First of all, you don't say Jagmeet. It's pronounced Jugmeet. Born in 1979 in Scarborough, Ontario, Jagmeet Singh was ridiculed at schools as Jughead. Or Diaper Head. Or Nipplehead. Or Paki.

Worst of all, after 9/11, the man who was elected as federal leader of the New Democratic Party in October of 2017, was called a terrorist. It rankled deeply. He could rise above, or descend. He has since arisen, as a Burnaby MP.

The bane of life was his alcoholic father--a respected Windsor psychiatrist outside the home--who drank too much Russian Prince vodka for decades until he was eventually prohibited from his medical practice in the year 2000.

But there was another secret, arguably much worse. During the sixth grade he was sexually abused by his tae kwon do instructor, a Mr. Neilson. When his mother asked him about Mr. Neilson, if there was ever anything amiss, Jagmeet lied and assured her nothing had happened. It would take another fifteen years before he could spill the beans and begin to jettison guilt and shame.

"That's how long it would take me to understand it wasn't my fault," writes Jagmeet Singh in his autobiography, Love & Courage: My Story of Family, Resilience and Overcoming the Unexpected (Simon & Schuster $24.99).

Other traumas were social: He was six years old when the Air India bombings occurred. The massacre at the Golden Temple in June of 1984 also had a lasting impact. Then his uncle Baljinder, a taxi driver in Brampton, was repeatedly stabbed to death in the neck and shoulders by two passengers who escaped with less than $100.

He didn't learn to speak Panjabi (not spelled Punjabi) growing up; instead he learned French. It was only after his first visit to India for a family funeral that Jagmeet became more fervent as a Sikh, growing his hair, wearing turbans.

"I grasped the essence: the path of Sikh spirituality is connected to love. To realize we are all connected takes love. To fight against injustice requires a deep act of love," he writes.

The older and bigger Jagmeet became, the more he saw himself as the protector of his siblings, rebuking his father for his drunkenness and sometimes countering with a meanness of his own. Eventually, he would become a lawyer, take over as breadwinner and banish his father from the household.

In college, he was an avid wrestler and he became a vegetarian, more or less on a dare, when someone questioned his principles as a meat-eater. He remains a vegetarian.

Now the man who rejected "Jimmy" in favour of Jagmeet at an early age finds himself a national NDP leader on Parliament Hill. There Jagmeet Singh will have to fight another battle against the odds--convincing British Columbians he's one of us--while he also convincing people from coast to coast to coast that they should be vote for a man whose name most of them still don't properly pronounce.

This is the only way Jagmeet Singh has ever been known to run--uphill.

This autobiography is a gripping read until the point at which he enters political life; after which the details are skimpy in a nine-page epilogue.


Love & Courage: My Story of Family, Resilience and Overcoming the Unexpected (Simon & Schuster $24.99) 978-1-9821-0539-6

[BCBW 2019]