Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

Sat Nam Readers and Happy Canada Day!

The last post briefly covered the initial immigration of Sikhs to Canada and the challenges faced by them.  I beg forgiveness that the post could not do justice to the richness of that part of our history.  Future posts will look more thoroughly at the issue of the contributions made by those who came before us.

Today’s post will, again briefly, talk about our present – the challenges we’ve overcome, the accomplishments and the contributions of Sikhs in Canada recently.   There are far too many contributions to consider for one post, so this post will focus on the efforts made to educate Canada about the importance of our turbans and earning the right to wear them while doing work that contributes to our society.

Sadly, I’ve had to read through a lot of ignorance doing today’s research – ignorance is all over the internet.  Happily, it doesn’t seem to get much attention and does seem to be marginalized.  Excuse me, while I do a little happy dance in my kitchen in honour of marginalizing and eliminating ignorance and hate…

Baltej Singh Dhillon Ji

Baltej Singh Dhillon Ji is an RCMP officer, now a Staff Sargeant with the RCMP’s Provincial Intelligence Centre, was the first RCMP member to be permitted a turban as part of his uniform.  He had volunteered with the RCMP previously.  At the time he applied to join, the turban was against policy.  However, he had the then Commissioner on his side.  Pressure was put on the Canadian government to amend the policy.  A petition with 150,000 signatures was put forward opposing the change.  There was concern that allowing a turbaned member of the RCMP would somehow water down the Canadian icon that is the RCMP stetson and red serge.  Despite the resistance, the Attorney General at the time, made the policy change and Dhillon ji entered Depot (the RCMP training school in Regina, Saskatchewan) as a turbaned cadet) in 1990.  He also worked as an investigator in the infamous Air India bombing case.

Other Sikhs have also won the same right in their respective Canadian police services and in the Canadian Armed Forces.  Below, you will find a handful of them.

Calgary police officer Det. Jasbir Kainth turban
Det. Jasbir Kainth, Calgary
Police Service
Gurvinder Singh Chal,
Winnipeg Police Service
Canadian Sikh soldiers

As Sikhs have been busy educating society and fighting these battles (rather quietly), they have also helped paved the way for other groups who should enjoy the same religious accomodation.  Muslim women can now wear hijab during most employment in Canada, for example.  It is simply become less and less an issue.

Soccer turban ban reversedLast year, the Quebec Soccer Federation banned players who wore turbans from playing in their leagues, citing “safety” concerns.  This move was backed by the sitting premier of Quebec, former P.M. Pauline Marois (more on her later).  That seemed rather ludicrous given that the non-turbaned players were wearing no head protection at all… but that’s beside the point.  The Canadian Soccer Association responded by suspending the Quebec Soccer Federation.  Suspending them… awesome and way to stand up for the rights of everyone!  A mere 5 days later, the Quebec Soccer Federation suddenly claimed to have received “clarification” from FIFA and reversed the ban.  In reality, the ban was reversed because the public backlash against banning turbaned players and the suspension by the Canadian Soccer Association worked to end the discriminatory behaviour.

Perhaps the biggest battle won (so far) is the recent Quebec election.  A little background [this whole incident will be the subject of a future post as well]… Pauline Marois’s short-live PQ government attempted to introduce and pass a law called the “Quebec Charter of Values”, which has been a highly criticized (as anti-Islamic, antisemitic and prejudicial) piece of legislation that was aimed against minorities in order to draw the vote of the majority.  The law would have prohibited turbans, hijabs, and other religious dress of any sort from being worn by Quebec civil servants.  However, Marois and her party grossly misunderstood the attitudes of the “majority”.  She and her party were rather mercilessly dumped when the election was called, due in large part commentators say, to their anti-minority practices.  Good on Quebec voters and good, obviously, for Quebec Sikhs and others who will not have to fight yet another fight to keep their turbans.  In any event, the Quebec Charter of Values would never have withstood scrutiny by the Supreme Court of Canada, which is bound to uphold the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That any politician thought that such discrimination would work in this country is sad frankly.  The fact that the voters saw through and rejected the thinking is a great sign of how far we’ve come.  There’s work to do yet, though as this flyer, distributed in Brampton last year shows:

We’ve removed the website this racist flyer points to.  They won’t be getting any attention or clicks as a result of this blog.  It is enough to say that the organization that created this garbage is as racist as you would guess from their flyer.  So yes, still much more work to be done.

But we are getting there!

A few other highlights:

In 2003, the Government of Ontario passed the Sikh Heritage Month Act making the month of April dedicated to Sikh heritage.

In British Columbia, the Motor Vehicle Act was recently amended to allow Sikhs who normally keep kesh and wear turbans, to wear a turban of specific length instead of a motorcycle helmet while riding motorcycles.

In 2011, Lieutenant-Colonel Harjit Singh Sajjan became the first Sikh Canadian military commander when he assumed commend of the British Columbia regiment.

Punjabi is now, according to the 2011 census, the most widely spoken of the immigrant languages in Canada, after the official languages of English and French.

That’s a lot to celebrate for now, readers!  Sat Nam and see you next time.