Toronto – Are foreign government and non-governmental organizations interfering in the Canadian democratic process? Throughout the years, certain foreign political groups have influenced political outcomes, but is it occurring now?
Political commentators and even some politicians have hinted at a Canadian spring election. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper will try to gain a majority, while Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff will attempt to form his own minority government.
The province of Ontario will also have an autumn election. Premier Dalton McGuinty will try to hold onto his Liberal government, while Tim Hudak, leader of the Progressive Conservatives, is attempting to regain Conservative rule.
But what happens when foreign groups get involved in the fair and free democratic elections?
In July 2010, Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) Director Richard Fadden openly stated that foreign interference in Canadian politics has increased and has become an ever complex challenge for Canadian voters, according CBC News.
“We are dealing here with a spectrum of behaviour by foreign entities that often start out innocently but later veer toward something that actually harms Canadian interests,” said Fadden in front of a House of Commons committee in the summer. “This is a very subtle process.”
He further said during the hearing that it was a “good public policy” for Canadians to be informed and understand “foreign interference” threats.
Jasbeer Singh of World Sikh News published an in-depth article highlighting what happened to Canadian Sikhs in 1984. In that year, Canadians headed to the polls to participate in the federal election – Brian Mulroney’s PC Party overwhelmingly defeated John Turner’s Liberal Party and Ed Broadbent’s New Democratic Party.
That year also marked a turning point in Canadian politics. Many immigrants decided to enter all three levels of politics – federal, provincial and municipal – but what was supposed to be a democratic process turned into something completely contradictory to the guidelines of democracy.
“When Canadian Sikhs went knocking on the doors of political leaders, they found that most politicians were already under the influence of the Indian government propaganda,” wrote Singh. “They were largely unsympathetic to Sikh pleas of innocence.”
This led to the Sikh community to begin grassroots campaigns. The Sikhs became vocal constituents and demanding democratic accountability in the federal and provincial urban centres. By 1985, the movement became a small victory as Sikhs got several of their candidates nominated for a seat in either Parliament or Provincial Parliament
“1984 and 1985 were tremendous years for Canadian Sikhs, both those who immigrated here and those who were born here,” said Hakam Vandit, a grassroots organizer of the Sikh movement. “Even though a foreign government tried to sabotage another country’s election because of certain people it allowed into the country, we still came out victorious.”
He added that getting certain members of the Sikh community nominated were a huge achievement for them, although they did lose, he is, to this day, still proud of what they accomplished.
Vandit explained that this changed the political process for those who want to succeed in politics because not only do political candidates want to appeal to Canadian voters, but also immigrants.
“Hundreds of Sikhs became actively involved in 1990 when Jean Chretien became the federal Liberal leader in Alberta in 1990,” said Vandit. “I think the number was something like 150, 200, or 250 Sikh delegates out of the 4,000 or so.”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one gentleman stated in an e-mail that the federal conservatives have sought the votes of several Greater Toronto Area ridings in the hopes of winning a majority government.
In 2008, the federal Conservatives lost the Brampton West riding by only 231 votes, Brampton-Springdale by only 773 votes and other ridings, including Eglinton-Lawrence, York-Centre and Mississauga South – all ridings that have a large minority foundation.
“All the ridings have significant visible minority votes in it as well,” said the anonymous source. “The long considered strong liberal votes are no more guaranteed, says a political analyst. There is a major shift in those votes in recent times. The two larger and politically organized communities like the Sikhs and Tamils are shifting from their traditional ally, the Liberals, he further claims.”
But now there are claims that the Sri Lankan government, or other non-governmental organizations, are interfering in this year’s election by disrupting the Tamils’ involvement in Canada’s elections.
Tamils across the country are becoming federal and provincial candidates – a lot of them are running as Conservatives instead of the predicted Liberals, which has sent “shockwaves within the Liberal ranks in the GTA.”
It appears, though, reminiscent of the Sikhs during the 1980s, that the Tamils are facing the same fears. In a letter to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, a Sri Lankan website lambasted him for attending a Tamil event.
“The Tamil women looked gorgeous, with crimson moon thumb-prints between their eyebrows, none were flat chested, and everyone was buxom ballooning the front of their blouses,” the letter wrote. “As it did look like the Tamil women in those photographs were swooning all over you with their sensuous jasmine and sandalwood scented charm, did you fall for it? You know, the human flesh is weak and many a politician in North America had their political career destroyed by women.”
In a telephone conversation Wednesday, activist Vino Ratnam explained that these attacks are downright disgusting and are not appropriate for the democratic process. “Their attacks are not only vulgar and indecent in mature, but also undermine the basic rights of the Canadian Citizens,” said Ratnam. “This what they are doing to the Tamils in Sri Lanka, now they are trying do the same citizens of Canada, it’s really alarming.”
Asked whether or not this is similar to what the Sikhs experienced, Vandit said that it is the same situation. “History always repeats itself. There will also be a visible minority group suffering from their homeland’s government. The Sikhs weren’t the first, the Tamils won’t be the last and it will just go on and on.”