Get to Know Some Inspiring Asian-Canadian Leaders

A close up photo of a globe on a tableWritten by: Shaowda Salehin 

Photo by: Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Canada is a beautiful mosaic of multiculturalism, with various Asian cultures providing us with vast knowledge, incredible food, and strong leaders. There are so many powerful and hardworking Asian-Canadians who create a better community for us, from politics to athletics to literature. Learn about Asian-Canadian pride through the inspiring stories of Asian-Canadians who break boundaries to make way for others to accomplish their dreams and reach for the stars!

1. Jim Chu

Jim Chu is a celebrated member of Vancouver’s police department, serving as Chief Constable for several years and receiving multiple awards for his diligent work including the Order of Merit of Police Forces. He immigrated to Canada with his family from Shanghai, China as a young child and went on to pursue a Bachelor of Business Administration from Simon Fraser University and an MBA from the University of British Columbia while also pursuing police training. 

On June 21, 2007, Chu was named as Chief Constable, and for the next 8 years, he took the lead in his community to reduce crime rates and improve relations with marginalized people in downtown Vancouver, and advocate for the mentally ill. He is a passionate advocate for decreasing incarceration rates for the small possession of marijuana and has developed training programs so that officers can better serve neurodivergent persons. Under his run as Constable, he concentrated on building positive relationships with Vancouver First Nations groups and worked to deliver their particular needs. With all the success he achieved, he was the first-ever officer to be granted the Police Officer Commission, an honour that recognizes senior officers of their rank, professionalism, and dedication to policing in B.C. His legacy has decreased the overall crime rates in the city, creating a safer and healthier community. 

2. Carol Huynh

Carol Huynh was the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling, winning at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She fled Vietnam as a refugee with her family in the late 1970s and settled in Hazelton, British Columbia, where they were sponsored by the local United Church. Huynh was introduced to wrestling by her high school coach and began freestyle wrestling in high school; she continued to exercise her passion through university. She won several medals at the World Championships over a number of years, bronze in 2000 and 2005, and silver in 2001. When women’s wrestling debuted at the Olympic Games in 2004, she joined the Canadian team as Lyndsay Belisle’s training partner. She continued to compete on her own in the Pan-Am Games, where she successfully won the gold medal, defeating the reigning world champion! 

She retired from competitive wrestling in 2012 and became a coach for the junior program at the Calgary Dinos Wrestling Club. In 2013, she was inducted to the United World Wrestling Hall of Fame and in early 2015 she was selected as a United World Wrestling Super 8 Ambassador for the global campaign focusing on the development of women in wrestling. She also served as the Chair of the United World Wrestling Athletes Commission from 2013 to 2017 and since 2015, has been Wrestling Canada’s Next Gen coach based in Calgary. She is a world-renowned athlete achieving all her ambitions from humble roots and is remembered as a trailblazer for female wrestlers in Canada. 

3. Jagmeet Singh

Did you know that NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is Western alumni? Born to Punjabi Indian parents, he is the child of immigrants and has been proud of his background throughout his career. He began his political career starting right here at Western, where he obtained a BSc in Biology and then went on to earn a Law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School. He was called to the Bar in 2006 and practiced as a criminal defense lawyer in the Greater Toronto Area before entering politics. He then became the first Ontario NDP MPP to represent the Peel Region, as well as the first turban-wearing MPP. On October 1, 2017, Singh returned to federal politics when he was elected leader of the federal New Democratic Party after having won on the first ballot with 53.8 percent of the vote.

Singh advocates for multiple social causes such as raising federal minimum wages to $15 an hour, decriminalizing possession of psychoactive drugs like marijuana, and changing some of the tax brackets on high-income earners called the “wealth tax”. He is also passionate about reducing carbon emissions by supporting and uplifting companies that build renewable energy; he wants to get rid of coal-based energy production in Canada. Social justice is also very prevalent in Singh’s political standing, where he has fought against weapons like handguns being available in cities and has supported the LGBTQI2S+ community by encouraging police training, hiring LGBTQ persons in office, and providing transitional housing spaces for youth. He is recognized in the media for his sense of style while carrying out religious practices like wearing a turban and for the warmth and kindness he spreads throughout his social media platforms. Jagmeet Singh has paved the path for Indo-Canadians to contribute to Canadian politics as well as immigrants of all other nationalities to have the confidence to pursue their ambitions. 

4. David Suzuki

If you didn’t already know, beloved Canadian activist David Suzuki attended London Central Secondary School right here in our city! He is a third-generation Japanese Canadian and his family suffered the deep traumas of internment in British Columbia early during the Second World War. The government sold the Suzuki family's dry-cleaning business, then interned Suzuki, his mother, and two sisters in a camp at Slocan in the British Columbia Interior while his father faced the harshness labour camp in Solsqua. Suzuki's sister Dawn was born in the internment camp. After the war, Suzuki's family, like other Japanese Canadian families, were forced to move east, which resulted in relocation to London, Ontario. 

David Suzuki is one of the most prominent figures of environmentalism in the world, winning the Right Livelihood Award that recognizes outstanding vision and works for the planet. He currently has 29 honorary degrees from Universities across Canada, America, and Australia and is honoured by Canadian Indigenous peoples with eight honorary names and formal adoption by two First Nations. He rose to popularity internationally when he became the host for the CBC program, "The Nature of Things," which was shown in over 40 countries. He has written of his research in energy conservation like the use of compact fluorescent light in books like The Sacred Balance which promises a sustainable future should we take precautions like reducing carbon emissions and eliminating wasting power. Suzuki provides instructions and guidelines to the average person on how to do their part in simple steps, which is why so much can be learned from his documentaries, books, projects, and lectures. 

Suzuki has received many awards and recognitions; his powerful work for a better world will shape the future, inspire our world leaders, and make way for a brighter, cleaner, and more sustainable way of life. He says of the David Suzuki Foundation, “Our mission is to protect nature’s diversity and the well-being of all life, now and for the future. Our vision is that we all act every day on the understanding that we are one with nature.”

5. Shyam Selvadurai

Shyam Selvadurai is a critically acclaimed Canadian author, most known for his novel Funny Boy. He was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1965 and came to Canada with his family at the age of nineteen. He has studied creative writing and theatre and has a BFA from York University, as well as an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Funny Boy, his first novel, was published in 1994 and won the Books in Canada First Novel Award and in the US the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction. Funny Boy was made into a film by Canadian director Deepa Mehta in 2020. Released on Netflix, this coming-of-age story appearing on the big screen is a great step towards recognition of unheard stories. His second novel, Cinnamon Gardens, was published in Canada, the UK, the US and translated into 9 languages. It was shortlisted for Canada’s Trillium Award, as well as the Aloa Literary Award in Denmark and the Premio Internazionale Riccardo Bacchelli in Italy. Shyam is the editor of an anthology, "Story-Wallah: A Celebration of South Asian Fiction," published in Canada and the US, and his novel for young adults, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and is the winner of the Lambda Literary Award in the US, the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award and Silver Winner in the Young Adult Category of ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award.

His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Time Magazine, Toronto Life, Walrus Magazine, Enroute Magazine, The Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star. His fourth novel, The Hungry Ghosts, was published April 2, 2013, in Canada, India, Sri Lanka, and it was shortlisted for Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Award for Fiction and longlisted for the DSC South Asia Literature Prize. His latest work is a comprehensive anthology of Sri Lankan literature, "Many Roads Through Paradise," and his newest novel Mansion of the Moon, a historical novel about the Buddha’s wife, will be released by Knopf in 2022.

Interesting and a little strange fact; in 2016, Shyam had the interesting honour of having a spider named after him: Brignolia shyami, a small goblin spider!

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