
Online Chinese source 51.ca reports:
Karen Wang reportedly asked the Liberal Party to reconsider and allow her to run again. But this was rejected by the Liberals. Wang's recent online remarks were not in line with Liberal values. The Liberal Party has accepted her resignation, and she will not run for the Liberals in Burnaby South. Wang had wrote to Trudeau saying that her remarks on WeChat were nothing but facts, and that they were not racially discriminatory. She said that she's not a racist. She's considering running as an independent candidate. There are 4 comments on this article. One of the commenters saw her WeChat (post) and doesn't think there's a big problem. This commenter says other ethnic candidates in the past used slogans that promise better development of their own ethnic group if elected. (17/01/2019)
Chinese: "Should Chinese people vote for Chinese people?"
Karen Wang was forced to withdraw her candidacy because of her remarks on WeChat. She deliberately emphasized to Chinese people that her main rival in the by-election is Indian. Perhaps this doesn't mean much to Wang, but in the western political society, especially in the eyes of "politically correct" Prime Minister Little Du (Trudeau), this crosses the line. The person who told a mainstream media outlet that Wang had made the inappropriate remarks in her campaign happens to be a Chinese person. For this reason, some people in the Chinese community thought this was unfair to Wang. An internet user thinks Wang is a Chinese victim as a result of the political correctness of left leaning politics. After Wang withdrew her candidacy, a poll found that among 400 internet users, only 14% of them support Chinese people voting for Chinese people, while 73% say Chinese people don't have to vote for Chinese people. This means that if someone continues to play the race card in Canadian politics, and insists that Chinese people vote for Chinese people, then Chinese people's political participation won't go far and would only get narrower. Another article was also about Karen Wang. Who is the real racist? Karen Wang or Trudeau? The writer talks about why the real racist should be exposed and urged the Liberals not to have double standards - Chinese people aren't blind, deaf or stupid. (17/01/2019)
South Asian English: "Byelection turmoil: Liberal quits after singling out Jagmeet Singh as Indian"
Mississauga's The Canadian Parvasi reports:
The Liberal candidate running against NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a Metro Vancouver byelection dropped out of the race after drawing criticism for an online post singling out Singh’s ethnicity. Karen Wang apologized and said she did not want her comments to be a “distraction.” “In trying to speak about my own story and the importance of people of all different backgrounds getting involved in this important byelection, I made comments online that also referenced Jagmeet Singh’s cultural background,” she said in a statement. Political observers said Wang’s sudden resignation bodes well for Singh, a former member of Ontario’s legislature who is Sikh and speaks Punjabi, English and French. The Liberals did not immediately say whether they would replace Wang. The party said Wang’s online comments are not aligned with its values. Conservative Jay Shin and Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson of the People’s Party of Canada are also running in Burnaby South. Members of the Chinese-Canadian community in Metro Vancouver said Wang made a mistake, but were divided on whether she should’ve stepped down. (17/01/2019)
Reaction to Wang’s comments and the parties’ responses is varied, even amongst communities directly connected—or not at all affected—by the comments. But the diverse reaction to this situation shows that listening to diverse voices when discussing cross-cultural communication in Canada is essential.
These stories have been translated and summarized by MIREMS consultants, who read, watch and listen to multicultural and multilingual media every day in order to make language barriers transparent and make diverse voices accessible in Canada’s political and social discourse.