Organizers for Surrey Challo, a protest in support of the farmers in India, are “disappointed” after they say they were “denied” the right to protest, but Surrey RCMP say it was about balancing peoples’ rights and public safety amid COVID-19.
The Surrey Challo event, described as a “drive-in and park” and a “cultural awakening and lively” protest, was planned for the Cloverdale Recreation Centre grounds on Saturday (Jan. 16). Posters for the event listed speeches and performances by about 20 individuals and groups.
Pindie Dhaliwal, one of the organizers of the protest, said organizers were told by Surrey RCMP Saturday (Jan. 16) as they were arriving that the event was not allowed due to COVID-19.
Organizers ended up moving the protest to Strawberry Hill at the last minute, with a drive-by past RCMP “E” Division in Green Timbers.
“We’re just being nimble with this. I think we’re not going to give up our fight to protest,” she explained. “That’s one of the things they don’t have in India. We have a lot of democratic rights here in British Columbia and throughout Canada, but to see what’s going on in India, our hearts are on fire right now. To suggest we suppress our voices in Canada, a democratic country, doesn’t sit well with most of us.”
Dhaliwal said the “main source of the frustration” was the RCMP had been consulted along the way, “in various forms.”
However, Surrey RCMP Corporal Joanie Sidhu said the RCMP “respects their constitutional right to protest.”
“For us, it’s not a matter of what the subject matter is, it’s a matter of balancing individuals constitutional rights to protest with public safety and the public health orders because of this pandemic
“Of course if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, things would be different,” she noted. “It has nothing to do with the subject matter, the people, the organization. It simply comes down to can we take on the risk of COVID spreading to the greater community? In this case, the risk was far too high and we had to step in.”
Sidhu said that if the event had gone on, people would have gone back to their communities, households and workplaces, which then “increases the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading.”
As for the event, Sidhu said RCMP “just didn’t have the same level of cooperation from them that we had in the past. We have supported these protests on, not only for this cause, but many other causes.”
She said police also “receieved information” that there was going to be food vendors and portable restrooms, things “that promote and encourage individuals exiting their vehicles and congregating, so that was the biggest concern with this.”
Police are aware of a large public gathering planned tomorrow in #Cloverdale and will be working alongside @CityofSurrey Bylaws to ensure public safety and compliance with health orders. Public health orders are in place to protect our community, and will be enforced.
— Surrey RCMP (@SurreyRCMP) January 15, 2021
Dhaliwal pointed out that there have been anti-mask rallies in the Lower Mainland, specifically outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
“We ensured that there were COVID measures in place. In fact, we had a rally scheduled a couple of weeks ago and we postponed it to ensure we had additional COVID measures in place.”
Sidhu said that RCMP make assessments on a “case-by-case situation,” and with Saturday’s event there were “too many safety risks in this situation.”
She added a person was given a $2,300-fine for organizing a gathering “contrary to public health orders.”
However, Dhaliwal said there are no plans to stop protesting and bringing awareness to what’s happening in India.
“We will work with authorities, but authorities also need to work with us and need to understand our culture,” she said.
There have been several rallies in Cloverdale since late 2020 to support the farmers in India who are protesting three bills that had been put forward to the country’s central government in September.
Moninder Singh, the spokesperson for the B.C. Gurdwaras Council, previously told the Now-Leader there were three bills put forward in India’s central government back in September that would affect “small-time farmers” in India.
“What it essentially does is it takes away something called the MSP, which is the minimum support price that farmers rely on. So depending on how the economy’s going… they have a minimum support price they can rely on that the government will buy their produce and their product at. Once that’s stripped away, they’re left to a free market,” explained Singh.
“In that part of the world, a free market is essentially a death sentence for most of these small-time farmers.”
He added it leaves the farmers “at the power of the larger corporations” who can, with no minimum support price, “lower the prices which they buy at.”
— Lauren Collins (@laurenpcollins1) January 16, 2021
Dhaliwal said one of the points of Saturday’s rally was to talk about Jan. 26, which is Republic Day in India. She added it’s a basically a military day parade “full of pomp and circumstance and pageantry.”
“Why this is important is the military plays a really interesting role in the propaganda machine that is India,” she noted.
“We are Punjabi people and the diaspora has spread rapidly throughout the world. So one of the things that has happened is we have mobilized very quickly because our seeds have spread everywhere in the world. From here in Vancouver to Auckland to Singapore to London, California, we are everywhere. Because of that, we are mobilizing everyone through one single day of action.”
On Jan. 26, Dhaliwal said the plan is to “ask India why.”
“We have asked everyone to ask India ‘Why?’ Ask India why they’re killing us. Ask India why they are oppressing us, why they’re silencing us, why they are persecuting minorities.”
Dhaliwal said for more information to visit askindiawhy.com.