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Can Diwali be a public holiday in Canada?

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As millions of South Asians around the world celebrate Diwali this year, a festival symbolizing triumph over darkness and dating back 2,500 years, its strong foothold on regions far from the Indian subcontinent also comes to light.

A five-day celebration enjoyed by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists, it is considered a national holiday in India, Fiji, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Nepal and most recently, a city in the United States.

Diwali will be a public school holiday in New York City starting in 2023 “to recognize over 200,000 New Yorkers” who celebrate the festival, NYC Mayor Eric Adams said in a press conference last week.

The recent move in NYC has raised questions as to why a similar move hasn’t already been made in Canada, which is home to millions of South Asians. In 2011, about 2.4 million people, or 7.2 per cent of Canada’s population, reported affiliation with Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Muslim religions, according to Statistics Canada.

Data shows that one in five people coming to Canada in the last several years were born in India, making it the top country of birth for recent arrivals.

Immigrants also accounted for four out of five new workers in the labour force between 2016 and 2021.

“We work hard to pay taxes .. and to bring more talent to this country,” Siddhart Choudhary, director of the Vancouver-based non-profit Canadian Hindu Foundation, told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.

“But, at the same time, we want Canada to feel like our home. We are not strangers in the country.”

Choudary argues that there is frequently little place for immigrants, newcomers, and Canadians from religious and cultural minorities to celebrate their festivals due to the limited national statutory calendar of Canada, which is predominantly centred on Christian holidays.

Current statutory holidays in Canada include New Year’s Day, Labour Day, Good Friday, Canada Day and Christmas Day. However, the number of stat holidays often vary according to province and whether an employee is federally regulated.

For many South Asians in Canada, Diwali celebrations have often required rearranging schedules and figuring out unique ways to keep up with traditions.

But, this isn’t always possible.

This year, the festival fell on municipal election day in Ontario, which raised concerns for the South Asian community as they tried to find time to vote on one of their most important cultural celebrations of the year.

The Indo-Caribbean Canadian Association sent a letter to Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs asking for alternative dates but never heard back.

A petition to “declare Diwali as a public holiday in Canada” has garnered nearly 16,000 signatures on Change.org.

Organized by Gopal Saini, the director of Alberta-based non-profit International Hindu Foundation (IHF); he says that more people in Canada needed Diwali this year than ever before.

“Diwali is a time for family reunions and during COVID-19, people were not able to come together or go back home to other countries from where they came from … and that feeling of loneliness was really shocking,” Sonia Joshi, president of IHF, told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.

“This is a festival of togetherness, everyone coming together and celebrating the values and traditions and what our background is, and I should be able to spend that day without worrying about my salary or vacation… we just needed one day to celebrate and teach our children what community support and a celebration of our culture really mean.”

But can it be done?

Introducing new statutory holidays in Canada isn’t unprecedented. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, was introduced as a new federal statutory holiday on Sept. 30 in 2021.

It was created to honour children who died while being forced to attend residential schools, as well as those who survived and their families and communities still suffering from the trauma.

According to the Designation of National Days and Obervances in Canada, a federal document outlining how holidays are classified and how they can become recognized dates, “any senator or member of the House of Commons may introduce a bill proclaiming a national day.”

If the bill passes all stages of the legislative processes, it can be enacted as its own policy.

A national holiday or observance can also be established by the government, overriding the Parliament, through various processes, the document noted.

An example of this is National Indigenous People Day, which is celebrated on June 21. While not a national holiday, it does apply to federally regulated workplaces as a day off.

Religious accommodations can be requested under the Canadian Human Rights Act through provincial codes, such as the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The individual making the request for a religious accommodation should be able to explain how it relates to their religion, according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website, along with information regarding “whether the person can perform the essential duties or requirements of the job … with or without accommodation.”

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, “Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy.”

The Canadian Multiculturalism Act was passed as law in Canada in 1988 to “remove any barriers preventing full participation in society” and was designed to target and eliminate discrimination.

While the act doesn’t mention religious or cultural festivals, it aims to “promote the reflection and the evolving expressions of those cultures.”

According to Joshi, the existence of the act should be enough for any politician to introduce a motion to instate Diwali as a public holiday in Canada.

“This step was taken 50 years ago and we are still looking for an opportunity to celebrate one of our main festivals as we should. Our children should be able to see that, right?” Joshi said.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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Woman found dead in suitcase in Newfoundland; spouse found dead, suspected in killing

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ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Police in St. John’s, N.L., say a woman’s body was found in a suitcase in the city’s downtown this week and her spouse — who was found dead a day prior — is suspected of killing her.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Const. James Cadigan says the 33-year-old Iranian woman’s body was discovered Tuesday night in a suitcase in a vacant lot. He says it had been placed in the area six days before.

Cadigan says her 34-year-old Iranian husband was found dead in his home on Monday.

He says police have not determined whether their deaths involve a murder-suicide, and he says the two “had no involvement” with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary prior to the discovery of their bodies.

Cadigan says the woman arrived in Newfoundland on May 15 and the man had been living in downtown St. John’s for several years.

Police are not releasing their names to protect their family’s privacy, and are looking for any information from the public about what happened.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Pilot dead after ultralight plane crash northwest of Fredericton

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FREDERICTON – The pilot of an ultralight plane died after the aircraft crashed in a cornfield about 25 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.

Ken Hodgson, fire chief of Keswick Valley Fire Department, says his team received a call at 11:33 a.m. about a crash in Burtts Corner, N.B., along Route 104, which links the province to Nova Scotia.

Hodgson says there were no other casualties.

Ambulance New Brunswick, the coroner’s office and RCMP also responded to the crash.

In a news release, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says it deployed a team of investigators to an “aircraft accident near Fredericton.”

But the agency did not immediately respond to questions asking for details about the crash.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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B.C. Interior residents get ready to go as erupting wildfire threatens

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It’s the first time The Inn at Spences Bridge has been empty since April.

Dorothy Boragno, who owns the inn with her husband Michael Findlay, said Friday they watched thick smoke across the Thompson River from the out-of-control Shetland Creek wildfire that has already forced others to evacuate.

“We’ve been through fires before, so we know what happens, and if they get close, usually we get firemen to stay at our hotel, so we’re not too worried yet. But it does bring back bad memories,” said Boragno.

The Shetland Creek fire in the southern Interior more than doubled in size from Thursday to Friday, due to what the B.C. Wildfire Service said was “significant overnight growth” and more accurate mapping.

Its rapid spread was part of an eruption of wildfire activity across B.C., with more than 270 burning as of Friday afternoon, most caused by recent lightning storms, then fuelled by hot, dry weather and winds.

The Shetland Creek fire is now listed at 132 square kilometres in size, up from 57 square kilometres, and has prompted evacuation orders and alerts in the communities of Spences Bridge, Ashcroft and part of Cache Creek, east of Kamloops.

The BC Wildfire Service says the fire advanced about six kilometres in a northwest direction parallel to Highway 1 Thursday night.

It is considered the only “wildfire of note” in B.C., meaning it is highly visible or poses a potential threat to public safety or infrastructure.

The wildfire service says 71 firefighters and six helicopters are battling the blaze in addition to structure protection personnel, heavy equipment operators, and an incident management team.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District expanded an evacuation order in front of the fire on Thursday evening to cover about 85 properties in the Venables Valley area, while the Cook’s Ferry Indian Band has issued orders for several reserves along the Thompson River.

Hundreds of other properties are subject to an evacuation alert, with the district telling them to be ready to leave on short notice.

The Village of Cache Creek on Friday issued an evacuation alert because of the fire out of an “abundance of caution.” The alert includes the Cache Creek Regional Airport and nine other properties, but the main sections of the village are not yet on alert.

The Village of Ashcroft is also under an evacuation alert and Mayor Barbara Roden said Friday that the fire’s aggressive behaviour is “very concerning.”

“So, residents are very on edge. They have been ever since this fire started and it was clear that it was going to be heading in this direction,” she said. “It’s been thick smoke here for the last few days even though the fire is still several kilometres away, there’s ash falling on everything here in Ashcroft.”

The nearby Ashcroft Indian Band, which is also on evacuation alert, posted a notice on Facebook Friday, saying band leaders understand that “everyone is on edge with the Shetland Creek Fire burning nearby.”

The statement said they are in constant contact with the BC Wildfire Service, getting updates when available and they appreciate everyone’s co-operation in conserving water they have in the reservoirs to “use in a worst-case scenario.”

“In the meantime, we have our maintenance and fire mitigation crews out in the community adding more fireguards around the south and east side. As an additional piece to our regular fire mitigation practices, they are clearing debris and flammable fuels from around power poles and hydrants and we have a water tank on a trailer with hoses ready to go.”

Boragno said they are also ready to get out, with a cat cage and a bag of “special stuff” ready next to the door.

She said it was touching to see the whole town pull together with people helping each other out, because no one likes going through this.

“It brings back huge trauma for people who lost their homes and stuff,” said Boragno.

Cliff Chapman with the BC Wildfire Service said Thursday the province appeared to be “on the precipice of a very challenging 72 hours” with hot weather, dry lightning and strong winds in the forecast.

Environment Canada on Friday issued a series of severe thunderstorm watches across much of the B.C. Interior, and a severe thunderstorm warning for the Stuart-Nechako region in the north.

The storms mostly overlap the almost 30 areas that are also under heat warnings, and while they may bring hail and rain, they also bring lightning and winds that trigger and fuel fires. The heat warnings span most of the southern Interior and stretch up through central B.C. into the northeast, along with inland sections of the north and central coasts.

The weather office says much of the Interior is expected to see temperatures in the 30s over the coming days, along with overnight lows in the mid-teens.

For Roden the forecast offers little hope for relief with temperatures topping 40 degrees, but she’s hopeful that people will remain calm and ready to leave if it comes to that.

“So, you’ve got the smoke, you’ve got the ash, you’ve got the heat,” she said. “All these factors coming together are making people very edgy, very nervous. They’re remembering fires past and, and it’s the uncertainty.”

Roden said the village had fires in 2017 and 2021 “on our doorstep.”

“Part of my job as mayor is to try to ensure that people don’t panic,” she added. “I cannot think of any situation that has ever been improved by people panicking.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

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