Saanich South candidate in B.C. election target of racial slurs

Liberal candidate Rishi Sharma said the racial slurs directed at him and his brother while putting up a campaign sign in the Saanich South riding Saturday night has only strengthened his resolve to have a dialogue about overt and systemic racism in society.

Sharma, his brother Muneesh and three members of his team were fixing an election sign at the corner of Interurban and Marigold roads, when a man pulled up in a car, got out and started insulting Sharma.

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Sharma said he thought at first the man wanted to have a heated conversation about public policy, but then he heard him say: “You’re East Indian, eh? You guys are dumb. You’re worse than the Hells Angels.”

Once Muneesh realized what was happening, he calmly but firmly told the man to move along. After the man left, the campaign team recorded and posted a video to social media describing what happened.

Sharma said the white members of his campaign team were shocked by what they witnessed.

“This was the first time they witnessed discrimination first-hand,” he said. “It’s the first time they witnessed it being directed at someone so hatefully.”

Sharma, who was born in 1975 and grew up in Victoria and Saanich, said he’s grown used to hearing racial slurs. He was the focus of racial insults as a child and when he worked as a iron worker on high rise buildings in Vancouver.

He said he doesn’t see himself as a victim, but wants to use this incident to have a dialogue about racism so people can “grow and learn.”

Harwinder Sandhu, the B.C. NDP candidate for Vernon-Monashee, also condemned racism over the weekend after one of her campaign signs was vandalized with a swastika and a sexist slur.

During a campaign stop in Cadboro Bay Monday, NDP Leader John Horgan said he’s appalled at the incidents. “There’s no place in our community for hate, there’s no place in our community for racism.”

However, Horgan continued to back NDP candidate Nathan Cullen, who is running in the Stikine riding in Northern B.C. and is under fire for mocking Haida B.C. Liberal candidate Roy Jones Jr.

The issue of systemic racism has been front-and-centre in the campaign since last week’s debate, which saw Horgan and Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson criticized for their “tone-deaf” responses to a question asking them to acknowledge their white privilege.

Sharma said he’s talked to white voters who dislike the phrase “white privilege” because working-class people who have worked hard their whole life reject the notion that they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. But he said it’s important to acknowledge that non-white communities are often disadvantaged purely because of the colour of their skin.

“I would like you to see my colour,” he said. “To see my colour is not to see me as an Indian. I’m Canadian, I’m born here, but I have a diversity you should learn about.”

Sharma is running against New Democrat Lana Popham, who is seeking a fourth term in office, and Green candidate Kate O’Connor, who at 18 is one of the youngest candidates running in B.C.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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