September 2001

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Vol. I Number 3

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HAROON SIDDIQUI EARNS ORDER OF CANADA
By Suresh Jaura

‘Fearless writer’ named to Order of Canada - was the headline of a news report following Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson announcing Siddiqui’s name as a new member of the Order of Canada, the country’s leading honour, for journalistic excellence and volunteer work.

HAROON SIDDIQUI


Haroon terms his coming to Canada as ‘accidental’. At the age of 25, he was looking at a chance to see the world and get better economic opportunities than those available in Hyderabad, India, at that time. “I could have gone anywhere: Australia, US, UK”, says Haroon. May be it was Canada’s High Commissioner to India, Roland Michener’s exhortation to him, “Go to Canada” that brought him here in time for Expo 67 in Montreal.

Haroon did not find it easy to get a job as a journalist.  He arrived in Toronto on a Saturday and Monday he was interviewed for a job at the Globe and Mail. He heard what he would hear many times over: he had no Canadian experience. Isn’t it strange that new immigrants, after 34 years, still hear the same?

Haroon was turned down at the Globe, The Toronto Star and every newspaper he could apply to. He still has the “rejection letter from The Perth Courier”. He ended up doing what new immigrants have always done- found another job to make both ends meet. He went to work selling suits in the basement of Simpson’s department store.

“Nothing comes easy, but it eventually comes, if you work hard,” he said. In 1968 he was hired by the Brandon Sun and within two years was city editor, by 1974 managing editor.

In 1978, Haroon got his break at the Toronto Star, when on publisher (the late) Martin Goodman’s recommendation; he was hired as a copy editor. He was often sent to report from the Middle East. He wrote supportively of the revolution in Iran as opposed to the western reporters who judged it harshly. “I thought it was a genuine people’s revolution which brought down the most powerful ruler in the region. That changed, as often happens in counter-revolutions, however,” he said.

From1985 to 1990, he was the Star’s national editor. Then as editorial page editor, from 1990 to 1998, Haroon expanded the letters to the editor section to its current full-page size, the first large circulation daily in the country to do so.

The turning point was the 1991 Gulf War, in which letters received jumped from an average of 125 to 350 daily. “Those letters showed that Canada is microcosm of the world, and we were blessed with all the viewpoints in the world right in this city,” he said.

Haroon feels humbled and honoured by the Order of Canada award. He recalls that his “mother often told me that I should not let success or achievement go to my head at any stage in my life”. He is proud of the fact that he has not betrayed her trust and confidence in him.

He credits the honour as ”recognition of ideas that I have developed and worked to propagate through many writings in The Star.” The credit he says goes to The Star “which has a long tradition of standing up for minorities and the under classes”, and which provided him a vehicle to verbalise the concerns of South Asian readers who have found in him an outlet to express their feelings, fears and concerns.

The Star was the first newspaper in the western world to carry a regular column by a turbaned Sikh. “It normalized the idea of a turbaned Sikh as a Canadian,” he said.

“Haroon has given a different voice, not only to the paper but to the community, that hasn’t been heard as clearly before,” said John Honderich, The Star’s publisher. “He tilts at windmills, he attacks sacred cows and he’s not afraid to be unpopular. He’s made a difference and that’s a real tribute to a journalist.”

While the world condemned the Taliban for dynamiting treasured Buddhist statues, Siddiqui urged his readers to remember the critical issue in Afghanistan was the famine, Honderich said.

Haroon credits his readers for his success in journalism. “It is they who contact me and tell me their problems”, he says. He investigates, follows up and brings out the facts in his articles. His is one of the rare voices that gets heard and published in the mainstream media.

“He has taught all of us that minority views are to be respected and listened to,” said Carol Goar, The Star’s editorial page editor.

Former Ontario premier Bill Davis called Siddiqui’s honour “well deserved,” adding, “Mr. Siddiqui has demonstrated a sensitivity to changing demographics in Ontario and Canada and developed a rapport with new Canadians. He understands their participation and contribution to Canada.”

“What I’m trying to do is make Canada an even better place. That means sometimes criticizing, analysing or prodding. I also try to bring an international perspective to Canadian affairs and a Canadian perspective to international affairs,” Haroon said.

What concerns Haroon is that even after the South Asians have moved to different parts of the world and settled in their adopted country, they continue to be involved in the problems and differences back home, and that is at the expense of their involvement in their adopted country.

Having made a decision to leave home for better opportunities abroad, it is imperative, Haroon feels that people for the sake of their children at least, get involved politically and socially. “There is a need to fight for equality, against discrimination and barriers that are an obstacle to equal citizenship”, he says. They should constantly endeavour to get equal opportunities and full benefits.

“I want to infuse people with my enthusiasm about Canada. The battle for equality never ends and yet, at the end of the day, we have to celebrate Canada. And if we are critical, it is because of the high standards we have set,” he said.

Political involvement is a must for South Asians to change the direction of democracy in Canada. Haroon is glad that in the last few years, people of South Asian-origin have got involved not only in civil service but also politically in municipal, provincial and federal level.

As for himself, Haroon rules out any political ambitions. He says that he has been asked to run by political parties, but he prefers to remain a “free bird” and do what he can by sticking to journalism where he is not bound by any party directive and can freely express his views that can bring people closer and become more involved in the affairs of the country regardless of any party affiliations.

We wish him well in his continuing crusade to make the common man heard!

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