Wah, wah Wally!
The best news for the Indo-Canadian community in the month of June was theappointment of Justice Wally Oppal as Attorney-General as well as Minister for Multiculturalism in the province of British Columbia.
In fact, it was a done deal when 65-year-old Oppal quit as judge of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in April to contest for the ruling Liberal party. He was one of the three stars that Premier Gordon Campbell had managed to rope in just before the May 17 election. Among them was Carole Taylor, who once headed the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation-Radio.
Oppal is the second Indo-Canadian to become the top law-and-order man in British Columbia after Ujjal Dosanjh.
Dosanjh, who is currently Canada's Minister for Health, had held this position before he became Premier in 1999. In Canada, the Attorney General combines the roles of Attorney-General and Home/Interior Minister in India.
Wally Oppal brings his rich experience in the legal profession and his Indo-Canadian background to his new job. Which assumes significance from the viewpoint of the Indo-Canadian community that has been rocked by youth violence and gang-style killings for over a decade now.
More than 90 young Indo-Canadians have perished in this gang violence caused by the free availability of marijuana, leading to turf wars among the boys. Most of these cases are still unresolved.
After pressure from community leaders, the provincial government had appointed a task force two years ago but it was dismantled summarily. When the pressure mounted again, the government set up another integrated gang violence task force to deal with gang violence.
This force, which has become operational now, has been allocated $50 million for five years, and its mandate is to solve the murders of young Indo-Canadians. To interact better with the Indo-Canadian community, the task force has quite a few Indo-Canadian police officers on it.
With Oppal's advent as Attorney-General, many Indo-Canadian leaders think the gang violence will be addressed earnestly. That this 'apnabanda' is minister for multiculturalism as well, will ensure funding is never a problem.
Even as a judge, Oppal was known to have strong views on Indo-Canadian issues. During conversations with this correspondent, he had blamed the Indo-Canadian parents for "letting down'' the younger generation. According to him, these parents were too busy in the pursuit of money to pay any attention to their conflicted kids. For him, it was not a cultural problem -- that only Indo-Canadian youth are prone to gang/drug-related violence. "These youngsters are a tiny part of the Indo-Canadian community. So this violence is not reflective of the community," he had once said. All was needed, he added, was an open dialogue with our kids.
During his election campaign too, Oppal had emphasised that his priority was to make communities, including seniors, safer.
This Indo-Canadian is the best equipped AG for the job. He knows laws inside out and now has the power to implement them. Leave aside his excellent record in the legal profession, Oppal has played an outstanding role even in social and community service.
He served as director of Family Services of Greater Vancouver and the BC Coalition for Safer Communities. He was also a member of the Advisory Committee for a National Strategy of Community Safety and Crime Prevention. Then he headed the famous royal commission on police reforms in British Columbia in 1992-94 after some cases of biased police behaviour came to light. As part of this commission, he travelled to a few countries, including South Africa, Hong Kong and the US, to study policing, and came out with a report, which made more than 200 recommendations to reform the police system in his province.
Famous for his one-liners, Oppal was the first Canadian-born Indian to become a supreme court judge in Canada. He was born in 1940 in the neighbourhood of Vancouver-Fraserview from where he was elected in May. "When I was born, they won't allow us to enter bars and cinema halls. Indians (and other Asians) couldn't bring in their wives," he had once told this correspondent.
A brilliant student, he went to become one of the first Indians to earn a law degree from the famed University of British Columbia. For 14 years, he did his own practice and became very famous. Not surprisingly, the Indo-Canadian lawyer was anointed judge of the county court of British Columbia in 1981. Five years later, he was elevated to the BC Supreme Court. And in 2003, he was further elevated to the BC Court of Appeal -- the highest in the province.
Now that this man has doffed the judge's robe to assume political hues, there is not even an iota of doubt that he will create many more precedents in the new field.