At our 2019 Convention we proudly welcomed British Columbians whose lives had been changed by our BC NDP government to speak to delegates about their experiences. RCMP officer Baltej Dhillon spoke to us about his experience standing up for human rights. We're honoured to share his remarks with you today.
Thank you for having me here today. I am looking forward to sharing with you, in brief of course; some personal experiences as well as anecdotal information from my life journey, that I am hopeful will inform our discussions here today.
Before I begin though I do want to share that I certainly saw some of you giving me that look — no not to worry it wasn’t the “you people” look — it was more of the "did Harjit Sajjan choose to join the NDP?" look. It is not the first time I have been mistaken for him and we certainly share a close friendship that allows me to have a bit of fun at his expense.
Having said that I do want to circle back to recent events where the term “you people” was used, I don’t want to dwell on this, other than to offer a comment that I believe is germane to our discussions here today. I believe that anytime any of us use any language that creates division, causes pain or injury to another, makes someone feels less, then I believe it is appropriate — and frankly an obligation — at that time to pause, reflect, and do what we can to lessen the distress being experienced.Often that is just the offering of an apology and the commitment to be better.
We often speak of using language that is 'politically correct' — in my view we should do better and graduate to always using language that is 'humanly correct'.
We should use language that demonstrates our constant effort to be as good as we can with each other. Language the leaves the other person inspired elevated and uplifted. Language that is quick to correct any word or thought that causes harm or pain. And, if our effort is true and honest, I certainly believe that we can live up to these ideals.
This certainly is in keeping with the BC’s Human Rights commissions objectives and what our Premier shared, Every person is deserving and should have a high expectation that they will be treated with dignity and respect in our Province.
Now, in looking around the room, I am confident that many of you will have some memory of my journey. That said, I do see a few that maybe were just a twinkle in their parents eye at that time (or you could just be aging very well).
In short, I had an aspiration of serving as a police officer. The condition placed on me If I wanted to serve was that I had to surrender the very thing every Police Officer swears an oath to do: to protect the rights and freedoms of every citizen in this country.
Specifically, I was asked to surrender my freedom of conscience and religion to accommodate a uniform policy. This led to a nation wide debate, death threats and an ugliness that I never imagined. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms stood by me, and I was allowed to serve without having to compromise my faith. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to serve in the RCMP for the last 29 years.
During this journey, I came to know how great of an impact this event had on many that I met — and if I may be so bold — in the maturing of our nation.
In recent weeks I had a young man tell me that he didn’t see a path to becoming a police officer with his faith intact until he saw me being allowed to serve in the RCMP. Conversely, I have also had many share that they feel more Canadian, more welcomed after they saw someone from their faith group and someone from a racialized community being allowed to serve.
I share this with you to emphasize a fundamental truth, that if our desire is to strengthen services, one core area that cannot be overlooked is the importance of ensuring that we are purposeful and deliberate in reflecting the community these services are intended for.
It is essentially impossible in my opinion to gain the trust and confidence of a community, understand the nuances that a community is struggling with, support our diverse population without ensuring that the services being provided are appropriately sensitized with this intelligence.Meeting these benchmarks will, in my opinion, allow for better service delivery and allow for our citizenry to have greater confidence in the services being offered.
So, how do we do that? How do we solve this fundamental question? As I near the end of my time with you, allow me to leave you with some final thoughts.
In my journey I can tell you that for many years I spent a fair bit of time wondering if I was being treated fairly, wondering if I was being judged more harshly and held to a higher standard than my colleagues, wondering if I was worthy of some of the assignments and opportunities. Essentially, I was wondering if I was good enough.
I can tell you that creative thought, innovative solutions, courageous change initiatives — which are all important elements towards strengthening services and service delivery — all that takes a back seat when your day is occupied wondering about your worth.
So to quote language used by our Premier when the BC’s Human Rights commission was reestablished -building a better BC that is vibrant and full of opportunity starts with making sure everyone feels welcome to be a part of that future.
Making sure everyone feels welcome will require us to get over our own issues of judgment, bias, blindspots and anything that will cause the other to feel less. To do that will require us to be open to hearing each other and ready to change our language to avoid creating division. It will require us to be patient with each other as we learn to be open to receiving information that challenges our ego and pride.
It is my humble and firm view that if we are vigilant in holding ourselves to these efforts that the return on this investment will be realized in increasing the resiliency in our communities.
Thank you for indulging me here today and allowing me to share some thoughts with all of you that I hope will add some value to the work ahead of you. Thank you.