Why should Jagmeet Singh have to meet racist heckling with ‘love and courage’?

That viral moment at a Singh campaign event exemplifies the deep-seated racism that permeates Canada

Jagmeet Singh listens during the final federal NDP leadership debate in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday September 10, 2017. Online voting begins September 18 with results announcement events being held after each round of balloting until a new leader is elected. The first announcement will take place on October 1 and if no candidate receives a majority an additional two rounds could follow. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Jagmeet Singh listens during the final federal NDP leadership debate in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday September 10, 2017. Online voting begins September 18 with results announcement events being held after each round of balloting until a new leader is elected. The first announcement will take place on October 1 and if no candidate receives a majority an additional two rounds could follow. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Last week, federal NDP leadership hopeful Jagmeet Singh was confronted by an angry white woman named Jennifer Bush at one of his “JagMeet & Greet” campaign events. In a video of the incident, which has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, she stands in front of Singh, pointing her fingers in his face and pressing towards him, so much so he has to lean away. All the while, she accuses him of being “in bed with” sharia law and the Muslim Brotherhood.

A man and a couple of young women attempt to gently direct Bush away from Singh. She threatens to call the police if anyone touches her. Singh, who has stayed calm throughout, begins to talk over her, leading the crowd in a chant of “love and courage, love and courage.” Frustrated that Singh hasn’t taken the bait, Bush leaves. Then Singh, who is Sikh, tells the crowd, “Growing up as a brown-skinned, turbaned, bearded man I’ve faced things like this before. It’s not a problem, we can deal with it.”

Singh’s chill poise and graciousness have been widely praised. He diffused the situation, steadied his volunteers and staff, and soothed the crowd. It was a politically masterful moment. Singh isn’t that well-known outside of Ontario, where he’s a member of the legislature and where he served as deputy NDP leader, and this incident, in its own awful way, offered a glimpse of the temperament he’d bring to the House of Commons: warm, inclusive, unflappable. And in the savvy deployment of his campaign slogan, “love and courage,” he called back to the optimistic, personable and popular leadership of Jack Layton, who wrote, “love is better than anger” in a moving letter to Canadians just before his death.

But all the admiration for Singh’s response to Bush overshadows another element of his leadership bid: that as a brown-skinned, turbaned, bearded man in politics, Singh has faced a barrage of hatred. And the delight in how deftly Singh dealt with Bush minimizes the degree to which attitudes like hers infect our culture and political process. By focusing on Singh’s measured message of compassion, Bush can be conveniently written off as a random kook, rather than be taken seriously as representative of deep and pervasive strains of racism and Islamaphobia in Canada.

There’s an unfair burden placed on people who experience oppression and discrimination to rise above it, or turn the other cheek. Those targeted on social media are told not to “feed the trolls.” Victims who forgive people who’ve caused them unspeakable harm and trauma are celebrated for their generosity. I’m in no way criticizing these reactions — they’re personal, and they can be sanity and soul preservers. But they aren’t the only appropriate, commendable or worthy responses to hate and violence.

On Twitter, Sheila Sampath, a journalist, activist and academic, posted a thoughtful thread on Singh. In it she praised him, but also asked, “Is this the template for POC [people of colour] when we are attacked? To say ‘we love you’ to our attackers? Are we not allowed to feel the pain from those attacks? And to express that pain as complex human beings? To expose the trauma?” Victims of racism and other forms of discrimination and hate mainly receive sympathy and applause when they swallow their anger and hurt, rather than express it. “Love and courage” is a wonderful approach, but it shouldn’t be used to dismiss the reality of “rage and fear.”

There are many, many people in Canada for whom Singh’s historic leadership bid feels personal, whether or not they’re NDP supporters. If he wins, he’d be the first person of colour to led a major federal party. To have someone running for this level of political office who looks like you, or shares some part of your history, or who has stuck up for your civil rights and humanity, as Singh has done in his opposition to racial profiling by police, is a profound thing.

When I think of Bush, up in Singh’s face and itching for a fight, I think about how frightening and hurtful that must have felt for some people in attendance, how in her attempts to demean Singh, Bush was also trying to demean them. I think about the power dynamics at play: Bush’s entitlement in accosting a public figure, because as a white woman, she doesn’t get routinely harassed or questioned by police, and Singh’s careful restraint, because he is someone who has been routinely harassed and questioned due to his race and his turban. (He’s been stopped by police close to a dozen times, beginning when he was 17.) The stakes of what could be perceived as a less-than-perfect reaction are so, so much higher for Singh, both as a politician and a person.

And there are more hateful agitators where Bush came from. She’s a regular presence on the far-right protest circuit that includes anti-Muslim groups like Rise Canada. Andray Domise reported on both the overt racism that’s been directed at Singh (hecklers like Bush have been common) and the more implicit variety. Singh’s fitness for leadership has been questioned by political columnists and opponents in their suggestions that Singh, a criminal defence lawyer who’s been an MPP for six years and deputy leader for two, is an “insurgent” and unqualified candidate.

Last week’s confrontation with Bush is unlikely to be the last time Singh will have to draw on love and courage in the face of bigots. But his response shouldn’t continue to be the focus of the story. Instead we need to grapple with what it means for all of us, and for our democracy and our future, that such forceful and hateful opposition is being directed at a political candidate because of his race and religion.


Why should Jagmeet Singh have to meet racist heckling with ‘love and courage’?

  1. Interesting that we would elect a man of colour before a white woman.

    • Kim Campbell was elected to the leadership of the federal PCs, and was briefly Prime Minister. She lost the election that followed in large part because of the taint of her predecessor, rather than any personal traits; Canada had simply had enough of the PCs.

      So far, Singh hasn’t even won the leadership of the NDP.

      • Kim Campbell was never an elected PM……and lost because she was female

        • We don’t elect PM’s. We elect MP’s. Kim Campbell is as legitimate a PM as any other, since she had the confidence of the House of Commons, which is the only requirement to become PM once on is an MP.

          • We elect a PM by electing the party.

            Campbell was never elected.

            You are simply making excuses for sexism

          • not elected by the people, neither was Joe Clark, though he still has the title. what did either accomplish other cause another election.

    • I have to 100% agree with you Em. The next chance for women, will be when Trudeau goes, he has a crop of excellent and very competent female ministers who can fill the boots of a PM as good as or better, than most PMs that ever ran our country.

  2. That woman is an absolute embarrassment to white women everywhere. Her stupidity and uninformed opinion (which she screamed as fact) just shows how dumb we’re becoming. The double-standard the media has in reporting this is also embarrassing.

    Imagine this was reversed, where a POC was in the face of a white candidate (gender doesn’t matter here): would the media say the same thing? Or would people start tarring all POC with that one hateful person’s opinion?

    Because Bush is white, she’s a ‘one-off’ who is part of a larger ideology of thought. If she was a POC, she’d be representative of the whole black/brown race, regardless of what other individuals thought. Would the media note she was a POC first, or a woman first, or what she was saying first?

    Would the white candidate have handled things the same way, or would his/her ‘handlers’ forcibly removed the POC from their bubble, threats of police action notwithstanding?

    The author is correct – why SHOULD Jag have to respond with platitudes? He SHOULD be able to respond with however he deems fit. Unfortunately, he MUST respond with calm, lest he be critiqued even MORE on his human reaction and held up as an example of all members of the Sikh faith. As it is, he’s lauded for the most part, but is now also criticized on how he handled yet one more attack on his person by an idiot.

  3. A good article. Have to play Grammar Cop, though, as there’s an error here I’ve seen a lot lately – esp in relation to this story – and it drives me nuts: “He diffused the situation…” The word you’re looking for is defused – as in prevented a volatile situation from becoming explosive. Diffuse means “spread or cause to spread over a wide area or among a large number of people.”

  4. This is not a race or religion issue. It is an issue that Canada is loosing its character by having people who supposedly represent everyone believe they must show their origin by wearing either their native custom or religious attire. The politically correct crowd has destroyed enough of Canada’s character, it is time to reverse this nonsensical behaviour.

    • So how should people representing everyone dress? How many of these “people” have approached you to try to change your personal beliefs?

  5. Are you kidding? This moment will make Singh’s career. Whether he wins the leadership or not, his reaction in the face of this hateful person has shown that he IS a leader and someone that all canadians can be proud to call one of our own. Before this incident I didn’t know who he was. His profile has risen by many multiples …. and virtually all positive.

    The protester reinforced the reasons to ignore them … hysterical about things that don’t exist except in her mind. Who knows, it might even prompt a few in her group to question their assumptions … ok, that might be a bit too optimistic

  6. The title of your article is exemplary of the complete lack of intellectual integrity for which MacLean’s magazine is becoming well known. Ms. Bush did not in any way, nor for one second, attack Mr. Singh’s “race”. She was not uttering anything “racist” at all. She was trying to raise a legitimate concern regarding a system of rules called “Shari Law”. “Shari Law” is associated with the religion of Islam. (again, “Islam” is not a race). Sharia Law contains many tenets which we in Canada do not believe in — such as stoning a woman to death for adultery. Or, imposing a death sentence on a woman because she was raped. In Canada, we believe that women should be able to drive an automobile (not allowed in Sharia Law), and that she should be able to leave her home without having to ask consent from her “governing” male — be it father, brother, husband or uncle. THIS is what Ms. Bush was raising with Mr. Singh — nothing at all to do with the color of his skin. Moreover, Ms. Bush was raising the FACT that the Muslim Brotherhood — a radical Islamic group, responsible for many acts of terror, is alive and flourishing in Canada. Canadians : PLEASE take the time to study these issues. PLEASE take the time to listen very, very carefully at the words coming from our House of Commons, where Motion 103 was passed this spring and is now being “studied” by a Parliamentary Committee. Islam is not a race. Many, many people would contend that it is not even a religion , but a Political Belief System no different than “Liberalism”, “Conservatism”, “Marxism”, or “Nazism” is a political belief system. More people have died as a result of Islam than died under Stalin and Hitler combined. And, before you say, “Oh, this is Canada”…… keep in mind that it was only a number of years ago that Shari Law did almost become a ‘government approved” set of laws in Ontario. Only the intervention of then-premier Dalton McGuinty prevented this from happening. Ms. Wynne, I think it is fair to say, would do nothing to stop it. They say that “a person is known by their actions”. The same is true for religions. And the actions of the followers of Islam — particularly the extremist ones, should give us all reason to fear. There is such a thing as “evil” in this world. Calling for the death of “Jews and infidels” — infidels being you and me, is “evil” incarnate. But these calls for “jihad” are being raised in Mosques across Canada every week. Again, I ask you — please begin to read and listen critically.

    • I agree Sharia Law sounds bad. I Know we might look like extremist but everything you have described is far from Sikh code of Conduct. A few core beliefs are: Equality for everyone. Overcoming Greed, Lust, Anger, Attachment and Ego. Meditating and trying to connect with the creator. Also believe in compassionate rule of law. (Canadian Constitution thumbs up)

      • SSingh, I am wondering if you would be willing to tell more people in the Sikh community why many Canadians are so upset about the current “mass migration” into Canada? That is, that people have a valid fear of the imposition of Sharia Law ? If you would be willing to look at the website page : http://www.canadiancitizens.org . This is the web page for a group called “Canadian Citizens for Charter Rights and Freedoms”. This is not a “radical” group — it was founded by a retired member of the military . It wants to educate people on what Sharia Law is all about, and why “Motion 103” , if translated into a Bill, and then a Law, could begin to tear apart our “rights and freedoms” bit by bit.