The candidate for the BC Liberals running in Saanich-South is still processing the traumatizing racial slurs that a man hurled at him Saturday evening and fears the current political climate in the United States has encouraged it.
“There are a lot of people paying attention to what is happening down south,” said Rishi Sharma Sunday morning. “I think there is a lot of liberation for those who have hate to be able to communicate that hate. Particularly, when we are going through COVID-19 and the high anxiety and the stress of being stuck in your home and the fear, I think people are at a boiling point and this is where we really need to pay attention to those types of issues. There is just this freedom for hate right now.”
Sharma made those comments just hours after a man accosted Sharma, a long-time Saanich resident and member of the Punjabi community. He and his brother Muneesh were putting up election signs at the corner of the Interurban Road and Marigold Road.
Two members of Sharma’s campaign team (Steven Puhallo and Taylor Verrall) and nearby resident John Juricic were with Sharma. The five men were working on the election signs, when the man accosted them after having pulled up in his vehicle in the company of a woman and a dog.
“He was cursing, ‘you [expletive] East Indians, you guys are brutal, you guys are dumb,’” said Sharma. “It was pure hate, it was pure anger coming out of this guy. This was pure hate and anger towards East Indians, as he said.” The man also accused Indo-Canadians of being “worse than the Hell’s Angels” during the incident that lasted about a minute, said Sharma.
Good morning #SaanichSouth! A great yesterday day ruined by 1 uninformed & racist individual. Wanted to take a moment to say thanks to all those respectfully participating in this #BCelxn2020@saanichnews @timescolonist @CHEK_News @CTVNewsVI @cfax1070 @CBContheisland @bcliberals pic.twitter.com/dAa4LwEKOV
— Rishi Sharma (@Rishi_ss) October 18, 2020
“I was not threatened by him,” he said. “I was threatened by the situation and what the outcome could have been. Somebody could have been seriously hurt.”
For Sharma, Saturday’s incident was unfortunately not unfamiliar.
“My brother and I knew exactly what was happening… it was racial slurs,” he said.
Sharma does not think the man directed his slurs at him personally or at the party. “It was just the Indian name on the sign that really got to him,” he said.
What followed was a “pretty shocking, heartfelt, vulnerable conversation” about the incident among members of Rishi’s party. “Those who I was with had never experienced that before,” he said. “Everyone was ‘what the hell just happened,’ and I said, ‘it happens a lot.’”
Sharma said the incident was “very traumatizing.”
“This one hurts,” said Sharma, when asked to compare this incident to comparable cases. “I’m not out in a club, I’m not out playing sports, I’m not in school with children. I’m actually trying to do good for the community.”
Sharma said he has been trying to raise awareness about equity, diversity, and inclusion. “If elected, I want to have an [equity] lens on every piece of legislation and policy coming forward,” he said, later calling the incident “ironic” in light of his campaign’s goals.
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
“I don’t know why it happened to me, but it did and it was very unfortunate and shocking, considering all the way we have been trying to do to get rid of this garbage behaviour.”
Sharma described the man as a Caucasian man in his early 30s with brown hair and standing about 6’1” wearing a red or orange jacket with an unshaven appearance. He also eventually wore a black bandana around his face, said Sharma, who described the man’s vehicle as a red car with four doors with a woman and dog as passengers.
Sharma said the group did not the catch man’s license plate, because of how shocked they were.
Sharma said he did not initially want to call the police, because he did not want to deal with this anymore.
“But Taylor did and I feel very bad for Taylor,” said Sharma. “This is the first that has ever happened to him.”
In the end, Sharma gave police a statement. He also later called his dad, who had earlier warned him about his public’s reaction to his campaign.
“Since the beginning of the campaign, he goes, ‘look, you are going to have a lot of hate thrown at you’ thrown social media and whatever. Just keep your calm.’ And I could hear him in my head and I called him a I thanked him. I said ‘I love you, dad.’”
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