The recent announcement by former long-time NDP MP and human rights advocate Svend Robinson that he is running in the upcoming federal election is refreshing.
On the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., Robinson told the media outside his childhood home in Burnaby North-Seymour that he has decided to come back for two key reasons: the inability of the Canadian government to deal with the issue of climate change, and the housing unaffordability faced by average Canadians.
He pointed out that the house where he spent his childhood is today worth $2.3 million and remains out of the common person’s reach.
Robinson had to quit politics in 2004 after admitting to stealing a ring from an auction due to poor mental health. While a section of Big Media remains hostile to Robinson — some of the journalists who had come to cover his announcement kept asking him about the state of his mental health — Robinson’s return has become even more necessary in a political environment that has turned toxic due to the emergence of populist and right-wing leaders such as Donald Trump.
Robinson is an openly gay politician who has stood up for the rights of not only LGBTQ people but also other minority groups. When he made his announcement on Jan. 15, he said that he would consult both the hereditary chiefs and the band council chiefs of First Nations when it comes to getting informed consent on pipelines.
Notably, the Canadian government failed to consult the hereditary chiefs when it approved a controversial LNG project in B.C. It negotiated only with the band councils, which function within the parameters of the colonial Indian Act, precipitating a conflict between the RCMP and the Unist’ot’en activists fighting against the appropriation of their traditional lands.
Robinson has also been vocal against Israeli aggression in Palestine and India’s repression of minorities. He once spoken passionately against the death sentence handed by India to a Sikh militant, Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, who is married to a Canadian woman. Robinson was one of the MPs who came forward to support a campaign asking for clemency for Bhullar, who was accused of being involved in a bomb blast that targeted a senior politician. To some, the evidence against Bhullar was weak and inconclusive.
The incident was the culmination of ugly political events in the early 1980s. The moderate Sikh leadership in India at that time was fighting for political and religious concessions. Parallel to that agitation, extremists had taken up an armed struggle. The Indian army invaded Amritsar’s Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine, in 1984 to deal with a handful of radicals who had stockpiled weapons. The operation left many worshippers dead and buildings heavily damaged. This act of sacrilege caused worldwide outrage among Sikhs, including angry protests in Canada.
After Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards later that same year, innocent Sikhs were brutally lynched and burned alive by mobs led by activists in Gandhi’s Congress party. Only one senior party leader has been convicted, 34 years later in December 2018. For all these years, Sikhs have been fighting for justice and closure.
Robinson was among those MPs who fully understood the anguish of the Sikh community.
He also came out to condemn the extrajudicial murder of Sikh militant Talwinder Singh Parmar by the Indian police in 1992.
Parmar was a Canadian citizen believed to be a mastermind of the Air India tragedy. He had returned to India to pursue his struggle for a Sikh homeland when the police killed him in a staged shootout. Robinson asked the Canadian government to intervene to find out the truth of what had happened.
If elected back to parliament, Robinson would be a strong voice for minorities who continue to be persecuted in India, particularly under the current Hindu right-wing government led by Narendra Modi. Unfortunately, most Canadian politicians, including the ruling Liberals, have been indifferent since Modi came to power in 2014.
To break this deafening silence, we need more politicians like Robinson, who told me during a radio interview that he was disappointed to note that the Liberal government remains silent on human rights abuse under Modi.
While people like Trump are trying to build walls to stop the flow of the migrants, spreading hatred and misogyny by targeting Muslims and women, trampling on the rights of gays and lesbians, and bolstering a popular discourse against those relying on welfare because of poverty and mental illness, Robinson brings us hope for a better world.