Singh: The compassionate brother who draws on suits, social media and spirituality


By Christopher Reynolds | The Canadian Press |

OTTAWA – Jagmeet Singh was barely out of his teens when he took his little brother in.

A biology student at the University of Western Ontario, Singh insisted on looking after Gurratan, then 15, following a nearly violent confrontation with their father that prompted a police call to their farmhouse in Windsor, Ont.

The change was a blessing for both, offering a stable environment for the younger sibling and a chance for the two to reconnect.

“I was getting a little bit frightened, quite frankly, and anxious being at home. And he kind of, at the perfect moment, took me off to London, Ont. I think he was very sensitive to the fact that he didn’t want me to feel those emotions again,” said Gurratan, now a lawmaker in the Ontario legislature.

The duo lived there for three years along with their German shepherd, Jugnu, with college friends popping in and out via the balcony across from a nearby mall to walk the dog unprompted while Singh worked three jobs, Gurratan said.

“He’s a really great cook now, but back then he wasn’t the best,“ his brother recalled. ”I remember one time I was really hungry … He passed me this plate of pasta, and it’s all these chopped-up veggie dogs. … “I was like, ‘What is this, man?’ But he was trying his best. He was trying to do what he’s always done: make the best out of a tough situation.”

The same might be said of the current election campaign.

Jagmeet Singh consistently enjoys the highest net favourability ratings of any federal leader and has a record to run on after nearly four years as leader of the federal NDP, but his prospects of returning New Democrats to the official Opposition status they achieved in 2011 — with most of that caucus based in Quebec — appear a long way off from the fourth-party spot they have now.

Having been reduced to 44 seats in the 2015 election that returned the Liberals to power under Justin Trudeau, the NDP managed to send just 24 MPs to the House of Commons under Singh’s first campaign at the helm in 2019.

That smaller caucus nonetheless wielded some influence in the minority Parliament, securing enhanced pandemic benefits and paid sick leave in exchange for supporting the throne speech. Days before Trudeau visited the Governor General, Singh wrote the prime minister a letter, which he published on social media, accusing him of breeding cynicism for telling Canadians that a minority government cannot work.

Nonetheless, he treads the campaign trail with a smile, inviting comparisons to the “happy warrior” persona of venerated former NDP leader Jack Layton. His gait is a confident stride, a slower version of the catwalk struts he’s trotted out at fashion shows and gala fundraisers in recent years.

At a coffee shop west of Ottawa’s downtown earlier this month, Singh, 42, displays the selective style for which he’s become known: a maroon polo made by British Columbia’s Reigning Champ, jeans from Montreal’s Naked and Famous Denim, and an artisanally crafted kirpan — a ceremonial Sikh dagger — cut from spalted maple by a knifemaker in Cobourg, Ont.

The GQ-esque esthetics — from the 2017 spread in said magazine to the Rolex watches and urban bicycles — might seem at odds with the working-class voters traditionally courted by the NDP. But he’s described his sharp fashion sense as a kind of armour against racial prejudice, a form of cladding that dates back to his time as a criminal defence lawyer in the mid-2000s when he was one of the few racialized, turbaned attorneys at the courthouse in Brampton, Ont.

Read the full story, ‘Singh: The compassionate brother who draws on suits, social media and spirituality (Toronto Star, 29 Aug 2021), here.


Bardish Chagger has been up and running since 13 (Asia Samachar, 3 Sept 2021)

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