British Columbia

Canadian Sikhs challenge media stereotypes with #AskCanadianSikhs campaign

Canadian Sikhs are turning to social media to challenge generalizations and stereotypes that often circulate in the mainstream media about their community.

‘There’s this cloud of suspicion that is now hanging over my community,’ says former journalist

Rena Heer, left, and Sukhvinder Vinning were both panelists at an event in Surrey this weekend called "#AskCanadianSikhs: When Canadian Sikhs Spoke out" to discuss how Sikhs are portrayed in mainstream media. (Clare Hennig/CBC)

Canadian Sikhs are turning to social media to challenge generalizations and stereotypes that often circulate in the mainstream media about their community.

The World Sikh Organization recently launched a social media campaign called #AskCanadianSikhs to draw attention to how Sikhs are reported on in Canadian media.

Rena Heer, a former journalist in Vancouver, says the recent coverage has been misleading and lacks context.

"[It's] as if there's this cloud of suspicion that is now hanging over my community," she told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

'Maligning an entire community'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's rocky visit to India — particularly an incident where Jaspal Atwal, a convicted former member of an illegal Sikh separatist group, was invited to a reception — made headlines globally.

Shortly after, questions around federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh's position on Sikh separatism also resurfaced in the media.

Heer says terms like "Sikh terrorism" and "Sikh extremism" are thrown around with little explanation to back them up.

"You don't take a faith group and combine it with terrorism because then you are maligning an entire community," she said.

"But we saw that happen just in the last six weeks."

Sukhvinder Vinning, former vice president of the Multifaith Action Society, said a lack of context and misrepresentation causes a lot of confusion about the Canadian Sikhs community.

Many of her friends and acquaintances of all backgrounds reached out to her to ask why what they are reading doesn't match what they see day-to-day interactions with Sikhs, Vinning said.

"We need to address that confusion," she said. "It's okay to examine the idea [of extremism] but we need to have facts and that's where I think the confusion is happening."

A group of panelists, including Vinning and Heer, gathered in Surrey on Saturday, April 7 for a discussion called "#AskCanadianSikhs: When Canadian Sikhs Spoke out."

With files from The Early Edition

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