British Columbia

Complaint filed against radio host for comments about mothers 'abandoning' babies to adoption

A complaint has been filed with the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council over comments made by Harjinder Thind, a host at the RED FM radio station located in Surrey, B.C.

Harjinder Thind, host at RED FM, asked doctors to report mothers who were putting up babies for adoption

A RedFM (CKYE-FM) car is pictured in Surrey, British Columbia. A regulatory complaint has been filed against one of the station's hosts following comments he made about mothers at Surrey Memorial Hospital. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A complaint has been filed with the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council (CBSC) over comments made by Harjinder Thind, a host at the RED FM radio station located in Surrey, B.C.

The complaint, filed by Pitt Meadows-based artist Jag Nagra on Monday, concerns Thind's Punjabi-language morning broadcast on Feb. 24.

Nagra, a member of the non-profit Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective, was scheduled to talk on Thind's show that day to promote the organization's search for new board members.

While waiting to go on air, Nagra heard Thind claim there was "breaking news" that numerous South Asian mothers at Surrey Memorial Hospital were giving birth and "abandoning" their babies by giving them up for adoption.

Nagra posted audio of the show to Twitter. CBC has translated the comments. 

''Our trusted sources tell us that every week many infants are being left for adoption at [Surrey Memorial Hospital]," Thind said in Punjabi. "Who are these mothers who deliver their kids by the dozens and leave right away without even seeing their faces?"

Thind claimed there were "continuous reports" of South Asian babies being delivered and their mothers leaving "after a few hours." He asked nurses or doctors to contact the station, with promises of keeping their identities confidential.

Nagra says she did not bring up the topic with Thind immediately because she was flustered in the moment, and talked with Thind on air as scheduled. 

Afterwards, Thind did not respond to several emails Nagra sent, she says, including requests she made to return to his show to address his comments.

The next day, Nagra wrote a Twitter thread about the incident, saying Thind's on-air remarks contributed to a stigma against women's reproductive rights and were reckless in nature.

"Putting up a baby for adoption is not an easy or light thing," she said. 

"It's also frustrating that he's constantly blaming women for this … It takes two people to get someone pregnant. How come it's, 'A woman has given up a baby for adoption'? How come you're not questioning where the fathers are?" 

Nagra subsequently filed a complaint with the CBSC, the broadcast regulator for private media organizations, on Monday.

Harjinder Thind, left, is seen with RedFM program director Pooja Sekhon at the station's food drive in December 2019. (RedFM/Facebook)

Thind and RED FM's program director, Pooja Sekhon, declined to comment for this story. In a follow-up broadcast on Monday, Sekhon addressed the comments with RED FM president Kulwinder Sanghera.

RED FM tweeted a statement before the audio surfaced, saying the station "never intended any criticism of the young mothers."

The station said it was asking listeners if they could confirm if there was any truth to the alleged situation at Surrey Memorial.

Nagra called the statement "gaslighting."

A spokesperson for Fraser Health, the health-care authority that runs Surrey Memorial Hospital, said they were not aware of any hospital staff who had spoken publicly about the topic of adoptions.

They also said they did not have data regarding whether several babies were being put up for adoption at the hospital.

Remarks reflect an 'uncle complex'

Nagra said South Asian parents are often reluctant to discuss abortion rights and safe sex with their children, and that Thind's comments could further stigmatize women with pre-marital sexual relationships — which can be seen as taboo — as well as rape victims.

Satwinder Kaur Bains, director of the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley, said Thind's broadcast remarks were reflective of a wider attitude among certain older South Asian men.

"The 'uncle complex' is that senior men in our community who have, through patriarchy, created positions of both privilege and power for themselves [but] have not reciprocated with younger people to understand their lives and to make changes in their own thinking," she said.

Bains says Thind should publicly apologize for his comments and make efforts to change his viewpoint.

"[The incident] should convey that issues around women's lives are not the purview of men to make light of," Bains said.

"The journalistic platform has ethical responsibility, has a moral responsibility, has a regulatory responsibility."

Previous complaints

Thind and RED FM have been the subject of previous regulatory complaints. 

In 2011, the Surrey Women's Centre said they had filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) against Thind and RED FM, stating that Thind had made inflammatory comments about domestic abuse.

His remarks came a day after a murder case in which a man fatally stabbed his estranged wife in Surrey.

It is unclear what happened to the 2011 complaint after it was filed. CBC News has reached out to the Surrey Women's Centre and CRTC to find out more.

In 2008, Thind was forced to issue an on-air apology following a CBSC complaint which said he breached ethical codes. The CBSC found Thind did not perform his duty during a show which saw callers make disparaging comments about gay people.

The CBSC is a self-regulatory body of Canada's private broadcasters. It does not have the ability to issue fines or strip a station of its broadcasting licence. However, it can compel broadcasters to issue on-air apologies and follow up with complainants.