Recently West Vancouver Police Chief Kash Heed delivered the keynote address at the CORSA Foundation at its annual Kohinoor Diamond Ball in Vancouver where Attorney General Wally Oppal presented scholarships to South Asian youths, as reported last week in The VOICE.

Heed, who is an outstanding role model for Indo-Canadians, had some valuable advice for Indo-Canadian parents and their children, and The VOICE urges you all to read his address very carefully:

It has taken me over 28 years of law enforcement experience and my blood, sweat, and tears to get to the position of Chief Constable, and I owe much of my success to my family.
I was born in the interior of British Columbia. My grandfather, Sher Singh, settled in Kamloops many decades before I was born, and established an early reputation in that community of dedication and contribution.

The gurdwara in Kamloops is built at the exact location where my grandfather was cremated. He was the one who donated that property for the Temple long before its construction. In fact, ‘Singh Road’ in Kamloops is named after my family, a legacy that I am very proud of to this day.

My sense of responsibility to the broader community was inspired by my grandfather. But the perseverance that has allowed me to rise through the ranks to get to this point has to be attributed to my mother. She was from Kelowna, and settled in Kamloops when she married my father. At a very early stage in my life my parents separated, which was a difficult time – especially in our culture where it is not the thing to do. I have three siblings, and my mother single-handedly raised the four of us as a single parent, an example that forever showed me a type of inner strength that all of us have to draw upon.

Sometimes the challenges of daily life propel us towards extraordinary feats, which is how I have always characterized my mom’s success in raising us. And, throughout my schooling, my start as a rookie cop, my rise within the Vancouver Police Department, and now my role as West Vancouver Chief, I often think of my mother to inspire me through the tough or challenging times.

I didn’t have a lifelong aspiration of becoming a police officer. I actually wanted to be a teacher while growing up. And it wasn’t until the middle of my university degree that I decided to apply to the Vancouver Police Department. Back then, there were very few (Indo-Canadian) officers in policing across the country. At the time of my application, it wasn’t easy for members of any visible minority to become a police officer amidst an overwhelming cultural bias.

There were some rough roads that I faced in policing when I first joined, and I encountered several colleagues who openly expressed their belief that the job was not suited for ethnic officers like me. The reason I bring up these recollections is twofold. First, my experience with young people over the past three decades has consistently shown me the enormous impact that parental guidance can play in setting the future course of a child.

Whether it is the example that a parent sets, the values and ethics that a parent instils, or the type of discipline that a parent employs, moms and dads are the most important factor in keeping kids on the right path.

Secondly, our youth these days have so much opportunity to make a significant impact, both in their community, and within their chosen career field.

Doors are not being shut because of one’s heritage. In fact, I would argue that diversity has become a key priority for major organizations and employers, and thus has emerged as a great asset for young people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Indira Prahst, an Instructor of Race and Ethnic Relations at Langara College has written, taught, and spoken extensively about the bitter impact of negative portrayals of South Asian youth in the media, and the upholding of them as gangsters, terrorists or wife abusers.

And while I definitely concur with these sentiments to an extent, I also feel that every individual has a choice to make with regards to their own personal conduct. How a select group of rotten apples within the community live their lives should really have no bearing on one’s decisions.

I often feel as though Indo-Canadian gang violence, a label that the media are so keen on using, or the domestic abuse situations that have exploded into the public spotlight in recent years, are like car crashes: incidents that we are unavoidably drawn to slow down and observe, but ultimately not obstacles that prevent us from moving forward. In fact, they can serve as inspiration to be a little more cautious and mindful in the journey ahead.

At the end of the day, one of the lessons that I have learned as a police officer is that young people, regardless of race, religion, or culture, are more similar than we seem to realize. All youth struggle with similar types of issues – family, self-esteem, peer pressure, and of course, deciding on a path for their future. This is a point that all of us in this room should consider for a moment.

Often times, we as a community are just as guilty as the media of separating our youth into special categories, or labelling their identities. Some of our traditional views on how our children should act do not match up to the realities that our kids are facing in the outside world … the real world.

I recently participated in a forum on gang violence at Langara College. One of the most interesting presentations of the proceedings came from Mani Amar, a young writer and director of the documentary, “A Warrior’s Religion.” Mani relayed some deep and extremely personal interviews he conducted with an Indo-Canadian gangster – a man who is now a quadriplegic as a result of his violent and dangerous life as a criminal. What fascinated me was the point where Mani detailed some of the reasons behind this gangster’s descent into crime.

In Mani’s own words: “When he opened up to me, he entrusted me with things I thought I would never hear very, very, scary sad things – things like wanting acceptance from his parents in his interests of art. Or how he just wanted to have friends in high school. How such simple principles elude our community, communities before us, and communities yet to come.”

This is the kind of revelation which makes me want to emphasize my earlier point about how parents and others can make such a huge difference in the life of a young person.

I just recently became a father, and the one thing that I am determined to be as a parent is involved. I want to be at my daughter’s sports activities … help her with her homework … be able to discuss what is happening with her friends … be able to be someone she trusts enough to come to me when she is in need of a friendly ear.

At times, there are a number of adjectives that I can use to describe why Indo-Canadian parents have a distance between themselves and their kids … too proud, too strict, too traditional, too embarrassed, too formal, too self-absorbed – and I could go on.

Organizations like CORSA are taking an enormous step forward in gathering our community leadership together to ensure that our youth are exposed and supported by the best role models we have to offer. And when I say role model, that doesn’t have to refer to someone like myself, … or Wally Oppal, or Ujjal Dosanj, or Herb Dhaliwal. This is about everyone taking an interest in our youth, and making small contributions to their positive development, whether as a teacher, a friend, a counsellor, or a mentor.

What I am saying is that it is time to break down the walls that are often built because of long-standing traditions that dictate narrowly defined roles for parents and children, adults and young people. If something isn’t working, maybe it is time to take a different approach to how we shape and mould our future leaders.

In closing, I want to leave you with this challenge. While our financial contributions this evening are going to be directed towards some amazing scholarships and programs for youth to gain vital life skills and experiences, everyone in this room must leave tonight determined to take a more positive and active role in the life of a young person. It could be your son or daughter, your niece or nephew, a young neighbour, or even someone you meet through a program like Big Brothers and Big Sisters … it doesn’t matter. This is how we as a community are going to leave the greatest legacy.

Extending an olive branch is what needs to happen before we can expect our young people to reach out in response. It is on our shoulders, not theirs, to make that first move.

March 22nd, 2008

The Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival New Asia Festival Sikh International Festival Spinning Wheel Festival