Canadian Politics-5 : Judi Tyabji & Sandi Hawkins played pioneers

More women of Indian descent preferred federal politics than provincial politics. But Judi Tyabji and Sandi Hawkins were exceptions.

Judeline Kim Mary Tyabji, also known as Judi Tyabji,  was the first woman of Indian origin to be elected to any legislature in Canada. In 1991, Judi Tyabji was declared successful from the newly created Riding of Okanagan East. Representing Liberals, she defeated a sitting Cabinet Minister and senior NDP leader. She was not only the youngest MLA on record till that time but also the only successful Liberal candidate from the entire interior region of the province. She also had the distinction of being the first legislator to give birth to a child.

Though, her first attempt to get into the British Columbia legislature in a byelection from Boundary Similkameen and then re-election in 1996 as a nominee of a party (Progressive Democratic Alliance)  she and her second husband Gordon Wilson had floated, were unsuccessful, she remained active on political front. She subsequently contested municipal elections and won.

Born in Kolkata (then Calcutta) on January 2, 1965, to English and Indian parents, she moved to Canada in mid 70s and graduated from University of Victoria and joined Liberal party. Her father Alan Tyabji was into wine business.

After retiring from politics, she took to writing, broadcasting and print media.

In 1996 when Judi Tyabji failed to get into British Columbia for the second successive time, another woman of Indian descent, Satinder Kaur Ahluwalia, popular as Sandi Hawkins in provincial politics, was elected on Liberal ticket from Okanagan East. She was re-elected in 2001 in the new riding of Kelowna-Mission, and elected to a third term in 2005. 

Before her election to the Legislative Assembly, Ms. Hawkins worked as a registered nurse in general duty, intensive care, management, education and consulting. She set up her own company as a lawyer with an interest in medical-legal issues. She received both her bachelor of nursing and her bachelor of law degrees from the University of Calgary. Ms. Hawkins had a post-graduate certificate in neuroscience nursing from the Montreal Neurological Hospital. She was recognized as one of the first nurses in Canada to be certified in neuroscience nursing by the Canadian Nurses Association.

A nurse, lawyer and politician, Sindi Hawkins was a warm-hearted woman with a ribald sense of humour  who was later diagnosed with leukaemia in 2004. Once cancer was detected, she decided not to contest the 2009 elections and died in September  2010 at the age of 52. During her treatment, it was her sister who was the donor twice for bone marrow transfusion.

Hawkins was passionate about high-quality health care and launched her own golf tournament to raise money for cancer. As a result of her public fight with the disease, the B.C. Southern Interior Cancer Centre was renamed the Sindi Ahluwalia Hawkins Cancer Centre.

She ran for the legislature in 1996 and became the first Sikh woman elected in the province’s history. She held two ministerial positions, including the head of intergovernmental affairs and minister of health planning. As a member of the cabinet, she fought to increase the number of nurses in B.C. Under her watch, the province expanded medical campuses at the University of Victoria, University of Northern British Columbia and in the University of British Columbia Okanagan.

After Judi Tyabji and Sandi Hawkins, a number of women of Indian descent made a remarkable entry to Provincial politics. In British Columbia, the third woman of Indian origin to make it to the Provincial Parliament was  Patty Sahota, also a Liberal.

 In Ontario, it was Amrit Mangat who had the distinction of becoming the first Sikh woman to sit in the Provincial Assembly. In Alberta, Leela Aheer was first elected in 2015 and again in 2019. Other women of Indian origin to sit in the Alberta Provincial Assembly are Rakhi Pancholi of NDP and Rajan Sawhney of United Conservative. Rajan Sawhney also happens to be the Minister for Transportation,

She is also the Vice-President of the Sikh Society of Calgary and Director of Guru Nanak Public School.

After Amrit Mangat, a number of South Asian migrant women have been represented on the Ontario Provincial Assembly. They include Dipika Damerla, Indira Naidu Harris, Harinder Malhi, Nina Tangri (Associate Minister in Doug Ford government), Sara Singh, Goldie Ghamari (Parliamentary Assistant), and  Doly Begum (from Bangladesh). 

In British Columbia, Jinny Jogindera Sims has become the first South Asian migrant to remain Member of Parliament as well as Member of Provincial Parliament and a Cabinet Minister in her province. Rachna Singh, Nikki Sharma and Harwinder Sandhu are among other South Asian migrant women to sit in BC Assembly.

Provinces like Manitoba and Saskatchewan are yet to elect their first South Asian migrant woman MPP or MLA.

* Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered  Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events and hosting TV shows. For more in-depth analysis please visit  or follow him on