On September 11th, 2023, a member of the Sikh community, and a student at Rutland Senior Secondary School was assaulted aboard BC Transit. Following the assault, the victim and attackers were asked to step off the bus, when the victim was either pepper or bear sprayed by the attackers near the bus stop.
Since the beginning of 2023, this is the second attack against someone in the Sikh and BIPOC community. On March 17th, 2023, Gagandeep Singh, an international student in Kelowna, was attacked while leaving BC Transit. A year prior, in February 2022, a tragic attack against a member of the UBC community resulted in the death of Harmandeep Kaur; members of the community hosted a vigil in the wake of the murder.
I travelled to the Okanagan Gurdwara to speak with the Sikh community and discuss the recent assault with a Spokesperson of the Gurdwara, who stated, "Kelowna is safe for the community. People in Kelowna are safe. The Gurdwara is safe." Adding to this statement: "They feel safe because of the circumstances. It is not believed to be a hate crime."
When asked if there should be any next steps from BC Transit or the City of Kelowna, the spokesperson replied, "We have a lot of support from Kelowna; the city councilors and mayors
1 Fast, T., & Femia, V. (2023). “Horrible Attack”: International Student Assaulted Near Bus Stop in Kelowna, B.C. Global News. Retrieved Sep.30th 2023 from https://globalnews.ca/news/9563016/international-student-brutally-assaulted-in-kelowna-b-c-on-friday-city-councillor/
2 Watson, B. (2022). “Victim of fatal attack at UBCO identified as 24-year-old woman from India who dreamed of Bright Future in B.C” CBC news. Retrieved Sep.30th 2023 from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ubco-victim-identified-1.6370278
— come to our temple to visit, worship, and have lunch with us. We have over 50 or 60 members of the community as defenders."
After speaking with the Spokesperson of the Gurdwara, the Gurdwara appears to feel safe after the recent incident — community engagement is one of the many things that have made this possible.
“Stand Strong with Sikh and BIPOC community” was created by a UBC Okanagan student who preferred to stay anonymous. The art piece illustrates the attacks against the Sikh and BIPOC communities, and calls for awareness to continually foster safe places for these communities in Kelowna and at the UBC Okanagan campus. After an interview with the student, I gained valuable insight into the creation of this piece:
Sarah Meier: What prompted you to consider creating this art piece?
Anonymous Student: I did not think of creating an art piece immediately when I saw the news, but one day, I just sat and started thinking more about [the attack in 2022 and the two attacks in 2023], and then I connected the similarities together. Although I am not a member of the Sikh community, I had a strong call to do something for them through my art. Even though it’s simple, I wanted to help promote awareness actively and show that students in this community care.
SM: Once you had the idea to create the art piece, was there specific inspiration from people in the community that you wanted to represent?
AS: I have people from the Sikh community who I hold close to in my life. I was thinking about them when I created the art piece. But, moreover, I think of the Sikh people in Kelowna, and in the Gurdwaras, I have encountered a lot of [the community members] when I go to the Gurdwara or just on the bus or street.
SM: How did you want to impact the Kelowna community by making this piece?
AS: I wish to direct the poster to whoever sees it in Kelowna. First, I wanted to put it into the university for the student body and faculty. Students are a powerful body. Once they know, they'll share and talk to each other, and hopefully look out for each other; they will be aware of it.
SM: How do you think UBC could promote discussions about these attacks and inform people about incidents like this?
AS: Perhaps we could host a discussion circle with UBC, the Equity and Inclusivity Office or with a student association, but not only by inviting Sikh students. We should invite students of other religious and cultural backgrounds, and include faculty members. Once we invite the faculty, it would give more importance to the panel. [The meeting] should be an open and safe discussion, discussing things like, “How did students feel impacted by the attacks?” and “What can we do as university students, faculties, staff, and citizens in Kelowna?” I think a discussion circle will be healing, especially for many students' mental health after hearing about these horrible things happening in our city.
I am also aware that our multi-faith space is looking for a Sikh chaplain who could provide spiritual guidance and counselling for Sikh students.
If the news is not mentioned publicly, many people do not know what's going on. The information is not spread very well or accessible on social media after the new restrictions. I wish to do more things to let Sikh students know they are not alone and they have control over their well-being.
Let us stand together and protect each other.
Standing in solidarity, our duty is to amplify the Sikh and BIPOC communities’ collective voices. The illustration exemplifies how students outside the communities can reach out, and continue uplifting one another.