By Gurpreet Singh
John Horgan, who has created a legacy of politics of inclusion in a polarized world, will receive the annual Hands Against Racism award in Surrey next month.
Established by Metro Vancouver-based Spice Radio 1200 AM, the award is given every year to people who have stood up against hate.
As premier of British Columbia, Horgan not only brought back the B.C. Human Rights Commission that was dismantled by the previous B.C. Liberal government, but implemented the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He also appointed for the first time a parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives, and introduced race-based data legislation to combat systemic racism.
Horgan stepped down from the premier’s office last year due to health issues, in spite of his continued popularity across the province.
Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt announced on Thursday (February 9) that the award will be presented on Sunday March 19 at Surrey Arts Centre, two days before the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Datt started a campaign against racism on the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2015, encouraging participants to dip their hands in colour and leave a palm print on a white sheet alongside a message against bigotry. The idea was to celebrate Holi, an Indian festival of colours, and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination together.
Horgan joins list of other winners
Horgan visited Spice Radio in 2019 to participate in the campaign. He scribbled down, “Human Rights! Respect! Inclusion!!” alongside his handprint, which is currently framed and greets everyone in the office at the station.
Datt strongly believes that Horgan deserved it for taking everyone into his embrace, and for speaking out for all minorities, be they the Muslims, Jews or people of Asian heritage, who faced a backlash in the wake of COVID-19.
Horgan joins the list of trailblazers and strong voices for change who have been honoured by Spice Radio in the past.
The very first recipient of the Hands Against Racism award in 2016 was Baltej Singh Dhillon. The first turbaned Sikh RCMP officer faced a racist backlash from both within and outside the force.
The second annual award went to Sunera Thobani, a Muslim academic who faced hostility for questioning U.S. foreign policies following the 9/11 terror attacks. This was done to challenge growing Islamophobia under Donald Trump.
The following year, in 2018, then Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith (now editor of Pancouver) and antiracism educator Alan Dutton were honoured for standing up for minorities and amplifying the stories of white allies in an ongoing struggle against intolerance. Dutton has received serious threats from white supremacists.
In 2019, Indigenous activist, Cecilia Point, and South Asian activist Niki Sharma, now attorney general, were presented with awards for breaking sexist and racist barriers.
Point has been in the forefront of annual marches in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Sharma has spoken out on behalf of racialized people who encounter a blatantly racist electoral system while running for office in the City of Vancouver.
Station drew attention to anti-Asian hatred
In 2020, police officer Kal Dosanjh and social-justice activist Harsha Walia were honoured. Dosanjh heads Kidsplay Foundation, which educates youths to avoid racism and gang life; Walia is a die-hard grassroots level activist who has written two books and coauthored a third.
In 2021, Tammy Hu and Kamika Williams received the awards.
Hu spearheaded a fight against offensive news headlines that described COVID-19 as a “China virus”.
Since the novel coronavirus broke out in China, hate crimes against people of Asian heritage sharply increased in Metro Vancouver.
By honouring Hu, Spice Radio wanted to send a strong message to those involved in anti-Asian racism.
Williams, then-chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Vancouver, was honoured for her efforts behind Black Shirt Day campaign, a day to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 2022, Indigenous designer Jennifer Sherif was one of two recipients of the annual Hands Against Racism awards.
Sherif was given an award for making special pins in memory of the victims of Indian residential schools. With the recent findings of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children at these former sites, this issue has come into the limelight internationally.
Sherif’s pins represent the orange shirt, an idea of Phyllis Webstad, who went to an Indian residential school as a child. Following the discoveries of unmarked graves, people in Canada began sporting orange shirts in large numbers to show their solidarity with First Nations.
Last year’s second recipient was Annie Ohana, a renowned antiracism educator and social justice activist.
Ohana has been a part of many grassroots movements and is a strong defender of human rights. She has been a tireless ally of Indigenous communities, immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized groups.
Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi, where this article originally appeared. He also hosts a program on Spice Radio.