Ottawa – April 4, 2018 – The heated media coverage of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s attendance at Sikh events has revealed that the Canadian media still isn’t sure about how to handle a non-white leader of a major political party.
This was on display shortly after Singh’s election as NDP Leader, when he was interviewed by veteran CBC reporter Terry Milewski, who badgered Singh about posters of the person suspected of being behind the 1985 Air India bombing appearing at Vaisakhi parades (a historical and religious festival for Sikhs and Hindus).
Singh’s response that “we need to, as a society, collectively (and) unequivocally denounce any time innocent lives are lost. That is something (that is) unacceptable” was not good enough for Milewski, who seemed intent on holding Singh responsible for a terrorist act that occurred when he was 5 years old. The fact that other news outlets and reporters continued this line of questioning, and that Singh had to repeatedly say he is fundamentally opposed to violence, is troublesome and appears to show that Singh is being held to a higher standard of accountability than other, mostly white political leaders.
Recently photos of Singh’s appearance at a 2015 rally in California, where some seeking Sikh independence proponents were in attendance, once again sent the media into a frenzy of accusing Singh of supporting Sikh independence. But not once did a single reporter write about the subject that Singh spoke to at the rally. Singh acknowledged the pain in his community and his path to learning about his heritage, and how that helped him embrace his identity and work harder to stand up for human rights and the marginalized. Throughout his career, Singh has been a strong supporter of social justice and human rights, and this is something the media conveniently forgets.
The media’s trial of Singh for alleged extremism reveals a major double standard. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper helped establish the pro-apartheid Northern Foundation, whose roster of speakers included neo-Nazi Paul Fromm. He included representatives from the Jewish Defense League (JDL) on a taxpayer-funded trip to Israel, even though the JDL is labeled as a right-wing terrorist group by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Current Conservative leader Andrew Sheer, meanwhile, has surrounded himself with staff who have connections to Rebel Media – a media outlet that spews hateful intolerance and is best known for its pro-white supremist coverage of fascist violence in Charlottesville. Why, then, have Sheer and Harper never been held accountable for these connections?
Canada has a long way to go in the fight against racism, and this includes the recognition of the systemic issues that are still prevalent in our country. This has been highlighted in the media’s frenzied attacks against Singh, which seem to be motivated by his identity. As a brown politician who wears a turban, Singh is being asked by the mostly white media to prove to the Canadian public that he is not an offensive stereotype – a double standard that no white politician has faced.