Monday, August 10, 2015

Ron Banerjee, André Drouin, and Rise Canada

We had mentioned in our previous article that we were working on a new story. In fact, it's a story that sort of fell into our laps, though initially we didn't quite realize how significant it would turn out to be:

Before being sent the above unsolicited link we had been aware of Rise Canada though we didn't pay it a lot of attention as it was yet another Islamaphobic project of Ron Banerjee:

Ron Banerjee holding pamphlet

We've discussed Banerjee on the blog in the past. He styles himself as the director and spokesman of Canadian Hindu Advocacy, a virulently Islamaphobic "group" which is, for all intents and purposes a one man show. Banerjee attended last summer's Ford Fest where he was heard shouting homophobic slurs at protesters, one of whom he appears to have physically assaulted. And he is occasionally found in the company of the Jewish Defence League

While he has been able to snooker some into believing CHA is actually a legitimate interest group representing Canadian Hindus before his behavior gives him away as a fraud, most people who know of Banerjee know him as a self-promoter with limited influence. 

So with this in mind we generally ignored Rise Canada since it seemed simply to be just another one of Banerjee's delusions of grandeur. We didn't even bother looking at the website which we assumed would be as devoid of content as that of CHA.

However one of our members did eventually decide to take a look, again assuming there wouldn't be much there. 

That assumption turned out to be incorrect. What we did find took us on a rather interesting ride.

Unlike CHA's website which doesn't list any members, Rise Canada does list members by name. Four regional leaders were named initially, one of whom was also listed as the national spokesman. We contacted all four to ask if they were actually members of Rise Canada. The first to get back to us expressed surprise and concern that she was listed as a member:

This profile was removed from the website when the woman it featured requested it be taken down (she wrote to us that Banerjee was particularly insulting when she made her request). We had believed that the other three were also listed as regional leaders without their knowledge, but as we waited for other replies to our messages (we did receive another which we will get to shortly) we continued digging. And as we continued to dig we came to the conclusion that the remaining three may actually be legitimate members of Rise Canada, though we can only guess what their day to day involvement might be.

Let's start with the individual listed as the national spokesperson:

Reading his biography, Dr. Bikram Lamba appears to be a remarkable individual. He ran a company that employed thousands of people in India, was a professor at Delhi University, and was an political strategist/economic adviser to numerous Indian national governments for two decades. He has written six books, countless articles, is a contributing writer to CNN, sits on numerous boards, is a religious and community leader in the Canadian Sikh community, and is photographed with a number of Canadian politicians such as Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney, Michael Ignatieff, and others.

Oh, and he once started a petition to have himself elected Governor General of Canada.

It's at this point that one becomes suspicious of Dr. Lamba's claims which  upon investigation appear to be a lot of hot air.

Turns out he never names the company he claims to have run employing 27,000 and it is likely it never existed. The university he claims to have worked as a professor has never heard of him. Many of the organizations on which he sits on the board or acts as chairman also seem to exist only in Lamba's own writing. His CNN contributions (many of which attack Sikhs) appear to consist solely of iReports. One of the few (apparently) legitimate boards he did sit on asked him to resign after he embarrassed them by going on a hunger strike in front of the Ontario legislature at Queen's Park over the issue of automobile insurance and the price of fuel. And finally, it seems that he was arrested in India back in 2000 on fraud charges ("NRI held for duping firm").

While his CV might be greatly exaggerated, one thing we do know to be true is Lamba's association with Ron Banerjee:

As expected, the CHA also supported the ban on the turban in Quebec soccer, writing a letter of support to the Lasalle Soccer Association in June 2012 and then in June 2013, issuing a press release supporting the ban. Although Ron Banerjee and the CHA are virulently against the Sikh community, they appear to have some friends who self-identify as Sikh. In the press release issued supporting the 2013 turban ban in Quebec, Ron Banerjee signed along with Dr. Bikram Lamba and Gurdev Mann.
Dr. Lamba has consistently stood against the interests of the Sikh community whenever issues involving the kirpan or dastaar (turban) have arisen. But his intolerance and association with the CHA deserves a broader examination.

Dr. Lamba has joined with the CHA to promote the anti-Islamic movie “Innocence of Muslims”. The movie defamed and mocked the Prophet Muhammad and Muslim history. It caused protests across the Muslim world. Ron Banerjee however enlisted Dr. Lamba in his campaign to screen the movie in Toronto. The movie was never shown but revealed the interesting relationship Banerjee and Dr. Lamba had developed.

CHA describes Lamba as a “Sikh leader” or as a “Sikh author, Religious Scholar”.

Lamba however describes himself as an agnostic on his Facebook page.

We've found some other instances of Lamba in the news. In one case he appears to be soliciting government funds on behalf of Shriya Shah who died on Everest; her husband denied the family was behind the appeal.

A second instance occurred regarding the July 2013 shooting of Sammy Yatim:

As if the tragedy of the shooting was not enough for the city, some are trying to bring a racial and religious tone to the story.

Bikram Lamba, a prominent figure in the Sikh community whipped up a storm on Facebook when he described Yatim as a “crazed young Islamic man” whose “family had arrived from the violent Islamic nation of Syria a few years ago.”

The fact Sammy Yatim and his family have a Christian-Syrian heritage was of little consequence. For many, Sammy’s Arabic last name was a license to depict him as a crazy Muslim.

The second regional leader is listed as Michele Walsh. Last year Ms. Walsh and her daughter were in the news because of claims of gender discrimination in her martial arts dojo as a result of a new Muslim student:

Sonja Power, 17, was on the cusp of earning her black belt in Aikido at a Halifax dojo when a new man joined the class. He refused to be in contact with women or to spar with any of the female students.

Power and the other women were told to stay on one side of the room and not to approach the Muslim man to respect his faith.

"I felt like a second class citizen, that I was so disgusting and unworthy that this man doesn't even want to interact with me," Power told QMI Agency. "It doesn't make any sense, why would something you choose, your religion, trump something I'm born with, my gender, we wouldn't let a religion trump someone's race."

The incident happened more than a year ago and Power's mother, Michele Walsh, said she has contacted every level of government but was ignored. She said the sensei told her to "get used to" the gender separation.

This sounds horrible would absolutely be cause for huge concern, but there are some things that seem a little odd. For one thing, the initial incident appeared to have occurred in 2012, but was not made public until 2014. Other students in the class as well as the instructor contradict Ms. Power's claims stating there was never any gender discrimination. In addition, Ms. Walsh's husband and Ms. Power's father appeared to have some very negative views of Islam and Muslims which became public:

Members of the Tantallon family at the centre of a controversy over allowances made for a Muslim student at martial arts classes say anti-Islamic posts peppering the Facebook page of one of them are directed at “extremists” and not the religion.

Sonja Power, who complained publicly this week that she was discriminated against in March 2012 when a Muslim student asked not to spar with females in the aikido class, said her father’s Facebook posts were directed “towards radical Islam.”

The 17-year-old said her father, Dan Power, had clicked “like” on some postings so he could get his family to read more about them later.

“He uses ‘likes’ so he can go back and see,” Power said of her father in a telephone interview Friday. “He thought that was a bookmark to go back to it.”

Her father’s Facebook postings include a reposting of a Koran burning and a picture of minarets on fire.

His claim to have simply "liked" a posting so he could go back and read it later flies in the face of a comment he himself wrote advocating the burning of the Quran in October 2012 before the family came forward to the media regarding the claim of gender discrimination:

In fact Mr. Power makes a number of inflammatory posts between 2012 and 2014:

Ms. Walsh also did not respond to our query concerning her involvement in Rise Canada, but she has been a relatively active poster on the Rise Canada Facebook page which at least indicates some awareness of the organization:

Now, as interesting as these two might be, the third individual listed as a regional leader is one whom we find to be especially fascinating:

André Drouin, a councilor in Hérouxville, Quebec (a town of 1300 comprised almost entirely of white, at least nominally Roman Catholic, francophones and a median age pushing 50) came to public attention in 2007 when he authored what amounted to a code of conduct for perspective immigrants who might decide to move to the town. The code played on stereotypes of ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Muslims, assuming that immigrants from these populations would bring along misogynistic practices such as stoning women and genital mutilation.  Many were insulted by the underlying premise of the code and the town eventually dropped some of the more insulting provisions, though it seems Mr. Drouin did not agree with the change. 

The code appears to have been a rejection of the multicultural urban life of Quebec found in Montreal and Quebec City and found it's appeal in rural, much more conservative and "traditional" Quebec. In fact, one could argue the code helped to inspire the Parti Québécois' Quebec Charter of Values, a wedge issue that was central to the party's platform during the 2014 provincial election.

We last heard Drouin's name in the media when he called for the closing of all mosques in Canada on a temporary basis in reaction to the murder of two soldiers by Muslim extremists in the fall last year. We sent him an email asking whether or not he was a member of Rise Canada. Mr. Drouin responded promptly confirming that he was indeed a member of Rise Canada:

We followed up by asking the circumstances behind his membership. Mr. Drouin's response was fascinating:

First, though we never asked about Banerjee in our message, Mr. Drouin confirms that Banerjee is involved in Rise Canada and implies that he is in a leadership position of some sort. This, despite Banerjee's name appearing no where on the website, Facebook page, or Twitter account (at least we haven't been able to find it). But as we knew Banerjee was involved already, this isn't much of a revelation.

What is significant though is that André Drouin, who in part wrote the code in response to a perceived misogyny in certain immigrant populations (especially Muslims), is aware of the misogyny of Rise Canada but chooses to remain involved.

Before we move on, let's take a look at some examples of the violent rhetoric, especially directed at women, posted by Ron Banerjee on the Rise Canada Twitter account. Before that, it may be instructive to quickly remind our readers of what amounts to Rise Canada's mission statement found on the Twitter profile:

So how exactly does Ron Banerjee/Rise Canada defend the principles of gender equity, respect, and harmony? For example, how respectful is Banerjee towards other ethnic minorities (especially ethnic women)?

We'll move on his stance on homophobia. You can check, "in favor of" on your score sheet at home:

That last tweet helps us to transition into the virulent Islamaphobia that many people know Banerjee from:

Banerjee is referring to this event in the state of Gujarat.

Ugly? Vicious? Yep.

But Banerjee's views regarding sexual violence against women may very well be the most disturbing part of his personality.

Ron Banerjee has a unique view of sexual assault that he shares on the Rise Canada Twitter account. On the one hand if the accused is a Muslim, then Banerjee believes the accusation or rape without question. However, he then adds that a woman who associates with Muslims deserves to be raped:

On the other hand, if the accused is not a Muslim, then Banerjee claims that any accusation of rape is made up by, "desperate women" who "make up stories." He also mocks women who have shared their stories, in some cases suggesting the woman is too unattractive to be raped:

This leads us from discussing Banerjee alternating between justifying rape and dismissing it as an issue, to allegedly threatening sexual violence himself.

Back in October 2012, David Topping wrote an exposé on Banerjee in "The Grid." Sadly, when "The Grid" ceased publication the article was not archived, however Mr. Topping was kind enough to provide us with a drop box link containing screen shots of the original story. The following excerpt is most relevant for our purposes today:

Andrea Houston's story of the JDL protest in which Banerjee, who provided the name Naresh Patel, threatens her can be read here. On her Twitter account Ms. Houston provides a link to Mr. Topping's article on Banerjee which results in this exchange between Ms. Houston and Banerjee:

Wait, didn't Banerjee make fun of Olivia Chow's accent?
Double standard, but not at all surprising.

We contacted Ms. Houston to speak with her about her contact with Banerjee back in April 2011. In addition to confirming the details that had already publicly known through her and Mr. Topping's articles, Ms. Houston also gave us permission to include a threat Banerjee made towards her that was not published:

Yes he was [in response to our question whether it was Banerjee who threatened her]. And he threatened to "stick a knife up my twat".

I another thread, Meir Weinstein defends Banerjee:

Given Levant's own issues, we aren't sure he's the guy
we would turn to in order to determine what is defamatory.

Gender equity, respect, and harmony indeed.

So, with all of this in mind, lets get back to André Drouin's membership in Rise Canada.

Our final followup question challenged his support for Ron Banerjee/Rise Canada in light of the fact that Mr. Drouin seemed very much aware of Banerjee's misogyny. After all, hadn't the code for immigrants that Mr. Drouin crafted been created because he believed that some misogynistic practices -- sexual violence for example -- occur in certain immigrant populations and are incompatible with Canadian values.

Mr. Drouin's response is especially glib:

Well, that settles it then we suppose.

When we received Banerjee's unsolicited message, we initially dismissed the message and the person who sent it.

Turns out even seemingly insignificant moments can lead down interesting and enlightening paths.


Unknown said...

Renerdra Banerjee should be completely ignored until he crosses the line and ends up in jail. It's not a question of "IF" but "WHEN."

Above The Law 124 said...

Laughed and chortled about idiots mistaking Sikhs for Muslims and attacking them to "avenge " 9/11??? Hello Mr. Banerjee ,you're brown. I have personally heard the same racists you are lauding and defending refer to ALL BROWN PEOPLE with interchangeable un-repeatable terms. One that sticks out is "all f'n Pakis are the same curry eating terrorists, even if they're not from Pakistan" referring to anyone with brown skin. Said to me by some goof in a bar. Same idiot probably would condone stomping a "turban" or "sand n-er" for (apparently) being a Muslim so watch what you wish for ya fuckin clueless squid