Cover

Publish and Be Damned

The Sikh media are lively, often controversial and sometimes dangerous

Chris Wood February 21 2000
Cover

Publish and Be Damned

The Sikh media are lively, often controversial and sometimes dangerous

Chris Wood February 21 2000

Publish and Be Damned

The Sikh media are lively, often controversial and sometimes dangerous

Chris Wood

Cover

It was a labour of love, passion, principle—and politics. And like any other obsession, the drive to keep putting out a Punjabilanguage publication, first a magazine and then the weekly Indo-Canadian Times, swept Tara Singh Hayer’s family along in its wake. His son,

Dave, remembers getting up at 2 in the morning to make deliveries when he was only 14.

Later, he helped translate Canadian slang into the language of the weekly’s 15,000 North American subscribers. Founded in 1978, the paper became the most widely read Punjabi publication on the continent. But Hayer also made enemies. His sharp critiques of political violence and influential figures in his community regularly attracted threats. After an unsolved shooting in 1988 left him in a wheelchair, Hayer occasionally wore a bulletproof vest and installed surveillance equipment at his Surrey, B.C., home. In 1998, Dave, now 41, confronted his father: “I asked him, ‘Is it really worth it?’ ” From his wheelchair, the older man replied: “Truth, honesty, freedom of speech. If we can’t have those things in this country, where can we have them?”

Two weeks later, an assailant evaded the security at Hayer’s home, surprising the 62-year-old in his garage. A bullet in the head ended Hayer’s life—but not his crusade. His family continues to publish the paper. And his unsolved murder—according to Dave Hayer, police now say they are “close” to laying charges—may have done more than his editorials ever did to galvanize the great majority of Canadian Sikhs who deplore violence.

Much of the debate is carried on in the lively and often controversial Indo-Canadian media. In British Columbia, the Times competes with three English-language weeklies tackling Indo-Canadian issues, as well as four in Punjabi. In southern Ontario, Sikhs have seven Punjabi weeklies as well as a twice-monthly English newspaper. And in both provinces, radio stations serve Punjabi listeners—Sikh and non-Sikh. But Surj Rattan, the 38-year-old editor of Vancouver’s IndoCanadian Voice, says objectivity is often sacrificed in a community where politics and passion go hand in hand. “There are people working in the Indo-Canadian media who have a definite agenda, who will mesh a news story and an editorial

on the front page,” he says. “I personally think it’s wrong.”

The elder Hayer abhorred physical violence, but in print he seldom backed down from a fight or from his beliefs— even when he lacked the facts to back them. “When he thought he was right, he would publish, and nobody could stop him,” says Gurnam Sanghera, a social activist who writes for Hayer’s paper. In 1998, the Times fiercely criticized Ranjit Singh, a religious leader in Amritsar, whose edict Canadian conservatives cited in a drive to remove tables and chairs from the dining rooms of temples. “Hayer wrote that Singh was being manipulated,” Sanghera recalls, “that he is not a very intelligent man, not well educated and a murderer besides.”

Hayer was not alone in receiving threats. When Baltej Pannu, 32, the editor of the Mississauga, Ont., weekly Nagara, began looking into the disappearance of $3.8 million from a Toronto-based temple, he received a death threat over the phone. He continues to get threats, and, he says, “I don’t go out a lot at night.”

His father’s death, says Dave Hayer, was “mentally, psychologically very painful. But it was not a shock.” To others, though, it may have been a wake-up call. Since his funeral, many Sikh community leaders say they have detected a sea change in opinion against violence. Meanwhile, not only is the Indo-Canadian Times still published, Dave Hayer may soon be addressing an even larger audience: he is seeking the Liberal nomination in the provincial riding of Surrey/Tynehead. Speaking out, he has concluded, is worth the risk.

With

John Nicol

in Toronto and

Jennifer Hunter

in Vancouver