Model Minority

The hard questions facing the poster boy of Canadian multiculturalism

01 February 2018

“MY NAME IS JAGMEET SINGH, a member of provincial parliament for Bramalea-Gore-Malton. I want to thank all the organisers and all the volunteers who made this event possible.”

It was December 2013, and Jagmeet Singh was addressing an award ceremony taking place in Punjab, hosted by the Social Educational Welfare Association, in association with International Fateh Academy. A legislator in Ontario—Canada’s largest province—Jagmeet was receiving SEWA’s “Sikh of the Year” award, given to a Sikh who has “overcome challenges to restore the honour and pride of Sikhism and to spread its fragrance in the entire world.” He made it clear why he was, quite literally, an attractive choice.

“The largest daily newspaper in Canada, the Toronto Star, recognised me as one of 2012’s top 12 people or 12 personalities for the year,” Jagmeet said. “I was also recognised and put on the front page of the largest Canadian fashion magazine as Toronto’s most stylish.” The catalogue of accolades went on. “I was recognised in the list of Toronto’s 50 most influential people as one of the five rising stars on the verge of greatness,” he said, “and all of this I have to attribute to my principles and beliefs in Sikhi. I want to make sure that’s very clear.”

Jagmeet was speaking in a mix of English and Punjabi. He emphasised how, as an elected official, he had promoted “Sikhi values,” spearheaded efforts to get the massacre of Sikhs in India in 1984 recognised as a genocide, campaigned to have kirpans allowed inside courthouses and have April designated as Sikh Heritage Month in his province.

Though he was indeed on “the verge of greatness,” Singh’s address to SEWA seemed somewhat muted. “I had prepared to be there in person,” Jagmeet, impeccably dressed in a three-piece suit and a yellow turban, explained. “But it is very sad that the Indian government did not give me permission to reach you.” He was delivering his address from behind a desk cluttered with papers, books and files, via videoconference, while thousands of kilometres away in Canada.

Daniel Block is a Delhi-based 2017-2018 Luce scholar working for The Caravan.

Keywords: Indira Gandhi Canada Indian Diaspora Sikhism Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale Khalistan 1984 Sikh pogrom Operation Blue Star Justin Trudeau