Oh, this story is so sad (thanks, Filmfat).
Police have charged a Brampton woman who sent hundreds of rambling emails to Premier Dalton McGuinty with threatening a member of his staff â€“ but she contends it’s all a cultural misunderstanding.
Neelam Vir is also prohibited from contacting McGuinty, his family, staff or any other politician, and barred from Queen’s Park.
“I never meant to harm anyone,” says a tearful Vir, 40. “My Canadian dream is shattered. I just want to go back to India.”
The level of misunderstanding in this story is so epic, it could be a script for a comedy of errors. Unfortunately, a confused woman was jailed twice for her inability to negotiate different cultural norms; that’s not really funny-haha.
The charge follows an incident on Sept. 30, when Vir sent a packet of mix for making gulab jamun, an Indian sweet, to McGuinty to express her “love and affection,” dropping it off to staff member Monica Masciantonio.
The same night, she emailed McGuinty, asking whether Masciantonio had given him the mix.
“I said, `If she didn’t give it to you, I’ll kill her.’ It’s just slang,” Vir said. “I use this term all the time with my husband and my kids. In Hindi, it’s, `Mein tumarhi jaan nikal dungi.’”
Well, you can surmise what occurs next…
Vir received no reply but, on Nov. 20, after the election, half a dozen police officers showed up at her door. They confiscated her laptop, cellphone, camera and papers, and hauled her to jail on a charge of conveying a death threat. There she spent a frantic six hours until her husband bailed her out. “I was so upset I couldn’t stop crying. I kept asking, `What wrong did I do?’”
But wait, it gets worse. In a move which inspires forehead-slapping, poor Vir frantically emails the Premier to make amends and proclaim her good intentions…which results in a second arrest, for violating the terms of her release. For her clueless efforts, Vir was gifted with a psych consult. But let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place, to start…
Vir’s tale starts with the typical immigrant story of struggle and a quest for belonging.
After immigrating in 2002, she and husband Baljinder could not find jobs in their fields though both have PhDs attained in India â€“ hers in botany and his in entomology. So Baljinder opened a butcher shop, and Vir temporarily returned to India to teach. She also completed a degree in education there, but after returning to Canada in 2005 could only find supply-teaching jobs and work as an airport security guard.
As a freelance writer for a Punjabi newspaper in Mississauga, she often met politicians at community events. A prolific emailer, she sent messages â€“ mainly decrying the plight of foreign-trained professionals â€“ to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Immigration Minister Diane Finley, the provincial labour, education and health ministers and provincial opposition leader John Tory, many of whom she had met on assignment.
She didn’t just “send” emails…she SENT emails:
She sent the first of about 200 rambling emails to McGuinty last July. “In India, you can’t even approach a politician. Here, they’re accessible and open to hearing from constituents, so that’s what I was doing,” Vir says.
Prepare to cringe and feel awful:
Thrilled to get a form-letter reply from McGuinty that used her first name, Vir mailed him a rakhi (symbolic thread) last August, referring to him as “Big B,” her big brother.
At a Sept. 17 Liberal news conference at a Toronto bookstore, Vir handed McGuinty’s teacher wife, Terri, her resumÃ© in the misguided hope she might help her find a job.
Vir took her daughters, Aanchal, 14, and Muskan, 9, to meet McGuinty during a roundtable with Punjabi media in Woodbridge on Sept. 28 where she heard him say he likes gulab jamun. The premier posed for photos with the trio, who presented him with bouquets and handmade cards.
Aanchal is failing in school as a result of all this unintentional, unnecessary craziness. Vir needs pro-bono representation. Canada needs to get a grip:
Shalini Konanur, the clinic’s executive director, calls the incident an overreaction to an honest mistake.
“One of the trickiest things when you move into a new society is understanding what’s colloquially appropriate communication. It’s almost impossible for new immigrants to navigate. I think she realizes now it was a mistake, but really, how would she have known? There’s no settlement agency that teaches you how to be politically correct in Canada.”
It’s a question of cultural semantics, adds the Toronto-born Konanur. “In some parts of India it’s quite common to speak that way. … I can’t speak for all Indian people, but in my family in India they use that kind of language all the time, `Get the milk or I’m going to kill you.’”
She believes the incident could have been kept out of court if officials had consulted agencies that deal with immigrant settlement.
“Obviously on one hand they want to take the safety of the premier and his staff into account, but there really needs to be a vetting of legitimate threats and ones that are made as honest mistakes.”
Nothing seems to be working out:
Vir is supposed to report back to India for a teaching job in June, but she isn’t allowed to leave the country.
“I’m going through hell for a silly mistake. If I’m guilty of anything, it’s being naive,” she said.
“I supported the Liberals in the election. Now I feel they betrayed me.”
I hope this women gets the help she needs, and that people who read rambling emails for the premier– and probably forward them all over the office for kicks– acquire some common sense. Heavy-handed much?