Four Surrey New Democratic Party MLAs mounted a stage that featured a banner proclaiming Khalistan Zindabaad, or “Long Live Khalistan,” in big orange letters behind them during Surrey’s Vaisakhi celebration in Newton this past Saturday.
The slogan is rooted in a Sikh separatist movement to create a new country called Khalistan in northern India.
Liberal MLAs, on the other hand, told the Now-Leader they chose not to go on the stage, which was at 128th Street and 76th Avenue, because of the controversial banner.
“We were there with (Liberal leader) Andrew Wilkinson at that very stage. As soon as we saw that banner in behind, we told the organizers we’re not going on the stage, because we’re not going to get our pictures taken with that behind us,” Marvin Hunt, Liberal MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale, told the Now-Leader.
“We have no problem being part of the Vaisakhi and the celebrations of Vaisakhi in Surrey, but we’re certainly not going to get into that political turmoil that is India.”
|Marvin Hunt, Liberal MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale. (File photo)|
Hunt said about 10 Liberal MLAs were preparing to head on stage before the NDP.
“We saw that banner and we told the organizers of that stage we’re not going on the stage with that sign behind us,” he said. “We were right there. We saw that, we said there’s no way we’re getting our pictures taken up there, we’re not coming on that stage.”
Garry Begg, NDP MLA for Surrey-Guildford, was on stage and read out a proclamation on behalf of Premier John Horgan, declaring April Sikh Heritage Month in B.C.
Begg told the Now-Leader he was not aware what the slogan meant and didn’t notice it when he was there.
|Garry Begg, NDP MLA for Surrey-Guildford. (File photo)|
“I actually didn’t see that when I went up on stage,” said Begg, who served as a Mountie for 38 years before entering public life. “I didn’t notice that at all.”
Begg served the last eight years of his policing career in Surrey as a district commander, watch commander and operations support officer. He was elected in 2017.
Surrey-Newton NDP MLA Harry Bains, a veteran politician currently serving as B.C.’s minister of labour, has not missed a Vaisakhi parade in his constituency since he was first elected in 2005. He says he doesn’t subscribe to Sikh separatist ideology. He was also on the stage.
“I believe in a united India, an India that is united and secular and inclusive,” he told the Now-Leader. “The only way India is going to shine is if it is united and secular and inclusive, that’s what my beliefs are.
“Perception is important, I know, but for this parade every year that I’ve been there you see elements of Khalistan, whether they’re flags or floats or stages all along the route,” said Bains. “Five hundred thousand people didn’t go there to support that philosophy or ideology. I’m part of that 500,000 people, although I’m elected, but I want to join them to celebrate Vaisakhi.
“Other people want to express their views, those are their views, they can do whatever they want, I don’t share many of the views of many people who have political aspirations or political views on certain things whether inside Canada or outside of Canada,” he added.
|Harry Bains, minister of labour and NDP MLA for Surrey-Newton. (File photo)|
“If people promote certain ideology peacefully in Canada they have that right and you don’t need to agree with them, but if anybody is promoting violence I don’t stand with them, I denounce violence,” Bains said.
“I can speak on behalf of my other colleagues as well, they believe in a united India. They believe that India must be secular and inclusive, that’s the only way it’s going to shine in the world. That’s who I am, and my philosophy. Other people can have their own ideology; I don’t support any other ideology than that,” he said.
Jagrup Brar, NDP MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, and Rachna Singh, NDP MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers, were also on that stage. They have yet to return the Now-Leader’s phone calls.
Bains said he doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about politics outside of Canada, but because he was born in India, he said, of course part of his “mind and body and heart” thinks about his birthplace.
But that said, he added, “I adopted Canada, and 110 per cent of my energy, commitment is to B.C. politics, is to Canadian politics. Other than that, in that Vaisakhi many people have their own political views, those are their views, I don’t share those views, I stand for a united India.
“I unite people,” Bains said.
“I don’t believe in the politics of division.”