Surrey anti-racism forum highlights discrimination against immigrants, refugees
Community leaders aim to develop a strategy that will support victims of racism and hate
Baltej Singh Dhillon grew up dreaming about serving in the RCMP.
But when he was finally offered a job in 1989, there were conditions: he would have to cut his hair, shave his beard and replace his turban with a traditional Mountie hat.
Rather than give in, he vigorously campaigned against the RCMP dress code, eventually becoming the first officer to wear a turban on duty.
"It sparked a large discussion on who we are as a country," said Dhillon, now an RCMP inspector.
Dhillon was one of a group of community leaders participating in an-anti racism forum in Surrey on Friday.
The event was held to stimulate ideas for a new community plan that aims to provide support for people who experience racism and discrimination.
Immigrants and refugees targeted
According to a survey from Surrey's Local Immigrant Partnership, over half of the city's residents have experienced some form of racism and discrimination.
Ninu Kang, communications director for the anti-racism organization Mosaic, says the city's newest residents are among the most vulnerable.
"Surrey has been home to a lot of the refugees who are re-settling and are welcomed into Canada," she told CBC News. "[We've seen backlash] against the Muslim community, some backlash towards Syrian refugees settling here."
"It's a concern," she said, noting that the issue isn't unique to the city but rather a symptom of Islamophobic rhetoric that's been perpetuated by certain media outlets, hate groups and politicians.
Kang says the anti-racism network connects local government, charities, community support groups and non-profits to raise awareness against hate speech and crimes.
Their goal is to develop a large support network victims can turn to once they've experienced incidents of racism of discrimination.
No safe space for hate speech
Baltej Singh Dhillon says Canada has made strides since his efforts to wear a turban as a police officer sparked both support and outrage.
"The story ends well," he said. "We are becoming more aware. We're learning. We're educating ... we're maturing as a country as a whole."
"[But] we cannot create safe spaces for words, language, speech, voice that has hatred in it," he said.