West Vancouver Police Chief Kash Heed on Tuesday appealed to South Asian adults to take a more positive and active role in the life of a young person.

Addressing a large South Asian audience at the 2nd Annual Celebration of Education and Family in Surrey, Heed, the first Indo-Canadian chief of police in the country, said: “It could be your son or daughter, your niece or nephew, a young neighbour, or even someone you meet through a program such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters … it doesn’t matter. It is all about building positive relationships. 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.”

The event was hosted by the SASAT (South Asian Student Advocacy by Teachers) committee, a standing committee of the Surrey Teachers’ Association, and interested teachers from the Delta School District. It was jointly sponsored by the Surrey Teachers’ Association and the Surrey School District.

Heed, who’s been an outstanding role model for Indo-Canadians, spoke of his struggles, hardships, and triumphs. He noted: “It has taken me 30 years of law enforcement experience and blood, sweat, and tears to get to the position of police chief, and I owe much of my success to my family.”
He pointed out: “Even though children will make their own decisions and shape their own destiny – let’s not underestimate the importance and role of parents, grandparents, mentors, schools, and the community in shaping a child’s future.”

Here is part of Heed’s address that deserves to be carefully read and seriously discussed and followed up in South Asian families:

I firmly believe that we have to have more role models from all sectors and from all communities including the Indo-Canadian community.

I also believe that teachers and parents play a vital role in influencing positive development in a child’s life. The reason being – they spend a significant amount of time with the child on a daily basis. Although the roles and responsibilities of a teacher and parent differ, they can make a difference in the lives of children every single day. 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 instills, or the type of discipline that a parent employs, moms and dads are the most important factor in keeping kids on the right path.

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 labeling 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.

Earlier this year, I participated in a forum on gang violence at Langara College. One of the most interesting presentations of the evening 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 and 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 difference in the life of a young person.

I became a father earlier this year, 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 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. I think we as parents need to build and maintain a positive relationship with our children through mutual trust and communication.

As many of you know parenting is not easy, and finding a balance of when to be their friend and when to be their parent is a difficult task. I also know of many Indo-Canadian parents that want to be involved and want to be there during difficult and happy moments but don’t know how. That is when, as a community, we need to come together to ensure that families have the support systems to turn to when in need, and 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 … 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 counselor, or a grandparent.October 25th, 2008

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