As this very moment, the number of dead from the Christchurch terror attack remains unknown. Authorities say 49 dead, but a snuff video posted by the perpetrator gives an indication as to a much higher body count. The victims undoubtedly woke up with plans, dreams, and worries like the rest of us, not knowing that they would not live to see the evening.
This, in a country known for its majestic scenery. Carnage, in a country that could teach my country a thing or two about how to properly go about truth and reconciliation with our indigenous population. This, in a country, that in many ways resembles our own. The parallels between New Zealand and Canada are not imaginary. A Terror Expert on Christchurch’s channel 7 news said, in his own words, “New Zealand is kind of like Canada. Nothing like this ever happens in Canada.” Except he’s wrong, something like this did happen in Canada. Two years ago, one of our terrorists walked into a mosque in Quebec City, killing six and injuring nineteen. The parallels between our two nations, once thought to be flattering, now feel unnerving. Should I be worried about the next attack? Surrey, after all, is home to a sizeable Muslim community, with at least seven mosques that I can count off the top of my head. Should I now worry about taking my children with me to the mosque, out of fear that we may be the next international headline?
No. I refuse to live in fear. And here is why.
I have the privilege of working with children on a daily basis. When asked about the difficulties of adulthood, I confess to these pre-teens that the saddest part of becoming an adult is discovering that super-heroes are imaginary, and monsters are real. Except I no longer believe that to be true. For every genocidal Islamophobe, for every keyboard crusader, for every hijab-hating psychopath, for every monster, I have met dozens of heroes. I have worked with the Imams of Surrey’s mosques, some of whom are survivors of wars and destruction, who happily open their doors to their community. I have enjoyed the company of SFU’s Christian chaplain, who never missed an opportunity to make me and my co-faithful feel at home on campus. I have received emails from friends of no obvious faith background who, upon hearing about these all-too-frequent tragedies, remind me that I do not walk alone. I have had the privilege of working for employers who go above and beyond their legal responsibilities in providing me with a space to worship. I refuse to live in fear, because Surrey is my home, and it is my family, and it is filled with heroes.
I refuse to live in fear because this is my city. I am reminded of this fact when I am greeted by the smiling faces at the McDonald’s where I get my coffee in the morning. I am reminded of this at my Jujitsu gym, where there is no discrimination based on skin or belt colour. Despite what the monsters would have us believe, this is my city. This is our city. I own it. We own it. And no one can ever take it away from us.
Experiencing Christmas as a Non Christian
“Jingle Bell Vibes” can not be ignored in North America
If you live in North America it’s difficult to ignore Christmas- the mall decorations, Christmas carols, events, gift buying and many more. But being a person from a different culture, where Christmas is never celebrated, this festive season seems full of excitement and happiness. The tradition of decorating trees and homes, family gatherings and exchanging gifts looks very overwhelming. But what exactly is the meaning of Christmas rather than decorations and celebrations for a person with no Christmas background? So, the answer is love and happiness.
Everyone from western culture eagerly waits for Christmas and during this particular period people can be observed as more giving, cheerful, caring and kind. The Christmas vibes are full of joy even the thought of Christmas celebrations seems beautiful- the candles, the presents under trees, cozy fireplaces, the sparkly decorations, the home cooked food, the gathering of people, and the festive ambiance itself. Hence, nobody can stay away from all these jingle bell vibes.
Christmas is big- very big. This can be explained as huge craziness over Black Friday Sales that can be seen among people of every age- kids, teens, adults and seniors. Everybody in the family starts making lists and creating a budget. However, feeling of Christmas shopping seems full of excitement and stressful at the same time. The pressure of buying according to the budget saddens the joyous feeling to some extent but there’s a lot more stuff to do rather than just shopping.
For people who have never celebrated Christmas, Christmas seems like a festival of spending time with loved ones and exchanging presents in the spirit of giving. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this, fundamentally. And for many people, Christmas is a ritualistic time to feel connected with others, which I think is valuable. That’s why other cultures have started celebrating Christmas. All this begins with traditional family dinner on Christmas ewe, baking cookies for Santa and of course eagerly waiting for Santa. And, finally opening the presents and thanking each other.
For many people, Christmas is a time of sorrow. Many are not able to afford gifts for their family and friends. But apart from money, there are cultural reasons as well for not being a part of Christmas celebrations. For instance, in Sikh culture, from December 21-28, these seven days are known as the days of sacrifice. These are the holiest days in Sikh history. They are full of unparalleled sacrifice.
The four Sahibzade (sons) of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru of Sikhs, were martyred during these days before the age of 19. During this period, Sikh people celebrates nothing but sorrow. Thus, belonging to Sikh religion, Christmas holds no meaning. It seems nothing but just fascinating decorations. Moreover, roots being attached to Sikh religion and living in Western countries like Canada, it’s complicated to decide whether it’s a good idea to involve into Christmas spirit or not.
Yet, Christmas is a season of great joy and people should feel free to celebrate in their own way and do whatever makes them happy.
Being gay and brown and middle-aged!
It is not easy being gay and brown and middle-aged! I still feel like an outsider, and relatively marginalized from the mainstream queer community. This is especially the case if I am at a party or club in Vancouver and there are groups of people socializing. The white gay men, who society seems to think is the cream of the crop of desirability, usually, hang out together.
I remember one of my friends asked me why are most of my friends’ people of colour? I said it’s because they’re the only ones who want to be friends with me and who like me. I have tried to hang out with people of all backgrounds, but the ones that stick around are usually those that I have something in common with and that includes our shared cultural upbringing, heritage, and skin colour.
I have experienced oppression in subtle ways. I met a cute Italian guy when I was 30 and doing my post-graduate in England. Let’s call him Frederico. He was from Rome. We ended up dating for a few months. Of course, I had to ask him out. It’s been rare in my life to be actually asked out by a good looking white guy.
He said to me “you’re quite handsome for an Indian guy.” I did not know if I should take this as a compliment? Nonetheless, I didn’t feel comfortable being the token person of colour in his social circle and soon we ended our relationship. At the end of the day, most people want to feel like they fit in.
I arrived at my student housing at the London School of Economics which is probably one of the most ethnically diverse schools in the world. To my surprise, the students made friends and even sat in the cafeteria based largely on nationality and ethnicity. The Latinos sat together, the Europeans sat together, and the Asians sat together.
As a gay male with family history from India and born in England and raised in Canada, I didn’t know who to sit with. Fortunately, I made some friends from Canada and the USA and with a few closeted gay students.
I even experienced explicit ageism in the gay world while in London. I went to a gay bar, as I turned 30 in the city, and an older white Englishman asked me about my age. When I told him, he stated “your past the expiry date.”
Now I am 47 years old. My life is getting better in some ways. I have a nice house and car, I have a successful business, and I have good friends and family. On the downside, I am not as toned, getting bald, with grey hair. I have joint pain. I can still swim for an hour virtually non-stop which I am proud of, nonetheless. I wonder sometimes, am I still desirable enough for the gay world? The gay world is still so obsessed with youth and beauty.
I grew up with media images of white, smooth, muscular young men and “twinks”, both of which I look nothing alike. I am currently focused on self-care and supporting and making a difference in the lives of others who are struggling especially queer youth.
In my counselling practice, I have helped many young brown men who have internalized racism and internalized homophobia. This means they do not like themselves for being brown or gay. Can you imagine? They have to come out and accept their ethnicity and sexuality. Talk about trying to deal with double the societal oppression and self-esteem and self-identity issues.
I am writing this article to let the next generation of queer youth, especially queer brown and queer people of colour, know that there is hope. You can love yourself. You can be loved. You can find your place in our queer family.
If you are youth between 16 and 30 demonstrating involvement, commitment and leadership in the queer community feel free to apply for the Sher Vancouver January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award which has cash prizes of $1000, $600, $400, and $200. For more information check out: shervancouver.com/youth-award.html
Alex Sangha is the Founder of Sher Vancouver and a Recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada. You can contact Alex at: email@example.com
OPINION: Reflections on Surrey’s 2018 Municipal Election
By Cindy Dalglish
This campaign was eye-opening, enthralling, difficult, and fun. It was exhausting, disgusting, invigorating, and disappointing. Many times, over the past several months, I heard from people that they ‘aren’t into politics’, or ‘I don’t get political’. My, what a privileged stance. I know many that just didn’t bother to vote, too.
Not only did many die for the privilege, here is what you need to know.
Unless you are a hobbit living in the forest, completely off the grid and eating food you catch yourself, you are political. Have a bank account? Political. Eat food from a store or a restaurant? Political. Walk on sidewalks? Did you go to school? Kids in school? Drive a car? Take a bus? Go to a movie? Play a sport? Have your kids in sports? Are you older and needing medical care? Are you younger and broke a bone? Do I need to go on? POLITICAL. Every.single.thing we have in this world is gained through some form of politics.
I’m tired of the term “politics” getting a bad rap.
I’m tired of the title “politicians” getting such negative press.
And I’m also getting fed up with “taxes” being considered a bad thing.
Without politics, politicians, and taxes, you would not be able to afford to live. Period.
There would be exorbitant costs to going to school, your basic healthcare, your cars, your food. The system we have, like it or not, is better than the alternative. Fundamental rights would not be protected. There would be no judicial system (we can argue the effectiveness of ours later). No mental health (again, later). No police. No one to see us when we are sick, give us chemo for cancer, heck we wouldn’t even know we are dying of cancer. And no leaders. No one willing to put themselves on the line for everyone else that didn’t bother going to vote.
There are so many good people trying to make positive change for the greater good (agree with their ways or not), and 67.45% of Surrey stayed home when it was time to do the one thing they need to do while the rest of the candidates work their tails off trying to garner your vote. There is not a political vote that you should stay home for. Not one. There are advanced voting opportunities and election day. Heck, if you can’t make it to one of those, you can go to City hall and they will accept your vote in person.
But this isn’t just a Surrey issue. This is a Province-wide issue. Do we need to move to the Australian model of voter engagement where it is compulsory with fines for not? What is it going to take?
We take so much for granted. And it’s sad, really. Just sad.
We need our citizens, just as much as they need us.
VOTE. Signed, was a candidate and now back to being “just” a parent advocate.
Hey Surrey, it’s time to incorporate gun and gang violence into the education system
By Marah Arif
Bang. All it took was one finger on the trigger and two teenage boys were gone forever.
What was left? Heartbroken parents who would never see their sons smiling again, living with constant reminder that their child was a victim to gun and gang related violence. This is a reality that families have been facing for the past ten years.
Although investigations are still ongoing it has been confirmed the shooting was targeted. Local authorities have set a verdict as an incident related to gun and gang violence. The family of the victim is urging parents whose children are involved in gangs to no longer hide and reveal the truth.
These families not only need justice, they also want to change the community we live in so that no child could ever be robbed of their future again.
Such changes can be made a reality by incorporating the dangers of gun and gang related violence into the education system.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has assured citizens that gun and gang violence in Surrey is a priority for his government. With the upcoming election, mayoral candidate Surrey First Tom Gill, is promising an estimated cost of $1 million annually for free access to recreation facilities in the city. This course of action is part of a five-year $50 million Surrey First obligation to prevention and new policing with the purpose of quelling the issue of gang violence to protect children and teens.
Tom Gill declared a public safety plan for Surrey which includes free access to the pool, ice rink, and gym for 125,000 kids and teens under 18 in order to keep kids active and away from gangs.
Another candidate explored the solution of developing a new municipal police form to combat the pressing issue. Doug McCallum of the Safe Surrey Coalition proposed the replacement of the RCMP with the new police force.
The candidates communicate great differing solutions for the issue. This might lead one to reconsider the need to incorporate education about gun and gang violence into the school.
Although, providing access to recreation facilities gives children and teen’s fun and safe activities, it does not educate them on the problems at hand. In addition, not all children are going to access these facilities or have an interest in them.
The offer of a special force designed to fend off gang violence and protect children is not something the city would turn down unless they are informed of the lengthy time and high costs it would take.
Doug McCallum explained,
“The costs would also be considerable; he said Surrey could have to spend tens of millions of dollars just for the transition, which would involve capital costs, recruitment costs and legal costs.”
Although they are thoughtful ideas they do not get to the root of the issue.
In order for children and teens to stay away from guns and gang violence they must first understand the dangers behind it which can be best done at school. Although adding the topic into the school curriculum would be a cost, this is a long term plan that starts with children first by steering them onto the right path by developing their knowledge.
Public Safety Canada states that “in 2016, police reported 141 gang-related homicides, 45 more than in 2015. Since 2013, gang-related homicides in Canada’s largest cities have almost doubled.”
Despite Mayor Linda Hepner’s increase in RCMP officers, 5 of the 7 homicides in Surrey this year have all been a result of gun or gang violence.
The education on the topic can be implemented through planning classes in high school and with guest speakers who have experienced gang life to illustrate to students the hazardous lifestyle.
Allowing the topic to be presented in classrooms can reach not only at risk children and teens but all students would be educated on the issue.
Adding gun and gang related violence education could be incorporated in nationwide thus benefiting other provinces that also experience similar problems such as Ontario.
Education around gun and gang violence can discuss how media glamorize gangs and gang life and how off-screen gangsters sell this lifestyle as well. Teens would learn the repercussions of being in a gang, and how friends and families are affected by it.
The best way to ensure the bright future for these children is to educate them about the dangers of gun and gang violence. We need to put an end to the horrifying realities of a children and teens who have fallen victims to this tragedy. We, as a community, must advocate for school education on guns and gang violence.
Alex Sangha: A new civic role for seniors proposed for Surrey
I have always wondered how to create inclusive and nurturing neighbourhoods. How can we be better citizens? How can we become more empathetic and feel what other people are feeling? How can we turn conflict into creativity and solutions and have a better understanding of each other? Most importantly, how can we teach people valuable life skills and help and support each other?
I came across the Harvard Study of Adult Development which tracked subjects for over 80 years. The study found that happy and healthy people are associated with close relationships with family, friends, and community. In other words, feeling connected and in nurturing relationships are very important for our overall health and wellness.
The policymakers and politicians need to address not only economic poverty but also “social poverty.” I propose the provincial government fund an “Inclusive and Nurturing Neighbourhoods (INN)” pilot project in partnership with a municipality or city such as Surrey. This project would match retired city employees with adults to provide guidance, direction, and support; share wisdom; reduce loneliness; provide references; assist with city recruitment; and develop friendships.
There are many examples of similar programs paying huge dividends in society. For example, many people in Alcoholics Anonymous benefit from having a sponsor to stay sober. The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada help youth who do not have a sibling or who live with a single parent. There are a lot of programs for youth. I feel adults can also benefit.
The pilot project may well have a positive impact on the emotional and psychological well-being of adults. People, especially men, would be encouraged to express their feelings and finally have a safe outlet. It would reduce alienation, isolation, and loneliness. It may also be a deterrent for young adults who are at risk of going into gangs.
The project might also reduce employee absenteeism and overall health and social welfare costs. If people are happier, they will likely be able to better cope with their life stressors and challenges. Applicants to the program could be screened based on criminal record checks and references and matched based on expertise and need. Furthermore, people with specific “life experiences” such as being LGBTQ, a person with a disability, or a person of colour could request to be paired up with someone similar. In addition, this project would be a great way to orient new immigrants and refugees.
Many people cannot afford a life coach or counsellor. Some people grow up in poor neighbourhoods and they are not provided with the same opportunities as others. Furthermore, many people do not have the contacts and connections needed to help them reach the next level in their career.
This program would directly help with the social mobility of some of our most vulnerable citizens such as foster kids ageing out of care. Everyone deserves a chance and every person should have the opportunity to reach their potential.
This program would be affordable, accessible, and empower and nurture our citizens. It would encourage our society to value the wisdom and life experience of our elders. It would promote connection, community, and compassion. The project could be expanded to include other levels of government.
In addition, the private sector might also want to join the program since it could assist with their community engagement and recruitment efforts. Human beings are social beings. There is no better feeling than to know that you have helped someone, especially someone from your community.
If we can develop these social connections, we might also be more concerned about all our citizens, rich or poor. We will want to make sure that not just our basic needs are met, but we should also foster higher levels of functioning such as self-actualization. We can harness the power of people to have a better life, with their skills and abilities functioning at their best.
What’s my inspiration?
I was lucky to find a mentor about ten years ago. He was a retired librarian. We started going for regular walks and coffee. When I met him I was on welfare and confused with what to do with my life. My mentor helped me set realistic goals and saved me from many pitfalls, such as when I was thinking of dropping out of my Master of Social Work program because I found the statistics course too difficult. My mentor helped me find solutions and resolve many of my personal life challenges. He helped keep me on track and move forward in a positive direction.
As a result, over the last decade, I completed my second Master’s degree and published an award-winning book. I was employed as a youth counsellor, as well as a social worker, clinician, and team leader with a local health authority. I obtained my clinical social work designation and opened a private counselling practice.
Most notably, I am the recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada for my community work. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today without someone who believed in me and invested in me. I owe a debt of gratitude to my mentor. I was lucky to have someone who nurtured my strengths and spirit.
Alex Sangha is a Registered Clinical Social Worker and Counsellor based in Surrey, B.C. For more information check out alexsangha.com
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