Dal­housie stu­dent slams peer’s ‘anti-Cana­dian’ mo­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - BRETT BUN­DALE

HAL­I­FAX — A stu­dent at Dal­housie Uni­ver­sity is speak­ing out against what she calls an “anti-Cana­dian” mo­tion passed by the school’s stu­dent union, say­ing it has ig­nited racial ten­sions on cam­pus.

Me­hak Saini said Mon­day she’s stand­ing up for voices si­lenced dur­ing an ac­ri­mo­nious de­bate that en­gulfed the Hal­i­fax uni­ver­sity af­ter the stu­dent union pulled out of Canada 150 cel­e­bra­tions in sol­i­dar­ity with In­dige­nous Peo­ples.

“As an im­mi­grant, I cel­e­brate this coun­try and its val­ues and the free­dom of speech,” said Saini, who im­mi­grated to Bramp­ton, Ont., from north­ern In­dia when she was nine years old. “I’m proud of this coun­try.”

Stu­dent leader Ma­suma Khan tabled a mo­tion to opt out of Canada Day fes­tiv­i­ties, call­ing the cel­e­bra­tion an act of on­go­ing colo­nial­ism.

In re­sponse to crit­i­cism, the stu­dent coun­cil ex­ec­u­tive said on so­cial me­dia she would not stand with “priv­i­leged white peo­ple,” or be proud of “over 400 years of geno­cide,” with the hash­tag “white­fragili­ty­cankiss­myass.”

Khan’s com­ments sparked con­tro­versy and prompted a com­plaint against her, which the uni­ver­sity has since dropped — in part due to con­cerns about vi­o­lent and hate­ful mes­sages she was re­ceiv­ing. Many peo­ple on cam­pus and be­yond de­fended Khan’s free­dom of ex­pres­sion and po­lit­i­cal speech, in­clud­ing the On­tario Civil Lib­er­ties As­so­ci­a­tion and a group of 25 law pro­fes­sors from Dal­housie’s Schulich School of Law.

Saini said some stu­dents dis­agreed with Khan but re­frained from voic­ing their dis­sent out of fear of be­ing la­belled a racist.

“She’s us­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and power as a tool to si­lence us,” she said in an in­ter­view. “There is no place for racism, pe­riod. Not from a mi­nor­ity, not from a ma­jor­ity.”

Saini added: “We should crit­i­cize the past and colo­nial­ism. But to crit­i­cize a whole race and say they can kiss your ass is not the way to go about it.”

The sec­ond-year physics stu­dent is call­ing on the Dal­housie Stu­dent Union to hold a new elec­tion for the po­si­tion of vice-pres­i­dent aca­demic and ex­ter­nal, which Khan cur­rently holds.

Saini has penned an open let­ter to the uni­ver­sity om­buds­man en­ti­tled “Not My VP,” which now has 42 sig­na­tures.

The let­ter out­lines her po­si­tion against Khan, who she says “bla­tantly in­sulted the entire race of white peo­ple.”

“Not only did she dis­re­spect the stu­dent body by sug­gest­ing an anti-Cana­dian mo­tion, but also she then at­tacked an entire race of stu­dents by im­ply­ing that all white peo­ple are frag­ile in na­ture,” Saini said in the let­ter.

“Be­ing an im­mi­grant, I found the ban on cel­e­brat­ing Canada Day a vi­o­la­tion of the rights of stu­dents to cel­e­brate the coun­try that has pro­vided them with a great life, an ex­cel­lent ed­u­ca­tion, world-class fa­cil­i­ties and their in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic free­dom of ex­pres­sion.”

Khan said she al­ready went through an im­peach­ment process in Septem­ber and the coun­cil voted to keep her.

“I’m not go­ing to say a stu­dent can’t do this be­cause I want to en­cour­age stu­dents to hold their rep­re­sen­ta­tives ac­count­able,” she said.

How­ever, Khan said she is baf­fled that the stu­dent union’s sup­port of In­dige­nous Peo­ple could be con­strued as “anti-Cana­dian.”

“Stand­ing in sol­i­dar­ity with In­dige­nous Peo­ple is the last thing from be­ing anti-Cana­dian,” she said.

“What I have said is anti-white supremacy.”

As a daugh­ter of im­mi­grants, Khan said she rec­og­nizes that she has been af­forded priv­i­leges in Canada and that “this land has given me so much.”

“But it’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that im­mi­grants them­selves are given more priv­i­leges than the In­dige­nous Peo­ple of this land,” she said.

“We flee from war, we flee from un­safe places. We come here to find safety but there is a whole com­mu­nity that doesn’t have safety.”

While Saini said she is open to crit­i­cism about Canada’s past, she said she wor­ries that the tone of the de­bate could le­git­imize racist speech or cre­ate di­vi­sion between stu­dents of dif­fer­ent back­grounds.

“There is no com­pas­sion, there is no uni­fi­ca­tion, there is just di­vi­sion between us,” she said.

“I want to be on the side of love and com­pas­sion and uni­fi­ca­tion. I don’t want to be on the side of di­vi­sion and ha­tred and big­otry or dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

DAR­REN CAL­ABRESE / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Dal­housie Uni­ver­sity stu­dent Me­hak Saini

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