MP Harjit Sajjan in Surrey Friday (Sept. 6) for a federal funding announcement for multiculturalism and anti-racism programs. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

$3.5M boost for B.C. multicultural, anti-racism initiatives announced in Surrey 

Surrey’s annual Fusion Festival will receive close to $43,000 of the federal funding

The federal government has announced $3.5 million in funding for multicultural and anti-racism programs across B.C., and it means a $42,950 boost for Surrey’s award-winning Fusion Festival.

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan was at the Newton Cultural Centre on Sept. 6 to announce the funding.

The announcement was made on behalf of Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Pablo Rodriguez, at the Newton Cultural Centre.

Sajjan said Canada is “built around the idea of opportunity, whether you’ve been here 10 years or you came generations ago. We are all immigrants to this land.”

“We also recognize that much work remains to eliminate racial discrimination from our daily lives, something that regrettably has been on the rise.”

Rodriguez, Sajjan said, announced the anti-racism strategy “as a way to take concrete action in building a more inclusive and equitable nation” and it was “designed to empower communities like this one.”

“Promoting diversity and inclusiveness is something that is extremely important for all of us because it’s the only way that we’re going to address and eliminate racial discrimination.”

Carol Girardi, president of the Arts Council of Surrey, said the organization is “grateful” for the “generous support.”

Girardi added that Fusion Fest is “known as the ultimate celebration of food, music, culture, and the literary, performing and visual arts. Working in partnership with the City of Surrey, the Arts Council of Surrey is able to utilize this important funding to continue celebrating our creative diversity.”

James Crosty, of the arts council, said the festival – which started with only 22 pavilions in 2008 – now has more than 50 pavilions “dedicated to sharing and educating attendees on different cultures from Albania to Zambia.”

“Surrey Fusion Fest touches the lives of 100,000-plus attendees,” said Crosty, adding that it helps “to promote inter-cultural acceptance and awareness of various cultures and traditions.”

The non-profit Indus Media Foundation is to receive the most funding of any Surrey organization, with the government providing $366,000 for its “Duty, Honour and Izzat” project that highlights India’s First World War contributions. The funding will be used to create a series of short films about the “little-known story” of Punjabi-Canadians’ contributions in the First World War.

Steven Purewal, managing director of Indus, said the centennial anniversary of the First World War presented an “ideal teachable moment.” He said Indus has researched the “dichotomy or hypocrisy, if we are to be honest, between the pro-empire sentiment of the Canadian government and the white Canada policy of the time of the Komagata Maru.”

We think of World War One as a pivotal moment in the nation’s history,” said Purewal, adding that “we are unlikely to associate it with the sacrifices of turbaned soldiers who share this heritage.”

“In what would become one of the greatest military stands in history, our nation specifically, Canada’s fledgling army… stood against the greatest military power of the time — an unbeated power at that time,” he said. “What we are not told is that the Punjabis stood shoulder-to-shoulder alongside the Canadians, under one flag, under one crown… We were there.”

A government release notes the project will “facilitate the development of partnerships with the heritage sector on creating inclusive programming, while seeing the films delivered across a spectrum of digital platforms that specifically engage children and youth from the South Asian community about their history and heritage.”

“Community workshops and opportunities for dialogue will also be organized to discuss issues of racism, discrimination, equity and media stereotyping,” the release adds.

Purewal said with the funding, “we will build on our success in the heritage and education sector and shift our attention to the man on the street and the keyboard warriors of the virtual world.”

“Because while we are making inroads in the classrooms, the misinformed bigot on the street is unlikely to be an avid reader,” Purewal said.

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(A travelling ‘Duty, Honour and Izzat’ exhibit of India’s contributions to the First World War as featured at SFU’s Surrey campus in 2014. File photo)

Other Surrey groups to receive funding are the African Stages Association for its Africanada Storytelling Symposium ($6,797), the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Association for its project titled “An Indigenous Perspective of Racism in Surrey” ($26,800), and the Royal Academy of Bhangra Society is receiving $25,000 for its “Folk Lok Live: This is Punjab” project, which is also receiving $15,000 for the initiative from the provincial government.

Sajjan said the federal government is “committed to promoting multiculturalism and celebrating the unique cultural diversity of British Columbia by investing in these important anti-racism projects” which will help “fight intolerance and discrimination.”

The funding comes through the federal “Building a Foundation for Change” anti-racism strategy.

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