Saskatchewan

Sask. protesters rally to support farmers challenging controversial laws in India

Regina's blistering cold weather didn't deter dozens of people from chanting, holding posters and voicing their outrage during a solidarity rally in front of the legislative building Wednesday. 

Premier Moe says he agrees with the Indian government over farming bills.

Farmer protesters have faced violence from the Indian government. In response, there were 200 shoes lined up at the Legislative building on Wednesday to represent the people who have lost their lives in India during the unrest. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC )

Regina's blistering cold weather did not deter dozens of people from chanting "No farmer, no food!", holding posters and voicing their outrage during a solidarity rally in front of the legislative building Wednesday. 

They were supporting Indian farmers who have been protesting controversial agricultural laws in India since August.

The laws will change the rules around the sale, pricing and storage of crops from the country's agricultural regions. Farmers there say the changes will ravage the livelihoods of small farmers and eliminate some of the government supports that regulate prices and allow private companies to exploit the market.

Since the summer, tens of thousands have marched to New Delhi, India's capital, where they have clashed with police and set up protest camps.

Protesters have faced violence from the Indian government. 

Gagandeep Singh, organizer of Wednesday's rally, says the Canadian protests largely began in Victoria, British Columbia. Protesters displayed 200 shoes in front of the B.C. Legislative Building. The shoes represent many of the people who have lost their lives in India during the unrest.  

Protester Simranjot Singh stands in front of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina, where he is showing solidarity with farmers in India. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

B.C. protesters then challenged residents of Alberta to do the same and mailed the shoes over. Saskatchewan was next to receive the shoes and do their part to support the farmers in India.

"Canada is known for its diversity. It's a multicultural society here. Canada is always standing for human rights ... Not only are those farm bills affecting the farmers negatively, also they're violating the human rights," said Singh.

The protest followed public health guidelines for COVID-19, and had volunteers circulating to ensure everyone in attendance was wearing a mask and physical distancing.

Trudeau voiced concern

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has voiced concern over the Indian government's response to the protesters.

Despite anger from an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, who called Trudeau's comments "ill informed," the prime minister reiterated his support.

"Canada will always stand up for the right of peaceful protest anywhere around the world, and we're pleased to see moves toward de-escalation and dialogue," Trudeau said. 

But Singh says he wants Trudeau to do more. 

"We want the Canadian government to speak up ... to step up for the farmers. We want Mr. Justin Trudeau to speak up for the farmers. We want him to talk with the Indian government."

Singh says he thinks the Indian government will take notice of the solidarity protests in Canada. 

"This thing is going to pressurize them too. That's why we're standing up here. We can't go back to India right right now in this COVID. So that's how we are giving our support to the farmers who are sitting on the outskirts [of New Delhi]. We just want to strengthen them and say we are with you and you guys are doing good and we love you for that."

People attend a Maha Panchayat or grand village council meeting as part of a farmers' protest against farm laws at Kandela village in Jind district in the northern state of Haryana, India, on Feb. 3. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Moe agrees with Indian government

While the protesters in Regina want the Canadian government to speak out against the new laws, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe made it clear he supports the Indian government's position.

Moe says the Sask. government is often in contact with members of the government of India.

"As painful and challenging as the discussion is in India, I think Saskatchewan can provide an example of moving through the years away from sustenance agriculture to producing more and decreasing your risks of lack of food in your community and in your country, and ultimately moving toward a market-based agriculture system that provides opportunities for higher production and sustainability," said Moe. 

Regina's cold weather didn't deter dozens from chanting, holding posters and voicing their outrage at a solidarity rally at the Legislative building. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

The premier pointed to the removal of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), a former mandatory producer marketing system for wheat and barley in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and parts of B.C. During the time of CWB, it was illegal for any farmer in areas under the organization's jurisdiction to sell their wheat and barley through any other channel than the CWB.

"It has created opportunities for us to increase our production. And now we are one of the highest producing agricultural regions in the world. We have a high quality product that we sell very competitively," Moe said. 

Saskatchewan now has a trade office in India. Moe says his government has visited India and met with many farmers, and values the trading relationship between the country and the province.

About the Author

Laura is a reporter and associate producer for CBC Saskatchewan. She is also the community reporter for CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories. Laura previously worked for CBC Vancouver. Some of her former work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, NYLON Magazine, VICE Canada and The Tyee. Follow Laura on Twitter: @MeLaura. Send her news tips at laura.sciarpelletti@cbc.ca

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