Amarjeet Sohi PC (born March 8th, 1964) is a Canadian politician serving as the 36th and current mayor of Edmonton since October 26th, 2021. Sohi previously sat as a Liberal member of Parliament (MP) and served in the federal Cabinet from 2015 to 2018 as the minister of infrastructure and communities, and from 2018 to 2019 as the minister of natural resources. Sohi was born in India and is the first visible minority to serve as mayor of Edmonton and is one of Canada's first mayors of Punjabi descent.

Amarjeet Sohi
Sohi in 2021
36th Mayor of Edmonton
Assumed office
October 26, 2021
Preceded byDon Iveson
Minister of Natural Resources
In office
July 18, 2018 – November 20, 2019
Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau
Preceded byJim Carr
Succeeded bySeamus O'Regan
Minister of Infrastructure and Communities
In office
November 4, 2015 – July 18, 2018
Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau
Preceded byDenis Lebel (Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs)
Succeeded byFrançois-Philippe Champagne
Parliamentary constituencies
Member of Parliament
for Edmonton Mill Woods
In office
October 19, 2015 – October 21, 2019
Preceded byRiding established
Succeeded byTim Uppal
Member of the
Edmonton City Council
for Ward 12
(Ward 6; 2007–2010)
In office
October 23, 2007 – November 2, 2015
Serving with Dave Thiele
Preceded byTerry Cavanagh
Succeeded byMohinder Banga
Personal details
Born (1964-03-08) March 8, 1964 (age 59)
Banbhaura, Punjab, India
Political partyLiberal
Residence(s)Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Immigrating to Canada in 1981, Sohi initially worked as a taxi driver in Edmonton. He returned to India in 1988, where he was detained and accused of terrorism. While in prison, he was subject to harsh treatment and solitary confinement. After spending 21 months in prison, Sohi was released due to a lack of evidence. Returning to Edmonton, he worked as a bus driver before entering politics.

Sohi was elected to the Edmonton City Council in the 2007 municipal election representing Ward 12, gaining his seat after finishing 4th place in the previous election. Following the 2015 federal election, he represented Edmonton Mill Woods in the House of Commons until his defeat in the 2019 election. During that time, he served as minister of natural resources from 2018 to 2019 and minister of infrastructure and communities from 2015 to 2018.

After his federal defeat, Sohi announced his candidacy for mayor of Edmonton in the 2021 Edmonton municipal election.[1][2] He was elected as Edmonton's 36th mayor on October 18, 2021, becoming the first visible minority to serve as mayor.[3][4] Jyoti Gondek was elected mayor of Calgary on the same day, with both Sohi and Gondek jointly sharing status as Canada's first Punjabi mayors of major cities.

Early life and personal background Edit

Sohi was born in 1964 in the farming community of Banbhaura,[5] Sangrur district in the Indian state of Punjab, to a Sikh family.[6][7] Sponsored by an elder brother, he emigrated to Edmonton in 1981.[8] Initially speaking almost no English, Sohi took ESL classes and enrolled at Bonnie Doon Composite High School in Edmonton. While working as a taxi driver in Edmonton, he joined a local Punjabi language literary society and became an actor and playwright in a Punjabi theatre group.[7]

By the early 1980s, the Khalistan movement, led by Sikhs demanding a homeland for themselves within India, had become very active, attracting support from many of the Indian Sikh diaspora in Canada. The movement soon developed into the Punjab insurgency, which polarised the Sikh community in Canada between Khalistani separatists and those supporting continued union with India. The agitation of the Sikhs in general further increased following the Indian Army's 1984 assault on the Harmandar Sahib complex and Akaal Takht, and the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards later that year. This was followed by the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985, which was linked to Canadian Khalistani militants.[9]

While Sohi and his family opposed the human rights abuses committed by the Indian government, they remained moderate and anti-fundamentalist like most Sikhs. Describing himself as a "secular individual", Sohi did not wear a turban and grow his hair.[7] The theatre group Sohi was involved in opposed both fundamentalism and the repressive actions of the Indian government.[9] Sohi married his wife Sarbjeet in 1993.[7] Together they have one daughter, Seerat, a freelance basketball columnist.[10][11]

Detention in India Edit

In April 1988, Sohi returned to India to study with Punjabi playwright and reformer Gursharan Singh and to visit family in Punjab.[12] He soon joined an activist group advocating land reform in Bihar, one of India's poorest states. That November, Sohi went to a village in Bihar to organize a local protest, but was arrested on November 15,[13] the night before when police raided the village. Sohi believed he was arrested due to his Sikh and Canadian background, which was linked with terrorism.[9]

Immediately after his arrest, Sohi was taken to a local police station, where he was interrogated and tortured for the next week with repeated beatings, sleep deprivation and threats against his family.[9][14] When he told his story to a district magistrate who had arrived to question him, she believed him and stopped the interrogations, permitting him to present his case in court though he was denied legal counsel.[9] As Sohi had kept his Indian citizenship, he was denied access to Canadian diplomatic officers and held under India's Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA). An anti-terrorism law passed as a result of the Punjab insurgency, it allowed suspects to be detained for up to two years without being charged.[14] State authorities falsely accused Sohi of being a trained Khalistan fundamentalist who had arrived in Bihar to train Naxalite insurgents, claiming that his arrest established the presence of an international terrorist network and that he had been arrested in possession of a gun and ammunition supplied by Pakistan; the state director general of police issued a statement to The Hindu to that effect.[9][better source needed]

After his court appearance, Sohi was transferred to Gaya Central Prison in the city of Gaya, where he was kept in solitary confinement for the next 18 months. He was placed in a cell with a small window and no bed, and slept on a single blanket on the floor. "The food was horrible. A couple of chapatis in the morning. Some lentil stew in the evening with a couple of rotis. No vegetables or any meat."[9] After four months, his father and brother were allowed to visit.[9] Sohi managed to maintain his reason by making friends with the prison guards, and got a message out to the local newspapers through one of them, announcing he was going on a hunger strike for better food and library privileges. After a week on strike, Sohi's family were permitted to send him money, which he used to buy food from outside the prison. He was also allowed to use the prison library, which he credited for "[keeping him] alive" in prison.[9]

Indian and Canadian journalists and activists, including members of Amnesty International, soon picked up Sohi's story. Through Progressive Conservative MP and human rights defender David Kilgour, Sohi's brother and sister-in-law pressured the Canadian government to exercise influence. The Canadian External Affairs ministry responded by stating they could not assist Sohi as he was only a landed immigrant in Canada and thus regarded by Indian authorities as an Indian national.[13] Following an investigation, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service informed the Indian government that Sohi posed no threat. Sohi believed that the Bihar Police wanted to save themselves embarrassment, and thus persisted in claiming Sohi to be a terrorist, charging him with links to Pakistani terrorists, Naxalite insurgents, and the Tamil Tigers. Finally, the 1990 legislative elections in Bihar brought a change of government, and a new state prosecutor reviewed Sohi's case, ordering it to be dismissed as there was "a lack of evidence against Mr. Sohi and also his prosecution is against [the] public policy of the state." After 21 months in prison, 18 of them in solitary, Sohi was released to his parents' home in Punjab on July 9, 1990. After thanking those in Bihar who had helped him, Sohi returned to Edmonton.[9]

Return to Edmonton and entry into municipal politics Edit

After returning to Edmonton, Sohi returned to being a taxi driver, before moving on to become a bus driver for the Edmonton Transit Service.[7] He became a spokesperson for the Local 569 of the Amalgamated Transit Union; in 2000 he advocated for drivers of disability buses to receive fair benefits.[15][16] Sohi also became active in politics, campaigning for the NDP and for then Liberal MP David Kilgour.[7]

In Amarjeet Sohi's first municipal campaign in the 2004 Edmonton municipal election, he finished fourth behind incumbents Dave Thiele and Terry Cavanagh, along with Chinwe Okelu.[17] Sohi's second campaign in the 2007 elections was successful, winning a Council seat in Ward 6.[18] On the City Council, Sohi has served as a member of the Edmonton Police Commission, as vice president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, and as Council sponsor for Safedmonton, a citywide committee working on community solutions for crime prevention.[19] Sohi carried this work forward as advisor to the REACH Edmonton Council for Safe Communities.[20]

Sohi also held the Council portfolio for Multiculturalism, and has championed the Racism Free Edmonton initiative. He has also sponsored or co-sponsored Council initiatives on Seniors and on Poverty Elimination, and co-launched an initiative to end gender-based violence.[19]

After completing two terms as a councillor, it was widely acknowledged that Sohi was contemplating a mayoral run in the 2013 municipal election. Sohi ultimately announced that he would not enter the race and would instead seek re-election for his Ward 12 seat.[21]

Awards Edit

During his time on Council, Sohi has received several awards in recognition of his community leadership. He has received the Edmonton Interfaith Advocate Award and the John Humphrey Centre's Human Rights Advocate Award for promoting welcoming and inclusive communities.[22] In 2015, Sohi received the Man of Honour, Exemplary Leadership Award from the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation in recognition of his work to end gender discrimination and violence[23] and the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers Recognizing Immigrant Success in Edmonton (RISE) Lifetime Achievement award.[24]

Federal politics Edit

In January 2015, Sohi was approached by the federal Liberal Party to run as a Member of Parliament in the newly created riding of Edmonton Mill Woods. He felt the need to bring up his imprisonment before it could be used against him politically, and thus contacted the Edmonton Journal reporter Paula Simons, who agreed to help report the story.[7] He was acclaimed as a candidate the next month, and officially launched his campaign in June 2015 at a large rally with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in Mill Woods.[25][26] Sohi's campaign emphasized the importance of federal leadership to address big-city and infrastructure challenges.[27] Sohi was also sharply critical of the Harper government's approach to citizenship, multiculturalism, and immigration policy.[28][29][30]

The nomination contest in Edmonton Mill Woods was the subject of a minor controversy prior to Sohi's acclamation. Varinder Bhullar was disqualified following alleged violations of Liberal Party membership rules.[31][32] Bhullar claimed the party disqualified him after he refused to step aside in favor of Sohi, the party's preferred candidate.[31][32]

On October 19, 2015, after a longer than average 78-day federal election campaign, Sohi was declared elected as MP for Edmonton Mill Woods. Per the initial count, Sohi received 41.2% of the popular vote and won by a margin of 79 votes.[33] Conservative candidate Tim Uppal successfully argued for a judicial recount of the results. The recount was held on October 29 and increased Sohi's margin of victory to 92 votes.[34] After being elected as MP, Sohi was criticized for accepting a CA$46,000 severance package from the City of Edmonton. He defended the move, saying that he did not determine the amount, which was based on his years of service with Edmonton City Council.[35][36]

Sohi and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (left) in 2018

Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Edit

Sohi took on the Infrastructure and Communities portfolio in Justin Trudeau's first Cabinet on November 4, 2015.[37]

Minister of Natural Resources Edit

Sohi took over the Natural Resources profile from Jim Carr on July 18, 2018.[38]

In the 2019 election, Sohi was defeated by Tim Uppal.

Electoral record Edit

2021 Edmonton mayoral election
Candidate Vote[39] %
Amarjeet Sohi 105,497 45.09
Mike Nickel 59,189 25.30
Kim Krushell 40,337 17.24
Michael Oshry 14,469 6.18
Cheryll Watson 6,780 2.90%
Rick Comrie
2019 Canadian federal election: Edmonton Mill Woods
Party Candidate Votes % ±% Expenditures
Conservative Tim Uppal 26,736 50.3% +9.24 $95,203.34
Liberal Amarjeet Sohi 17,879 33.6% -7.64 $100,305.12
New Democratic Nigel Logan 6,422 12.1% -0.68 $6,657.04
Green Tanya Herbert 968 1.8% -0.41 none listed
People's Annie Young 953 1.8% - $393.75
Christian Heritage Don Melanson 219 0.4% -0.18 $2,626.06
Total valid votes/expense limit 53,177 100.0
Total rejected ballots 342
Turnout 53,519 69.0
Eligible voters 77,610
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing +8.49
Source: Elections Canada[40][41][42]

2015 Canadian federal election: Edmonton Mill Woods
Party Candidate Votes % ±% Expenditures
Liberal Amarjeet Sohi 20,423 41.24 +29.52 $136,379.94
Conservative Tim Uppal 20,331 41.06 -17.88 $126,472.41
New Democratic Jasvir Deol 6,330 12.78 -12.61 $55,302.53
Green Ralph McLean 1,096 2.21 -0.78 $1,671.63
Independent Colin Stubbs 560 1.13 $5,091.44
Libertarian Allen K.W. Paley 396 0.80
Christian Heritage Peter Downing 285 0.58 $3,798.53
Communist Naomi Rankin 96 0.19
Total valid votes/expense limit 49,517 99.54   $206,234.63
Total rejected ballots 227 0.46
Turnout 49,744 67.84
Eligible voters 73,323
Liberal gain from Conservative Swing +23.70
These results were subject to a judicial recount,[43] and modified from the validated results in accordance with the Judge's rulings. The margin of Sohi over Uppal increased from 79 votes to 92 votes as a result of the recount.[44]
Source: Elections Canada[45][46]

References Edit

  1. ^ Leavitt, Kieran (2021-05-17). "He's the most well-known Liberal in Alberta. Will that help Amarjeet Sohi become Edmonton's next mayor?". Retrieved 2023-06-20.
  2. ^ "Former councillor, MP Amarjeet Sohi announces Edmonton mayoral campaign". Global News. Retrieved 2021-05-17.
  3. ^ "Amarjeet Sohi elected Edmonton's 36th mayor, 4 incumbent councillors defeated". Edmonton. 2021-10-18. Retrieved 2021-10-23.
  4. ^ "Edmonton election 2021: Amarjeet Sohi elected mayor - Edmonton |". Global News. Retrieved 2021-10-19.
  5. ^ Mohatarem, Kashmala Fida (November 13, 2021). "Amarjeet Sohi's political journey fuelled by experiences as immigrant in Edmonton". CBC News. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  6. ^ Service, Tribune News. "Sohi thrusts Banbhaura village into limelight again". Tribuneindia News Service. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Mouallem, Omar (2017-01-04). "Amarjeet Sohi - From Political Prisoner to Parliamentarian". Alberta Views. Archived from the original on 2017-03-20. Retrieved 2021-05-17.
  8. ^ "Survey Says: Amarjeet Sohi". Edmonton Journal. September 20, 2007. Archived from the original on 2012-11-09. Retrieved 2010-08-06.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Paula Simons (February 14, 2015). "City councillor Amarjeet Sohi recalls his imprisonment in India in the 1980s". Edmonton Journal.
  10. ^ Amarjeet Sohi [@AmarjeetSohiYEG] (July 16, 2017). "My daughter Seerat Sohi's take on first India-born NBA playing Satnam Singh." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  11. ^ "Seerat Sohi". Yahoo! Sports. Archived from the original on 2021-05-17. Retrieved 2021-05-17.
  12. ^ McClure, Matthew (1988-12-19). "Edmonton man in Indian jail under anti-terrorist law". Edmonton Journal. p. 1. Retrieved 2021-05-19 – via
  13. ^ a b Sadava, Mike (1989-02-15). "Family of jailed Sikh urges Ottawa to do more". Edmonton Journal. p. 47. Retrieved 2021-05-19 – via
  14. ^ a b Retson, Don (1988-12-20). "Gov't unable to learn more about local man in Indian jail". Edmonton Journal. p. 11. Retrieved 2021-05-19.
  15. ^ Gilmour, Bob (2000-03-03). "DATS drivers oppose city's contracts with cabs". Edmonton Journal. p. 22. Retrieved 2021-05-19.
  16. ^ Thomas, Don (2000-03-05). "DATS riders rally to support drivers". Edmonton Journal. p. 17. Retrieved 2021-05-19.
  17. ^ "Results 1945 to 2013" (PDF). City of Edmonton. Retrieved 2023-06-20.
  18. ^ "2007 Municipal Election Results".
  19. ^ a b "Ward 12 - Amarjeet Sohi".
  20. ^ "Reach Edmonton". Archived from the original on 2015-08-02. Retrieved 2015-07-29.
  21. ^ Mertz, Emily (28 May 2013). "UPDATE: Councillor Sohi will not run for Edmonton mayor". Global News. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  22. ^ "Human Rights Awards". Archived from the original on 2015-07-16. Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  23. ^ "Cease Men of Honour".
  24. ^ "RISE Awards Brings Out Immigrant Successes". Archived from the original on 2015-07-16.
  25. ^ "Amarjeet Sohi to be acclaimed Liberal candidate for Millwoods". 12 February 2015.
  26. ^ Ryan Tumilty (June 4, 2015). "Liberal leader Justin Trudeau gives boost to Amarjeet Sohi campaign launch". Metro. Archived from the original on July 16, 2015. Retrieved July 16, 2015.
  27. ^ Matt Dykstra (July 10, 2015). "Alberta Federation of Labour President running for federal NDP nomination". Edmonton Sun.
  28. ^ Dave Lazzarino (June 11, 2015). "Edmonton city councillor calls banning niqabs is a 'slippery slope'". Edmonton Sun.
  29. ^ "PM should respond to 'whities' comment: Candidate". Sarnia Observer.
  30. ^ "Tim Uppal has 'no answers' for parents separated from daughter". 11 July 2015.
  31. ^ a b JUSTIN GIOVANNETTI (January 29, 2015). "Bhullar blames 'dirty tricks' for Liberal ballot bust". The Globe and Mail.
  32. ^ a b Althia Raj (February 2, 2015). "Varinder Bhullar, Edmonton Liberal, Accuses Party Of Breaking Open Nominations Pledge". The Huffington Post.
  33. ^ Elise Stolte (October 20, 2015). "Liberal Amarjeet Sohi pulls out a squeaker in Edmonton Mill Woods". Edmonton Journal.
  34. ^ Paige, Parsons (2015-10-29). "Liberal candidate Amarjeet Sohi declared winner following Edmonton Mill Woods recount". Edmonton Journal. Retrieved 2023-06-20.
  35. ^ Le Couteur, Mike (February 4, 2016). "Minister accepted $46K severance package from Edmonton city hall". Global News. Archived from the original on 2016-02-04. Retrieved 2021-06-05.
  36. ^ Robb, Trevor (February 8, 2016). "Former Edmonton councillor Sohi says he earned severance". Edmonton Journal. Archived from the original on 2016-02-10. Retrieved 2021-06-05.
  37. ^ "Full list of Justin Trudeau's cabinet". CBC News.
  38. ^ "Mixed reactions as Edmonton's Amarjeet Sohi appointed to pipeline portfolio". CBC News. 2018-07-18. Archived from the original on 2018-07-20. Retrieved 2021-12-12.
  39. ^ "Unofficial 2021 Election Results | City of Edmonton". Retrieved 2021-10-19.
  40. ^ "List of confirmed candidates". Elections Canada. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  41. ^ "Election Night Results". Elections Canada. Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  42. ^ "Candidate Campaign Returns". Elections Canada. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  43. ^ "Tim Uppal's request for Edmonton-Mill Woods recount granted by judge". CBC News. 23 October 2015. Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  44. ^ "Judicial recount results arriving after narrow election wins". CBC News. 30 October 2015. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  45. ^ "October 19, 2015 Election Results — Edmonton Mill Woods (Results as Certified by a Judge)". Elections Canada. 29 October 2015. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  46. ^ Elections Canada – Final Candidates Election Expenses Limits

External links Edit

29th Ministry – Cabinet of Justin Trudeau
Cabinet posts (2)
Predecessor Office Successor
Jim Carr Minister of Natural Resources
July 18, 2018 – November 20, 2019
Seamus O'Regan
Ministry Created Minister of Infrastructure and Communities
November 4, 2015 – July 18, 2018
François-Philippe Champagne