Video from Canada falsely shared as 'Hindu feast for UK PM Rishi Sunak staff'

Copyright © AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

A video has attracted tens of thousands of views in social media posts that falsely claim it shows staff of Rishi Sunak, Britain's first Hindu prime minister, celebrating a harvest festival observed across India and Sri Lanka. The clip actually shows police officers and local figures in Ontario, Canada taking part in an event organised by a Tamil cultural group.

"Viral Video of UK defense & PM's office staff celebrating Pongal/Makar Sankranti festival. A welcome change," reads a Facebook post shared on January 17.

The video, which has more than 18,000 views, shows a group of people eating food from what appears to be banana leaves.

The Hindu harvest festival of Pongal is celebrated by Tamil communities, particularly in southern India and Sri Lanka, to mark the start of the Tamil month of Thai in mid-January.

In northern Indian states, a similar harvest festival called Makar Sankranti falls in January.

Rishi Sunak, a practising Hindu with Punjabi roots, was appointed as Britain's first prime minister of colour in October 2022. The move was cheered by Indians who still consider him a son of the soil.

Screenshot of the false post taken on January 27, 2023

The video was shared in similar posts on Facebook, Twitter and reports by news outlets including Free Press Journal and Unnati TV.

Pongal in Canada

A keyword search on Facebook found the video posted on a page called "Tamil Culture Waterloo Region" on January 15.

The page's description says it "promotes Tamil and events in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada".

The caption on the video says: "TCA (Tamil Culture Association) Tamil Thai Pongal Celebration (Tamil Thanksgiving) region of Waterloo politicians, Regional Chair City Mayors, councilors and Police Chief and staff."

Below is a screenshot comparison of the video shared in false posts (left) and the Tamil Culture Waterloo Region's video (right):

Comparison of the screenshot of the viral video (left) and video shared by the Tamil Culture group (right).

At the video's 22-second mark, a police officer is seen wearing a uniform featuring the Canadian flag, which corresponds to the uniform worn by officers at the Waterloo Regional Police Service.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the officer in the video (left) and the photo from the Tamil Culture Association (TCA) website (right).

Screenshot comparison of a police officer in the video (left) and the Waterloo Regional Police Force's uniform (right)

Responding to the false posts, a TCA spokesman told AFP that the video was filmed on January 14 at a school in Kitchener in Ontario.

He shared various photos taken at the celebration, which include pictures of police officers wearing uniforms featuring the Canadian flag and "Waterloo Regional Police".

Photos of the festival celebration published on the Tamil Culture Waterloo association's website

The spokesman added that guests at the event included local politician Tim Louis, who posted images of the meal on Twitter on January 16.