Toronto: “It’s a new feeling. I have to find a name for that feeling,” said the Indo-Canadian father of the new leader of Canada’s opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) Oct. 1. “Very proud,” were the words that he found and repeated.
In a historic vote Jagmeet Singh ‘Jimmy’ Dhaliwal, an Indo-Canadian Sikh won the leadership of the progressive opposition party in the Canadian Parliament in the very first round of voting, making him the first ever Indo-Canadian and first member of a “visible minority” to lead a federal party in this country.
Popularly called Jagmeet Singh, the 38-year old Jiu-Jitsu expert who was featured in GQ magazine for his style, and sports brightly colored pink, blue and yellow turbans, beat out three opponents to become the first ever “visible” minority to lead a party, though Indo-Canadians including Sikhs, have been among the oldest immigrants to Canada arriving here more than one hundred years ago.
Contrary to predictions by talking heads that it may take a few rounds of voting by party members to elect the leader, Singh won a decisive majority of 35,266 votes from a total 65,782 votes cast, CBC News reported.
As the hall erupted in a roar of support for Singh’s victory, the lawyer by training said it was an “incredibly profound honor” to be elected.
He gained national and international attention when a video showing his persistently calm response to a woman who accused him repeatedly for bringing Sharia law to Canada. HSingh kept repeating that it needs “love and courage” to counter bigotry and refrained from correcting the woman.
In his victory speech as he was hoisted on the shoulders of several people in the audience, Singh said he won because of “people who thought of breaking barriers in the past,” and that he hoped his victory would pave the way and inspire people from various communities to join public service.
Singh, who is fluent in French, English and Punjabi, was born in Scarborough, Ontario, and on finishing law from University of Toronto’s Osgoode Law School, provided pro bono advice to a group of activists opposing the visit of India’s minister Kamal Nath to Canada, on grounds he was allegedly connected to the 1984 killings of Sikhs following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
In 2011, Singh was elected to the Ontario Provincial Parliament from the Bramalea-Gore-Malton district which has a large population of Indo-Canadians.
“Growing up with brown skin, long hair and a funny sounding name meant I faced some challenges,” Singh said in his victory speech, according ot news reports. “I’ve been stopped by police multiple times for no other reason than the colour of my skin.” Singh was instrumental in leading and winning the fight against “carding” something akin to the “Stop and Frisk” policy followed by the New York Police officers.
“It makes you feel like you don’t belong, like there’s something wrong with you for just being you. And that’s why, as prime minister, I will make sure that no one in Canada is stopped by police because of the way they look, or the colour of their skin,” Singh said in his speech.
While he has announced his run for Prime Minister in the 2019 general elections, he has not announced plans to run for a federal seat as yet. As such he will have to appoint others from the party to take his place during the Question Hour where opposition party leaders criticize the ruling Liberal Party and the country’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“The values that guide me today, and will continue to guide me as federal leader, are the progressive, social democratic values rooted in my experiences growing up,” Singh says on his website.