Douglas Todd: Why Sikhs are so powerful in Canadian politics

Another interesting piece by Todd. Their political impact is greatly helped by their concentration in a number of ridings in the Lower Mainland and the 905. All parties tend to run Canadian Sikh candidates in these ridings:

The Sikh connection had been working well for Justin Trudeau, as it did for Jean Chretien. Punjabi Canadians, most of whom are Sikh, gave Trudeau a big leg up in nabbing the leadership of the federal Liberal party, which soon led him to the commanding heights of the prime minister’s office.

But Punjabi/Sikh support has come back to haunt Trudeau’s popularity. It ignited controversy in his January visit to India, where he appeared linked to backers tied to Sikh militants, some wanting to carve out a theocratic homeland in India called Khalistan.

How did it get to this? Why do Canadian Sikhs punch so much above their weight? How, to the envy of other minority groups, are they so adept at turning grassroots activism into serious political clout?

After all, the country only has 500,000 Sikhs, accounting for a little more than one per cent of all Canadians.

But more than 12 per cent of federal Liberal cabinet ministers are Sikhs, including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. There are 14 Liberal Sikh MPs, says Kwantlen Polytechnic University political scientist Shinder Purewal. Liberals hold all nine federal ridings in which Punjabi Sikhs predominate, says Purewal, plus 11 more in which the South Asian population is significant.

Sikhs also profoundly shape the New Democratic Party. They played a huge role in the elevation of Jagmeet Singh to leadership of the federal NDP.

This is not to mention their over-sized clout in provincial politics in Ontario and also in B.C., where Sikhs were early supporters of former NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh and recent Liberal premier Christy Clark. Purewal counts six current B.C. MLAs who are Sikh (five NDP and one Liberal).

Most of the time Sikhs’ impressive ability to shape Canadian politics stays below the public’s radar. But it came to an embarrassing head for Trudeau in India – in part because of the shady figure of Jaspal Atwal, a one-time Sikh terrorist convicted decades ago of shooting an Indian politician who was visiting Vancouver Island.

Neither Trudeau nor any Liberal can explain how Atwal was invited to high-level Trudeau functions in India. The Atwal affair, which sparked outraged headlines across India, has many people in India worried that Trudeau and other Liberal MPs are too closely tied to Sikh separatists, some of whom appear to glorify the man who masterminded the bombing of an Air India flight in 1985, which killed 329 innocents.

And such incendiary connections are not confined to Trudeau’s Liberals, since similar suspicions have been levelled at the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, whom India refuses to give a visa, in part because he has a history as a lawyer of defending militants fighting for a separate Sikh homeland and because he lobbied for a 1984 pogrom against Sikhs in India to be labelled a “genocide” by the government of Ontario.

Here’s a short primer on how Sikh politics often works in Canada.

The grassroots process typically begins with board elections at hundreds of Canadian gurdwaras; especially in Vancouver suburbs such as Surrey, in neighbourhoods of Calgary and in Toronto suburbs such as Mississauga and especially Brampton (where Singh is centred).

The competition to run a gurdwara, which acts like a community centre even for non-religious Punjabis, often pits so-called moderate Sikhs against fundamentalists, a minority of whom want to create a separate Sikh homeland. The faction that ends up controlling a gurdwara, Purewal says, “gains the upper hand.”

The 10 to 20 individuals (almost always men) who run the gurdwara not only gain access to pools of money (typically religious donations made in cash), Purewal says, they’re also able to influence a circle of 40 to 50 extended families. The group that operates a gurdwara, Purewal says, can effectively obtain funds and temple volunteers on behalf of their partisan favourite. They often man a table in the temple on behalf of their politician, “particularly on weekends when devotees come by the hundreds.”

Another little-understood factor that enhances the effectiveness of many Sikh leaders is their traditional caste, says Purewal. “The dominant caste among Punjabi Canadians is Jatt, which is a landowning warrior caste,” he says. The high status of a Jatt leader “makes it easier for certain politicians of Sikh faith to mobilize their relatives, extended families and friends.”

The NDP’s Singh, despite playing down his family’s upper-caste origins, has proved adept at gurdwara politics, particularly at winning the “backing of Sikh temples with (Khalistan) secessionist tendencies,” Purewal says. “As they say, ‘money is the mother’s milk of political campaigns,’ and temples have a lot of it, in cash.” Before winning the leadership of the NDP, Singh signed up an astonishing 10,000 party members in B.C. alone.

Barj Dhahan, a noted Punjabi philanthropist, also has first-hand experience of how temple politics works among Canadians Sikhs, since he competed in 2014 for the federal Liberal candidacy in the riding of Vancouver South.

“Punjabi Sikh voters are very much into their politics,” Dhahan confirms. At one level, Dhahan admires the grassroots activism. At another level he’s concerned many can be manipulated by it.

Sikh-Canadians’ political power is greatest at the local party level, Dhahan says — at determining who is nominated to represent ridings, and in gathering bulk members to vote for a candidate to become a provincial or national leader of a party.

Despite Dhahan’s high profile and good standing in the party, Dhahan says the federal Liberals in 2015 pressured him not to run for a seat in the riding of Vancouver South, which has a large Punjabi Canadian population. Instead, Dhahan said Liberal officials manoeuvred for the only declared candidate to be Sajjan, whom Trudeau appointed minister of defence.

Punjabi Canadians, Dhahan said, “mostly punch above their weight at nomination battles and for political party leadership. They can attract new members very effectively. This is where they put their energy. This is where they can do mass recruitments. And this is where they can deliver.”

Looking into the future of Sikh-Canadian politics, however, Dhahan suggested it is Sikhs above age 55 who are most “driven by personalities.” They’re the most inclined to vote for a political candidate based on little more than the recommendation of a strong Sikh leader, mostly because of family, ethnic, caste or religious loyalties.

The younger generation of Sikhs are more willing, Dhahan said, to quiz candidates on their actual principles. Like most Canadians, Dhahan says, younger Punjabi Sikhs “are more likely to ask, ‘What do you stand for?’ They’re less likely to join a political party because their father tells them to do so.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Why Sikhs are so powerful in Canadian politics

It’s the Atwal effect — and nobody’s immune: Terry Milewski

Good reminder that all parties are playing this game:

The tsunami is spreading far from the epicentre of the Jaspal Atwal earthquake. And it doesn’t discriminate between political parties.

The Liberals, of course, have been the ones swept farthest out to sea. A week after Atwal — a former wannabe hitman for the Sikh separatist cause — was summoned to dine with Justin Trudeau in India, the prime minister and his national security adviser were neck-deep and clinging to a conspiracy theory.

It was an Indian plot, they said, meant to make us look soft on separatism. So far, the theory isn’t selling well.

But are the Conservatives and the NDP still high and dry? Not exactly. Take the case of the Conservatives first.

The motion that did not move

Hoping to paint the Liberals as soft on terror, the Tories drafted a parliamentary motion this week that states that the party “values the contributions of Canadian Sikhs” but condemns “all forms of terrorism, including Khalistani extremism and the glorification of any individuals who have committed acts of violence.”

It was a trap, of course. Had the Liberals voted yes to the motion, they would have been repudiating some of their Khalistani allies. If they’d voted no, they’d have been caught in bed with them.

The word “glorification,” of course, takes aim at a painful topic for families of the victims of the Air India Flight 182 bombing: the re-branding of the man who planned the terrorist act as a saintly hero.

Parmar poster

A martyr poster of Air India bombing architect Talwinder Singh Parmar is seen fixed to the exterior of the Dashmesh Darbar Temple in Surrey, B.C. on Oct. 3, 2017. (CBC)

He is Canada’s deadliest mass-murderer by far: Talwinder Singh Parmar, the architect of the 1985 bombing, whose portrait adorns Sikh temples in Surrey, B.C. and Malton, Ont. Children are being taught that the man who blew 329 innocents out of the sky was a model citizen and a persecuted martyr. (Parmar’s role in planning the attack, which was accepted as fact by both the Air India inquiry and the judicial inquiry, was confirmed by the testimony of the man, who admitted to making the bomb.)

So the Conservative motion had a sharp point on it. But there was a problem: as soon as they got wind of it, the separatist lobby, led by the World Sikh Organization, peppered Ottawa with complaints that this was an attack on all Sikhs, not just the violent ones.

A flurry of text messages went out. “They are targe[t]ing the Sikh community and tarnishing us as extremists,” one of the messages said. “Canadians are starting to see us as terrorists when we are not … Everyone please leave voicemails at the offices of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer … Please communicate to them that if the Conservatives carry through and bring this motion forward then we will not welcome them in our Gurdwaras and we will absolutely not support them in the future.”

It was a familiar tactic: claiming that a critique of extremists is an assault on all Sikhs. But by morning, the blitz of messages seemed to have worked — or so the World Sikh Organization claimed.

So, the Conservatives reconsidered — and not for the first time.

​The veneration of Talwinder Parmar became an issue in 2007 at the annual Vaisakhi parade run by the Dashmesh Darbar temple in Surrey, B.C. Then-prime minister Stephen Harper sent two MPs on his behalf: Jim Abbott and Nina Grewal. The Liberals sent Sukh Dhaliwal — an MP again today — and the NDP sent then-MP Penny Priddy.

Along with then-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, they all took the stage alongside Parmar’s son and such other separatist luminaries as Satinderpal Gill of the banned International Sikh Youth Federation. The politicians all smiled and waved as the floats rolled by with tinselled portraits honouring Parmar and other martyrs.

Afterwards, all of them insisted it was no big deal — although Campbell changed his mind the next day and said he would not have attended if he’d known about the martyr posters.

Abbott also changed his mind — in the other direction. First, he said he was “flabbergasted” to realize that the Air India bomber was being lionized in this way. But after consulting with the Conservative Party, he reversed himself and praised the parade unreservedly.

In later years, the temple management responded by fixing a large portrait of Parmar to the outside wall.

India Canada

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, centre, and Punjab state Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, right, gesture along with an unidentified person at the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest site, in Amritsar, India, in November, 2009. (Prabhjot Gill/The Associated Press)

Still, there was not a word about it from Stephen Harper — who, like Justin Trudeau, endured his share of lectures on this topic from his Indian counterparts.

Like Trudeau, Harper emphasized that separatists have freedom of speech in Canada. Neither Harper nor Trudeau thought to mention that Canadian politicians also have freedom of speech — and have rarely used it to denounce the celebration of Parmar.

Or so it was until — oddly enough — the very day the Jaspal Atwal story broke.

The news we all forgot

Nobody remembers it now, but moments before the Atwal wave crashed into his Indian tour last week, Prime Minister Trudeau made some news of his own. In fact, it might have been the story of the day — on any other day.

Trudeau was facing constant demands to clearly repudiate Sikh extremists back home. Pressed in New Delhi by the CBC’s David Cochrane, Trudeau at first ducked a question about the Parmar “martyr” posters. He merely condemned violence and extremism in general.

So Cochrane asked him again: What about those Parmar posters? This time, Trudeau said what so many Canadian politicians have refused to say: “I do not think we should ever be glorifying mass-murderers, and I’m happy to condemn that.”

That was a first. No Canadian leader had said it before. Every Vaisakhi parade, after all, is a vote-rich environment. Condemning violence in broad terms is easy. Condemning voters who revere a specific martyr is harder.

Too hard, apparently, for a politician who has long identified with Sikh grievances against the Indian government. That would be Canada’s first Sikh party leader, Jagmeet Singh, who was asked the same question about the Parmar posters after winning the leadership of the NDP last fall.

In an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics, Singh repeatedly declined to say whether the Parmar posters were appropriate. The following week, when asked again if they should be taken down, he ducked the question (again), saying, “I’m not here to tell what a community should or shouldn’t do.”

via It’s the Atwal effect — and nobody’s immune – Politics – CBC News

How the Liberals’ alleged support of Sikh separatists is fuelling Canada-India tensions

More diaspora politics and the impact on foreign policies.

All political parties court the Sikh Canadian vote given their concentration in a number of ridings (Surrey, Brampton) and their political activism:

When Prime Minister Trudeau headed to the stage at the Sikh-Canadian community’s annual Khalsa Day celebration last month, he was thronged by a cheering, photo-seeking crowd.

It was little surprise, given the Liberal leader is not only a staunch supporter of multiculturalism but also has four MPs of Sikh origin in his cabinet.

Thousands of kilometres away in New Delhi, however, Trudeau’s appearance struck a decidedly more sour note.

The appearance was the latest irritation for an Indian government reportedly worried that the Liberals are too cozy with a peaceful but “growing” Sikh-separatist movement in Canada.

It came three weeks after the Ontario legislature passed a private-member’s motion — introduced by a Liberal MPP — that called the 1984 Sikh massacre in India an act of genocide, a politically explosive label.

India’s Foreign Ministry has issued separate protests to the Trudeau government about each episode, as the Liberals’ traditional politicking among a vote-rich community, combined with the sub-continent’s fraught history, throws a wrench into the two countries’ burgeoning friendship.

“All of those things add up (and) present a picture that isn’t particularly pretty when India is looking at it,” said Anirudh Bhattacharya, Canadian correspondent for the Hindustan Times newspaper. “There was always a concern (in New Delhi) that this particular government would be somewhat beholden to the gatekeepers to the Sikh community, to some of the more radical groups.”

Tossed into the mix have been unsubstantiated allegations by Amarinder Singh, Punjab state’s newly elected “chief minister,” that Trudeau’s Sikh ministers are themselves separatists; and a thwarted terrorist cell in Punjab with alleged Canadian links.

Indian media reports suggest New Delhi was livid about Trudeau’s appearance at the Khalsa Day event April 30, though the public language was more circumspect. “We have taken it up with Canada in the past and the practice has not been discontinued,” said Vishwa Nath Goel of India’s high commission in Ottawa.

Balraj Deol

Balraj DeolFloat in Khalsa Day parade touting Ontario legislative motion on 1984 Sikh “genocide”

Quoting a Foreign Ministry statement, he was more blunt about the Ontario legislature’s Sikh genocide resolution on April 6.

“We reject this misguided motion which is based on a limited understanding of India, its constitution, society, ethos, rule of law and the judicial process,” said Goel.

But a spokesman for the group that organized the event Trudeau attended — and which backs the Ontario motion — said it’s only natural for the prime minister to appear at such functions, regardless of the religion.

Source: How the Liberals’ alleged support of Sikh separatists is fuelling Canada-India tensions | National Post

Why American Sikhs Think They Need A Publicity Campaign : NPR

Given Canada’s large Canadian Sikh population, likely more awareness, but polling shows fewer Canadians view Sikhism positively compared to other religions, save Muslims and Mormons:

Nearly 60 percent of Americans admit knowing nothing at all about Sikhs. That lack of knowledge comes at a deadly cost. In the wake of recent incidents from the 2012 Oak Creek Massacre to a shooting of a Sikh man in Washington this March, the Sikh community is taking a more vocal stand against hate.

This month, the National Sikh Campaign, an advocacy group led by former political strategists, launched a $1.3 million awareness campaign, “We are Sikhs.” Funded entirely by grass-roots donations, the campaign’s ads will air nationally on CNN and Fox News as well as on TV channels in central California — home to nearly 50 percent of the Sikh American population — and online.

Some young Sikhs like Sabrina Rangi, a medical student at Michigan State, are optimistic about the potential impact of the campaign. “I think after years of struggling to find the right words, this campaign is getting it right,” says Rangi. “This initiative embodies everything that Sikhism represents, especially its emphasis on shared values and equality. I see this practiced in the gurdwara, where all of the participants sit together on the floor, beneath our holy book, to symbolize that regardless of gender, race or social standing, we are all one.”

Founded over 500 years ago, Sikhism is a monotheistic religion centered on the teachings of 10 spiritual gurus. Guru Nanak, the founder of the faith, rejected India’s caste system and declared all human beings equal. During Guru Nanak’s time, Indian women were considered property with little social standing. Nanak denounced the sexism of the day by proclaiming women equal and encouraging them to participate in all aspects of the gurdwara, or Sikh temple.

The 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, also promoted the principle of equality. During his time, family names signified social status and caste. To break this tradition, Guru Gobind Singh gave all men the last name “Singh,” meaning lion, and women the name “Kaur,” meaning princess. Sikh turbans, the most visible symbol of the faith, are also a rejection of hierarchy of the caste system. Worn historically by South Asian royalty, the Sikh Gurus adopted the practice of wearing the turban to demonstrate a public commitment to maintaining the values and ethics of the tradition, including service, compassion and honesty.

But the turban’s symbolism is lost on most Americans. According to Ahuja, “Our turbans, which are often perceived as symbols of extremism, are actually representations of equality.” Following Sept. 11, images of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida associates wearing turbans circulated frequently in the media. Heightened national fear in combination with poor awareness of America’s Sikh community has often made Sikhs the victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes.

Valarie Kaur, a Sikh civil rights activist and lawyer, warns that violence against Sikhs is not only cases of mistaken identity. Attacks against Sikhs in the United States pre-date the Sept. 11 attacks. In 1907, a group of Sikh immigrants were driven out of town by xenophobic mobs during the height of the American nativist moment. Whether 1907 or today, according to Kaur, “it appears to matter little to perpetrators of hate crimes whether the person they are attacking is Sikh and not Muslim. They see turbans, beards and brown skin and it is enough for them to see us as foreign, suspect and potentially terrorist. It’s time to retire the term ‘mistaken identity.’ It’s a dangerous term, because it implies that there is a correct target for hate.”

Source: Why American Sikhs Think They Need A Publicity Campaign : Code Switch : NPR

Port de Montréal: la sécurité avant la liberté religieuse, tranche un juge

While decision is likely to be appealed, it is a good example of how reasonable accommodation is applied, including its limits:

Trois sikhs coiffés de turbans, qui estimaient être victimes de discrimination en raison de l’obligation de porter un casque de sécurité au port de Montréal, viennent de perdre leur bataille devant la Cour supérieure. Le juge André Prévost a donné son approbation aux règles qui prévalent sur les quais, jugeant que la sécurité des travailleurs devait ici supplanter leur liberté de religion. Julius Grey, qui défendait les travailleurs, évoque déjà un appel.

Qu’a décidé le juge Prévost ?

Dans une décision de 57 pages, datée d’hier, le magistrat a d’abord indiqué que le fait d’appliquer aux sikhs l’obligation de porter un casque viole leur liberté de religion prévue par la Charte canadienne des droits et constitue de la discrimination. Contrairement à leurs collègues chrétiens, musulmans ou juifs, « il leur est personnellement impossible de respecter l’obligation de porter le casque protecteur sans contrevenir à leurs croyances religieuses », reconnaît la décision.

Toutefois, cette violation est permise « en regard du bien-être général et de la sécurité des citoyens du Québec, vu les risques importants de blessures à la tête existant pour les camionneurs » circulant au port, a écrit le juge Prévost. En conséquence, il l’a approuvée.

Quelle situation a mené au conflit ?

Trois camionneurs de confession sikhe contestaient les règles de sécurité des entreprises portuaires qui gèrent les conteneurs destinés à prendre la mer. Les routiers se rendaient de temps à autre au port pour livrer de la marchandise. En 2005, à la suite d’un accident de travail, le port du casque est devenu obligatoire sur les quais. Les travailleurs sikhs voulaient être exemptés du port du casque. Selon eux, « aucune étude ne démontre un risque de blessure à la tête » pour les travailleurs dans leur situation.

Qu’en est-il des accommodements raisonnables ?

La décision d’hier rapporte qu’un accommodement raisonnable avait été mis en place entre 2005 et 2008 : les camionneurs sikhs demeuraient en tout temps dans l’habitacle de leur camion – échappant ainsi à l’obligation de porter le casque – et des employés venaient à leur rencontre. Mais l’accommodement fâchait à la fois les camionneurs et leurs clients.

« Au lieu de nous servir comme les autres camionneurs, on nous fait attendre pendant des heures sur certains terminaux. Et ça, c’est si on accepte de nous servir. C’est de la discrimination. On nous traite comme des citoyens de deuxième classe », a expliqué à l’époque Harvirender Singh Clair à La Presse. M. Singh Clair était l’un des demandeurs dans la cause. Du côté des entreprises, on évoquait sa « non-viabilité tant du point de vue organisationnel qu’économique », rapporte la décision de justice.

Source: Port de Montréal: la sécurité avant la liberté religieuse, tranche un juge | Philippe Teisceira-Lessard | Actualités judiciaires

Sikh nationalist movement attempts to shed violent past

Interesting:

Advocates for an independent Sikh homeland say they’re looking to the future and pushing for a referendum in India within four years, but the Khalistan movement has been hit by a familiar controversy – an alleged link to extremist violence.

Hardeep Nijjar, a B.C. man who has collected signatures to have anti-Sikh violence in India in the 1980s recognized as genocide, was accused in an Indian newspaper report this week of running a “terror camp” east of Vancouver. Mr. Nijjar was also alleged to be the operational head of a group known as the Khalistan Terror Force and said to be linked to a 2007 attack on a cinema that killed six people. He denied wrongdoing and sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in which he said he has never supported violence.

Sikhs for Justice, a non-profit organization with headquarters in Toronto and New York for which Mr. Nijjar has volunteered, rushed to his defence and accused the Indian government of trying to discredit the push for Sikh self-determination.

The incident highlighted the trouble the Khalistan movement has had shedding its violent reputation, particularly in Canada.

Khalistan proponents were linked to extremist violence in the 1980s, most notably the Air India bombings, which killed 329 people on an airliner and two baggage handlers in Tokyo in 1985. During the subsequent trial, the Crown alleged the bombings were carried out in response to the Indian government’s raid on the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine, a year earlier.

Since the report involving Mr. Nijjar surfaced, the RCMP has said little about his case specifically, or about the Khalistan movement generally. But a former analyst at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said the movement appears to have quieted down in recent years and Canadian law-enforcement agencies have shifted resources elsewhere, such as Islamist extremism.

When asked if the Khalistan movement in Canada will ever be able to move beyond its violent past, Jatinder Grewal, the director of international policy for Sikhs for Justice, said he believes so.

“This idea that India can frame this dialogue solely in the aspects of violence and terrorism is false,” Mr. Grewal, who lives in Toronto, said in an interview.

“The fact is this is a peaceful movement. We just want to hold a referendum.”

Mr. Grewal said Sikhs for Justice, which was founded in 2007, is aiming for a referendum to be held in 2020. He said his organization would like the vote to be open to residents in the northern state of Punjab – which has a Sikh majority and would become an independent state. Mr. Grewal said those who have origins in the state but have since moved elsewhere should also be able to vote.

…Phil Gurski, who worked as a strategic analyst in Canadian intelligence for more than 30 years, including 15 years with CSIS, said it’s unclear how big of a security threat the movement is at this point.

Mr. Gurski, who left CSIS in 2013 and is now the president of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting, said there are undoubtedly fewer law-enforcement resources dedicated to Sikh extremism today than in the past.

“You put your resources where the greatest threat lies and as of today that threat lies with Islamist extremism,” he said in an interview. “It’s not rocket science that when you’re forced to deploy your resources in one direction, you’ve got to take them from somewhere else.”

Shinder Purewal, a political-science professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, said in an interview earlier this week that while the Khalistan movement in Canada has been linked to violence in the past, there have not been such incidents of late.

Source: Sikh nationalist movement attempts to shed violent past – The Globe and Mail

Descendants of Komagata Maru passengers ‘pleased’ by apology

Apologies if made should be done in the House. As former PM Harper discovered, doing so outside satisfies no one (see my earlier Komagatu Maru Apology). Will be particularly powerful with 17 Canadian Sikh MPs:

A century after her great-grandfather was turned away from Canada while on board the Komagata Maru, Sukhi Ghuman will be in the House of Commons this week to hear the Prime Minister apologize for the slight.

“It’s staggering. I don’t think [my great-grandfather] ever thought this moment would come,” says Ms. Ghuman, 36, who will join other descendants of passengers to witness Wednesday’s apology, along with B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

“We’re all just astonished and very pleased Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau has decided to do a formal apology.”

 Mr. Trudeau will be seeking to make amends for what happened in 1914 when the Komagatu Maru arrived in Vancouver’s harbour from Hong Kong with 376 passengers, mostly Sikhs from India.

Only 24 were allowed to land, while the rest remained on board the ship for two months – victims of the era’s exclusionary laws. The ship’s passengers and crew then returned to India, where 19 people were killed on its arrival in Calcutta in a skirmish with British soldiers. Others were jailed.

Harnam Singh Sohi – Ms. Ghuman’s great-grandfather – came from Punjab hoping to work in Vancouver to provide funds for his family in India and bring them to Canada.

Once the ship returned to India, he forever ruled out returning to Canada.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper apologized in 2008, but not in Parliament. Some who were seeking an apology said few knew about Mr. Harper’s apology until it was over.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau will follow up on a long-standing promise and deliver a formal apology in Parliament.

“The laws that were discriminatory against people considered undesirable were passed in Parliament. So the apology being given in Parliament is a circling back to rectify that original wrong,” says Naveen Girn of Vancouver, who has curated exhibitions about the Komagata Maru at Simon Fraser University and Lower Mainland museums.

Mr. Girn, who will also be in Ottawa for the event, notes that a parliamentary apology means the amends are forever preserved in Hansard, which is important.

Source: Descendants of Komagata Maru passengers ‘pleased’ by apology – The Globe and Mail

Behind the sunglasses: Harjit Sajjan’s rise to cabinet

Good profile on Harjit Sajjan (Canada’s new defence minister for foreign readers) – extract on immigration but long-piece worth reading:

In his early weeks as Trudeau’s defence minister, immigration figured prominently for Sajjan. His first pressing assignment was making sure the Canadian Forces contributed to the new government’s signature goal of bringing thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada quickly. Others might wonder how those Syrians will adjust, but Sajjan professes to have no doubts. “They’re going to be up and on their feet so fast—that’s how I remember it,” he says. “It’s not just about skills. It’s about the kind of people you bring in.” He sees the Syrian refugees as certain to be hard working, and their children as “the real immigration strategy.”

To hear him enthuse about the benefits of immigration for Canada, and the near certainty of newcomers achieving the Canadian dream, it’s possible to imagine that his own path might have been—those early berry-picking mornings notwithstanding—a smooth rise to success. That hasn’t been the case. Sajjan is a turban-wearing member of British Columbia’s Sikh minority, a community that has often attracted more than its share of bigotry from outside and been riven by more than its share of strife from within.

Sajjan talks of facing overt racism, particularly when he was training as a reservist in the Canadian military. As well, his entry into politics in 2014 as Liberal candidate in the Vancouver South riding revealed fault lines between Sikhs, although he says those tensions eased in 2015. He is one of four Sikhs in Trudeau’s cabinet—a remarkable contingent for a minority that represents only about 1.4 per cent of the country’s population. The others are Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi and Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger.

In his early weeks as Trudeau’s defence minister, immigration figured prominently for Sajjan. His first pressing assignment was making sure the Canadian Forces contributed to the new government’s signature goal of bringing thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada quickly. Others might wonder how those Syrians will adjust, but Sajjan professes to have no doubts. “They’re going to be up and on their feet so fast—that’s how I remember it,” he says. “It’s not just about skills. It’s about the kind of people you bring in.” He sees the Syrian refugees as certain to be hard working, and their children as “the real immigration strategy.”To hear him enthuse about the benefits of immigration for Canada, and the near certainty of newcomers achieving the Canadian dream, it’s possible to imagine that his own path might have been—those early berry-picking mornings notwithstanding—a smooth rise to success. That hasn’t been the case. Sajjan is a turban-wearing member of British Columbia’s Sikh minority, a community that has often attracted more than its share of bigotry from outside and been riven by more than its share of strife from within.Sajjan talks of facing overt racism, particularly when he was training as a reservist in the Canadian military. As well, his entry into politics in 2014 as Liberal candidate in the Vancouver South riding revealed fault lines between Sikhs, although he says those tensions eased in 2015. He is one of four Sikhs in Trudeau’s cabinet—a remarkable contingent for a minority that represents only about 1.4 per cent of the country’s population. The others are Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi and Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger.

….But given his background—from berry picking, to overcoming bigotry, to battling criminals and insurgents—Sajjan’s perspective is unique in many ways. If that first glimpse of him in a snapshot piqued our interest, it’s the layers behind the sunglasses and beneath the camouflage that make Sajjan a figure to watch as the Trudeau era unfolds.

Source: Behind the sunglasses: Harjit Sajjan’s rise to cabinet

B.C. Sikh community rallies in support of Syrian refugees

Good vignette:

The Sikh community in B.C.’s Lower Mainland is rallying to provide support for thousands of incoming Syrian refugees, with offers this week that include food, transportation and even private school for children.

Randeep Sarai, MP for Surrey Centre, convened a meeting over the weekend where roughly 30 community representatives immediately offered a variety goods and services. The federal government will announce details of its Syrian refugee plan on Tuesday, but – if past distribution models are used – B.C. is projected to receive between 2,500 and 3,500 refugees in the next couple of months.

Community organizer Balwant Sanghera, who attended the meeting, said Gurdwaras from Vancouver, Richmond, New Westminster, Abbotsford and Surrey have all agreed to collect food, clothing, blankets and other donations from their congregations. They also plan to launch a provincewide campaign to find free accommodations for the refugees.

“We are very proud to be Canadians and we are also proud of our heritage,” Mr. Sanghera said. “We feel really good if we can be of any help if we are needed.”

Source: B.C. Sikh community rallies in support of Syrian refugees – The Globe and Mail

Celebrating Sikh soldiers on Remembrance Day

Poppy

Timing is perfect with Canada’s first Sikh Defence Minister:

When Pardeep Singh Nagra was a kid in Mississauga, he didn’t see Sikh soldiers in his history textbooks.

Now, the 45-year-old is standing in a room where you can read about the first Sikh soldier to win a Victoria Cross (Captain Ishar Singh, 1921), look at propaganda posters extolling the virtues of the mighty Sikh whiskers, and admire row upon row of toy soldiers in turbans.

Nagra is the director of the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada, and he was still up at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning, putting the finishing touches on the museum’s “Outwhiskered” exhibit for Remembrance Day. The exhibit covers the 1800s to present, with a major focus on the two world wars, highlighting a history that is often forgotten.

“Let me tell you, I’m going to be all over the place, so don’t mind me,” Nagra says before launching into a whirlwind tour of several centuries of history.

“There is an Indian man in Flanders, but we’ve never been raised or nurtured here, even in our education systems, with this type of stuff,” he says, pausing by a photo of an Indian soldier in Ypres.

Pardeep Singh Nagra, the museum’s Executive Director, poses in front of a 1944 edition of the Picture Post, a British photojournalism magazine.

LUCAS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR/ TORONTO STAR

Pardeep Singh Nagra, the museum’s Executive Director, poses in front of a 1944 edition of the Picture Post, a British photojournalism magazine.

In Canada, 10 Sikh soldiers enlisted for the First World War. None enlisted in the Second World War, fed up with a country that hadn’t given them the right to vote, he said. (That would come in 1947.)

More than 65,000 Sikh soldiers fought in the First World War as part of the British Army and over 300,000 Sikhs fought with the Allies in the Second World War. Their reputation as fierce military men was a staple of Allied propaganda and even Kellogg’s cereal box inserts.

“They wear beards and a long moustache. And all of them wrap their heads in turbans. The Sikhs ride and shoot well. A great many are in the Imperial forces,” reads the back of one Sikh trading card, possibly from the 1940s or 1950s.

At the entrance to the museum, images of Canada’s newest Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan line the walls, drawn recently by students at Khalsa Community School in Brampton. One student has given Sajjan the acrostic poem treatment — H for “Helpful to Sikh community,” A for “Amazing progression in politics and military,” and on from there.

Source: Celebrating Sikh soldiers on Remembrance Day | Toronto Star