A candidate for the BC Liberal Party is calling attention to an incident of racism he experienced in Saanich on Saturday.
Rishi Sharma, the BC Liberal Party candidate for Saanich South, says he and his campaign team were out fixing some vandalized signs near Interurban Road and Marigold Road Saturday evening when they were shouted at by a man.
“He got out of his car, and was yelling at us,” Sharma said in an interview with Victoria Buzz.
“My brother was walking towards the guy, and then I heard what the guy was saying. It was straight up racist…’Oh you guys are East Indians eh? You guys are dumb, worse than Hell’s Angels.’”
Sharma and his brother, Muneesh, are both born-and-raised Canadians who have Punjabi ancestry.
The brothers were also accompanied by three white male volunteers of varying ages.
Sharma says he and his brother tried to ignore the man, but one of the volunteers, Stephen Puhallo, stepped forward to confront him.
“It was Stephen who stepped in front and said ‘what’s your problem?’” said Sharma.
“The guy got in this vehicle, sat in his vehicle for a bit. He finally took off around the corner … we watched him to make sure nothing else was going to happen.”
He says that while he was personally prepared to move on without going public about what happened, Puhallo urged him to post a record of the incident.
Sharma says that his initial instinct to move on stems from an ongoing societal problem where people of colour are treated as victims and aren’t taken seriously.
“I think it stems from inaction — you come forward, and nothing actually happens,” he said.
“It becomes a burden. I want to bring forward a business proposal for Saanich South, this is what I should be doing … I don’t want to be talking about being accosted by some guy in the middle of the night.”
Ultimately, Sharma made the decision to tweet the video Puhallo took, detailing the experience and the reactions of the group after the incident happened.
A sad day in #SaanichSouth. We came out to have some sign and were racial accosted. I ignored at first but forget that. Here it is! Happy to be supported by a strong diverse team.@timescolonist @saanichnews @cfax1070 @jbj59 @Adam_Stirling @victoriabuzzes pic.twitter.com/aErJ2ks8g4
— Rishi Sharma (@Rishi_ss) October 18, 2020
Several people, including Kate O’Connor, the BC Green Party candidate for Saanich South, replied to Sharma’s tweet expressing sympathy.
“That is totally unacceptable and I’m so sorry you experienced it — we must do better, and ensure a society where no one must face discrimination,” said O’Connor.
Sharma agrees. He says that out of the three different elections he has run in, this is by far the worst level of vitriol and hateful rhetoric he has ever seen, both online and offline.
The Liberal candidate wants to see the conversation shift from a reactive approach to a proactive one, beginning with changes to education.
“It needs to stop being an afterthought,” said Sharma. “We should be looking at the full spectrum of what inclusion can mean.
Let’s teach kids about the residential schools situation, let’s teach them about the Komagata Maru. Let’s get that information to the youth so they can make a knowledgeable decision about where they want to go.”
As one of the only people of colour running for office on Vancouver Island this election, Sharma says he is proud to inspire future leaders.
He says a student at St. Andrew’s school recently told him about how proud she was to see someone with her surname (unrelated to him) running for office.
Sharma wants to reach a point in society where everyone can run for office without being victimized for their race or background.
“I don’t feel like a victim and don’t want to be treated like a victim. We put this out so people can learn and see what it’s like …These are the conversations we should be able to have.”