August, 2020

We Are All Maple

Vancouver’s filmmaker Jasleen Kaur is spreading awareness about violence and gender inequality through her documentary on Maple Batalia

If you were to walk the streets of Surrey, BC, I’m sure that most people you talked to would know the name Maple Batalia. Not only was she breathtakingly gorgeous, but she was an intelligent, goal-oriented powerhouse of a 19-year-old who was studying health sciences at SFU, all while pursuing a career in acting and modelling. On September 28, 2011, she was shot and stabbed right outside of Simon Fraser University.

Maple’s story had ignited a fire inside of me. I was angry and wanted answers, just like so much of our community. Although we had never met, I felt that Maple and I would have been friends if we had, and I also came to learn that we were born on the exact same day: March 4, 1992. In 2016, just shy of graduating from film school, and just as Gary Dhaliwal was sentenced for her murder, it was time to put my education to the test.

I decided I was going to make a film about her in an effort to shed light on the issues surrounding her death. I contacted her family and friends, and within a few months I had gathered the necessary interviews, along with a renewed sense of responsibility to tell this story right. Maple’s friends told me about a girl who didn’t like attention, who was a complete goofball, and who would drop everything to go help a friend. I wanted the world to know the true heart of who she was, and not just make their own assumptions based on a few model photos strewn across news sites. She was just like anyone you knew, and the hashtag #WeAreAllMaple was started to show that this could have happened to any of us. This is why we needed to ensure it didn’t happen again.

The film has been screened all over BC, in Seattle and even in Houston, TX. A young student told his teacher after a screening at the Bell Centre: “I’m not going to let this happen to my friends.” Legendary Developments donated $26,000 to scholarships in Maple’s name at a screening last year on what would have been Maple’s 26thbirthday. I’m so proud of what this film has accomplished, and I’m thrilled that the RCMP continues to use it in programs with their officers, and also in high schools across the province.

Maple’s death is a wound in our community that will never heal. I see it in the faces of everyone who comes to show their support at screenings. I hear it in the hauntingly beautiful lyrics of the poetry that Maple’s mother writes and performs. It’s a type of pain that doesn’t go away, but this type of pain is one that has compelled people to promote change and speak out against injustice.

How does something like this happen? I think that’s a question that people have been trying to answer for over seven years now. Maple’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Gary Dhaliwal, was a tumultuous one. He didn’t support her career endeavours, he constantly belittled her, and he prevented her from hanging out with her friends with his emotional manipulation. After a series of violent acts towards her and others around her, Maple finally broke things off. However, Gary didn’t just go away after that. He continued to harass and threaten her with phone calls and text messages, with numbers reaching in the thousands. In the end, he decided that if he couldn’t have her, no one could and carried out the murder of an innocent girl who never saw it coming.

The outrage surrounding this tragedy sparked discussion in our community about violence and gender inequality, and I implore each and every one of you reading this to contribute to that discussion.

Every time you hear a misogynistic comment and let it slide, you are being complicit in a culture that allows people to say things like “boys will be boys”. Do what you can to speak out against injustices, even seemingly smaller ones like a boy being told he shouldn’t play with dolls or a girl being given an earlier curfew than her brother solely on the basis of gender. All of these little things contribute to a larger problem.

Lastly, can we please get over the stigma of mental health already, particularly in the South Asian community? The fact is, Gary needed help. And being from a community that views mental health as a taboo, I don’t know if he would have easily been able to discuss how he was feeling or even understood how to get the help he clearly needed. That needs to change. Parents, I can’t stress to you how important it is to talk to your children about their feelings, and really get to know them as individuals. Strong emotional development while young is critical to one’s wellbeing as an adult.

Whether you’re in an abusive relationship, or you’re simply not feeling happy in life, there’s no shame in asking for help. Don’t let the stigma detract you from taking care of yourself. Log kya kahenge? Screw that. It doesn’t matter what other people think. Your health comes first.

Never forget Maple Batalia. #WeAreAllMaple

Jasleen Kaur is a filmmaker from Vancouver, BC and a graduate of Capilano University’s Bachelor of Motion Picture Arts Degree Program. She is best known for her award-winning documentary “Remembering Maple” which profiles the life and loss of Maple Batalia. She now lives in Toronto, ON and works at Hodgee Films as a Producer and Editor. Their latest film, “Who Let the Dogs Out”, is premiering at SXSW Film Festival in Austin later this year.


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