Let Singh’s Supporters Set Him Up Financially–In India

Let Singh's supporters set him up financially — in India
Keeping quadriplegic in Canada just damages Sikh community's standing

Pete McMartin,
Vancouver Sun
Published: Thursday, December 13, 2007

In the news photos and television footage of that day, Laibar Singh was the becalmed centre within the roaring storm, immobile, hunched down in his wheelchair, swaddled in blankets and turban and a new feral growth of beard, the hands clasped in front of him as if in prayer, his dark eyes the only thing moving in that impassive face.

They take in the chaos and shouting around him, betraying nothing, and only occasionally do they look directly into the cameras filming him, where viewers had a microsecond to decode what those eyes might be saying and what the brain behind them might be thinking.

Two tensions played out at the Vancouver International Airport on that day: the one on-camera, where the near-riot swirling around Singh contrasted with the dark passivity of Singh himself, and the one off-camera, with viewers (well, this viewer, anyway) being torn between the feeling of pity for Singh, and the feeling of what a gigantic pain in the ass he's become.

Oh dear.

I am being insensitive.

But maybe someone should be. If someone had been sooner — a politician with guts, say — and talked through the innuendo of racism that has propelled this tiresome little play along, maybe it would've been over years ago.

Instead, as usual, we are left puzzling at our own government's immobility in the face of a guilt trip.

This is what multiculturalism has morphed into in Canada: In bending so far over backwards to embrace it, we've confused spinelessness with flexibility. We do so want to be liked.

Well, not me, because I don't need to run for office, and all I could wonder was, why all this fuss over a man like Singh?

After all, the welfare of children weren't involved: his three kids were back in India, where he left them when he came here in 2003. He entered this country with false papers, claimed refugee status on the virtually unprovable claim that he had been targeted unfairly as a terrorist in his home country, and then spent the last four years playing hide-and-seek with Canadian immigration officials. He wasn't one for leaving a forwarding address. This is a man some in the Sikh community would champion? (And I say “some” because no community is monolithic, and the support for Singh among Sikhs is by no means universal.)

As for the aneurysm that caused his quadriplegia, Singh had been here for three years before it struck him down and “compassion” became a factor in his deportation.

And it would be the lack of compassion, his champions argue, that would allow his deportation to India.

One looks on that charge agog.

You want compassion? Singh hasn't just exhausted the patience of immigration officials, he has exhausted almost every jurisdictional avenue available to him, while often thwarting attempts to keep track of his whereabouts.

Since his stroke, it has cost taxpayers over $400,000 to provide Singh with free medical care.

Even his deportation was planned to be the most benign possible, with his medically-staffed flight to cost taxpayers $68,700. He was then scheduled to be flown to the state-of-the-art Apollo Hospital in New Delhi. And the conceit that Singh would suffer medically upon his return to India played to an uninformed Western chauvinism, and made Rattan Mall, the inimitable and straight-talking editor of The Indo-Canadian Voice, laugh: “The doctors there are better than what you have here,” he said.

Equally laughable: The empty offer of Singh's supporters to repay the federal government the $400,008 in medical bills, plus an annual $125,000 to ensure he wouldn't be a burden to Canadian taxpayers. In exchange, Singh would be allowed to stay.

One, the government would never accept such an offer, nor should it, and Singh's supporters know it.

And two, a half-million bucks would go a lot further in India in keeping Singh, and his family, healthy and alive. Why one wonders, didn't Singh's champions set him up back there?

Well, one suspects, there were more political dividends to be cashed in at the Vancouver International Airport, where Singh's supporters staged their over-the-top disruption of his leave-taking. (And I direct you to today's A1 story by Vancouver Sun reporter Kim Bolan as to what those political dividends might be.)

His supporters won the day, and kept Singh in Canada for the time being. But at what a price: It damaged the Sikh community's standing in the greater community, and more of that it doesn't need.

Mall told me he thought the airport demonstration would lead to more racism, but I'm not sure I agree. Real racism, the kind where people end up getting physically hurt, is a rare commodity here.

But a simmering resentment? A widening fissure in the multicultural landscape? That I see.

That's a lot riding on the back of a single man in a wheelchair. And that's why, with the nation's own future in mind, the government should gently, but firmly, show Singh the door.

pmcmartin@png.canwest.com or 604-605-2905