Sikh Heritage Month Act

An Act to designate the month of April as Sikh Heritage Month

Sponsor

Sukh Dhaliwal  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of Sept. 19, 2018

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-376.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment designates the month of April in each and every year as ″Sikh Heritage Month″.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2018 / 6:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

moved that Bill C-376, an act to designate the month of April as Sikh heritage month, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House for the second reading stage of Bill C-376.

Before I begin, I would like to thank all 20 members from across Canada, and from all political stripes, who have seconded my bill. I also want to acknowledge the many others who had expressed interest in seconding the bill but could not get on the list due to the maximum limit of 20 having been reached.

I introduced this bill to designate the month of April as Sikh heritage month to ensure that the contributions and history of Sikh Canadians are recognized annually across Canada.

The history of Sikhs in Canada is a story of compassion, hard work, persistence and giving back. The first Sikhs arrived on Canada's shores in 1897. Over the past 121 years, the community has continued to thrive and prosper. The proud traditions of community leadership and providing the next generation with strong role models continues to this day. This bill is about setting a foundation for every generation to recognize the hard work, struggles and ultimately the contribution made by Sikhs in building Canada as a nation.

Canada is known around the world as a welcoming, diverse and tolerant nation. This is the result of Canadians of all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures making sure that Canada became a country that we could all be proud of. This is one of the reasons we observe Italian, Tamil, Jewish and Asian heritage months, among many others, to recognize, honour and remember just exactly who we are. The values, principles and ideals that unite us all is a universal theme for Canadians.

As then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau stated, “A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate....we must continue to cherish...not concepts of uniformity but human values: compassion, love, and understanding.”

A historical understanding is the most important act of reflection a country can provide for its future generations. It is our obligation to ensure that society is always changing for the better.

With the support of members in this House, the month of April will become Sikh heritage month. This is significant because the month of April is important to all Sikhs. This is when Khalsa Day and Vaisakhi is celebrated, which marks the birth of Khalsa and his teachings of equality, selfless service and social justice.

Canada has one of the largest Sikh populations in the world. My riding of Surrey—Newton is home to the largest Khalsa Day and Vaisakhi parade outside of India, with over half a million attendees each and every year.

I mentioned earlier the history of Sikhs in Canada began in 1897, when officers of the British Army arrived. These Sikh soldiers were known as loyal fighters and were an integral part of the efforts in World War I and II.

I want to to recognize the efforts of individuals such as Mr. Steve Purewal of Indus Media Foundation in British Columbia and members of the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada in Ontario. They have done an excellent job of collecting artifacts and sharing the history of the many battles Sikhs have fought in and the rich history of Sikhs living in Canada.

By the early 1900s, Sikh pioneers entered Canada and began to work in resource industries such as forestry and mining. This was a tightknit community that stuck together to overcome many obstacles, whether it was finding employment or being accepted within society, all the while leaving behind their families in India.

In 1908, the Sikh community came together to build the first gurdwara in Canada located in Vancouver. This became a centre for faith, shelter, advocacy and gathering, where community leaders worked to find ways to make a positive impact on the larger Canadian community.

Soon after in 1911, a gurdwara was constructed in Abbotsford, BC, which still exists to this day. It is the first gurdwara outside of India and Pakistan to be recognized as a national Canadian historic site.

By 1947, Sikhs were able to vote in federal elections. They embraced the right to cast a ballot, viewing civic participation as more than a right, but as an essential part of citizenship.

Laws began to change that would allow those of Sikh faith to be considered equal members of Canadian society.

It is also important to acknowledge that the journey Sikhs have endured in Canada has not always been easy. Along the way, the community faced intolerance and prejudice. These challenges effectively made Sikhs second-class citizens by being subjected to unfair labour laws.

Many Canadians know about the terrible Komagata Maru incident and the rejection of Sikhs who had arrived in Vancouver looking for a new beginning. They were turned away simply because of discriminatory laws.

However, we are doing our part as a government to correct these historical wrongs. The formal apology in the House by the Prime Minister, also the member for Papineau, in 2016 showed that we as a nation have progressed.

I would like to acknowledge the work done by Mrs. Sukhvinder Kaur Thind, who unfortunately passed away on September 5, 2017, for her tireless advocacy and support in bringing about the formal apology in the House. This apology affirmed true reconciliation with the Sikh community in Canada and provided a new path to a more unified and integrated future.

The rich Sikh history in Canada is very personal to me because it is also reflective of my own personal journey, because it is how I am able to stand in the House and present this bill.

In 1984, because of the work done by Sikh pioneers in Canada, I decided to migrate to this country and along with my wife Roni, and with the help of my mom, Amarjit Kaur Dhaliwal and my dad, Hardial Singh Dhaliwal, who passed away on September 29, 2015, we were able to raise our three beautiful children Keerat, Joat Amol and Arjan.

As the Prime Minister said when he visited the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada, “the story of the Sikh community in Canada is, in fact, just the story of Canada.”

It is a story about brave soldiers who fought to defend democracy. It is a story of early settlers and pioneers who worked in the agriculture fields, in mines, in lumber mills and on the railroads. It is a story of the first Sikh gurdwara built in 1908. It is a story of prejudiced laws being used to reject fellow British subjects on the Komagata Maru. It is a story of becoming Canadian citizens in 1947. It is a story of entrenching equality, fairness and justice in the laws of this land. It is a story of athletes, world renowned business leaders, working professionals and philanthropists rising to prominence. It is a story of elected officials, ministers, a premier, a federal opposition party leader and a senator.

This is all a part of the ideal Canadian experience that today I am proud to be able to share, recognize and celebrate.

In closing, I hope that all members of this House and the Senate will join me in passing this bill to honour the history and heritage of Sikhs in Canada, and share the story with future generations so that we remain a strong, diverse and inclusive nation.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2018 / 6:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for bringing this bill forward. Many of us of Sikh heritage are excited for the previous generation to see this bill. Does the hon. member think that those in the next generation are excited? I have three kids and he has three kids as well. What would the bill bring for our future generations?

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2018 / 6:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for being a seconder on this bill.

As the hon. member mentioned, he has two sons and a daughter, and I have two daughters and a son. When this bill passes in the House of Commons, it then becomes a part of history. When we celebrate Sikh heritage month year after year, it will educate them. This celebration will not only educate the children of the Sikh community but each and every Canadian child, and they are our future. This is a way to bring communities together to celebrate the diversity of Canada together. This is the strength of Canada, and this will strengthen Canada even more.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2018 / 6:35 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague and friend from Surrey—Newton for bringing forward this very important legislation. I am who I am today, in good part, because of the Sikh community. Sikhism has been a critical aspect of more than half my life. In fact, I would not be here today if I did not have the support of my extended family in the Sikh community.

To get an appreciation of what Sikhism is all about, one only need look at Canada's diversity, just how rich we are and how much we have been blessed by the Sikh community in every region of our country. As that community grows, we have seen a very strong, healthy and vibrant community. In Winnipeg North, for example, it drives the economy second to no other community. It has contributed so much since 1988, whether it is gurdwaras in Winnipeg, Abbotsford, Vancouver, Calgary or all across the Punjab. I believe that with this piece of legislation, the member is recognizing the month of April as a month when Canadians in all regions, as he himself put it, can celebrate Sikhism and how it has contributed to every aspect of our society today in Canada.

On behalf of the residents of Winnipeg North, I thank the member and appreciate his efforts in bringing forward this very important piece of legislation.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2018 / 6:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank the member for Winnipeg North. I have had numerous opportunities to go to Winnipeg North and was pleased to invite the hon. member to come to Surrey—Newton to speak in a local gurdwara. I had the honour of travelling with him to Punjab, India, and witness the passion the member carries for the community. It is not only that he is thankful to the community, but, in fact, the community is very thankful to the member, who is passionate and always willing to help the Sikh community rise and help children get to the next phase. I hope the member's inspiration will be passed on to future generations. That will sew the seeds and blaze the trails that the children of Canada will follow very proudly, and keep making us a proud and strong nation.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2018 / 6:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-376, an act to designate the month of April as Sikh heritage month. I am grateful to my colleague across the floor, the member for Surrey—Newton, for introducing this bill and helping to bring it to this stage.

This is an important issue for me, as a Sikh Canadian myself. I am thankful to be able to speak here and be a strong representative of my heritage and the larger Sikh community on this important observance.

As I mentioned previously, I strongly support the bill and its intention to designate, going forward, the month of April each year as Sikh heritage month. In fact, I was the seconder, as the hon. member mentioned, of the bill when it was originally introduced.

Sikhism is a religion practised by over 35 million followers all over the world. In fact, Canada is a home to over half a million Sikhs, making it the second-largest Sikh population in the world next to India. That is significant and it is deserving of recognition.

It is widely believed that the very first Sikh settlers who arrived in Canada migrated from northern India and set foot on Canadian soil in 1897 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Those settlers would then pave the way for all other immigrants from South Asia to enter Canada and make this great country their home.

Those first immigrants settled in British Columbia. Sikh heritage month is very dear to me. Many of those first, original settlers came from back home in the village of Paldi where my mother came from. As they arrived, they came with no money. They did not speak the language. They came to ensure they joined the workforce.

In the early 1900s, they settled on Vancouver Island and called the place Paldi, the name of the village where the family came from, and they built the first gurdwara in Paldi back in 1919.

For over 120 years, Sikhs have been contributing to Canadian society and to the Canadian economy.

From 1904 to 1908, approximately 5,000 Punjabi immigrants, mostly men, entered Canada and became part of the workforce. This was the real beginning of Sikh migration from South Asia to Canada.

It has not been an easy road for us, as Sikh Canadians. There have been some tough times and some very historically tragic events for Sikhs in Canada. Despite being welcomed to Canada and being able to join the workforce and make a living in Canada, a very humble living at the beginning but a living nonetheless, that welcome was to be later taken away. However, despite the hardship, we as a people have overcome and we have remained here. We have become a strong thread in the fabric of this great nation. We have made and will continue to make rich and significant contributions to Canadian society.

In 1914, hundreds of our people were looking for a better life for themselves and their families. They sought that in Canada and they were denied entry. The result of the Komagata Maru incident was tragic and horrifying, but that has not stopped Sikhs from continuing to migrate to this great nation and continuing to make a strong impact on Canada as a whole.

We are a strong people and we have endured and risen above the persecution and tragedy too, as I mentioned, to make Canada the home to over half a million Sikhs.

It is important that we, as Canada's Parliament, ensure that the Sikh heritage is recognized and that we celebrate the contribution Sikh Canadians have made to Canada's social, economic, political and cultural fabric, and also that we recognize the richness of the Punjabi language and culture and the Gurmukhi script.

It is also significant that April is the month that is designated to celebrate Sikh heritage month. April is an important month in the Sikh faith. It is the month in which we celebrate Vaisakhi. Vaisakhi is a historical and religious festival in the Sikh religion that marks the new year. It has always been celebrated on April 13 or 14 every year since the tradition began.

Vaisakhi commemorates the founding of the Sikh community known as the Khalsa under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. Through a special ceremony, which gave Sikhs the distinct Khalsa identity, Guru Gobind Singh provided our community the opportunity to live lives of courage, sacrifice and equality. He also called upon Sikhs to dedicate their lives to the service of others and the pursuit of justice.

Every year in April, Sikhs gather in cities across Canada and worldwide to celebrate through parades, entertainment and gatherings of family and friends. In addition, Vaisakhi observes a number of major events in the history of Sikhism and also celebrates the winter harvest. Obviously, April is an important month and is most definitely the appropriate time to recognize Sikh heritage month.

Sikh heritage month would provide Sikhs and Canadians alike with an opportunity to reflect on, celebrate and educate future generations about the inspirational role that Sikh Canadians have played and continue to play in communities across Canada.

Also of note is the fact that the Province of Ontario already observes Sikh Heritage Month in the month of April each year, as does the City of Brampton. Therefore, it is only appropriate that we should be taking the lead federally on these types of observances instead of playing catch-up with our provincial and municipal counterparts. Support for the bill would ensure that we are taking a leadership role on this front for all of the provinces and cities across the country.

In conclusion, again, I am honoured to speak to this important bill, Bill C-376. I would like to thank my hon. colleague for bringing the bill forward and recognizing the important and inspirational role that Sikh Canadians have played and continue to play in Canada.

I reiterate my support for Bill C-376 and call on my hon. colleagues to join me in casting their support for the bill.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2018 / 6:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand in this House to offer my support for Bill C-376, an act to designate the month of April as Sikh heritage month. It is important to note that this bill is likely the first bill to recognize Sikh heritage at a federal level in the world and is the second such bill in Canada. During his time as the NDP MPP for Brampton-Gore-Malton in Ontario, the now NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tabled Bill 52, an act to proclaim the month of April as Sikh heritage month. That bill received royal assent on December 12, 2013.

As a proud member of Canada's first federal party to have a leader of Sikh heritage and a leader who has previously tabled and received unanimous consent for a similar piece of legislation at a different level of government, there is no doubt that the NDP strongly support this bill.

Each province and territory throughout Canada has been touched by the influence and contributions of Sikh Canadians. I believe it is very important for us to recognize the social, economic and cultural contributions of the Sikh community to the multicultural mosaic of Canada by declaring April as Sikh heritage month.

April is an important month for individuals of the Sikh faith not just in Canada but throughout the world. Each year, April marks the celebration of Vaisakhi, also known as Khalsa Day. Vaisakhi marks the Sikh new year, and commemorates the formation of the Khalsa panth of warriors under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. It is also a spring harvest festival. Sikh places of worship, the gurdwaras, throughout Canada will hold kirtans, which are the devotional singing of scriptures and legends.

The harvest festival is filled with music, dancing and fairs known as melas. In Canada, some of the biggest Vaisakhi celebrations occur in B.C. The biggest of them occurs in Surrey. This year marked Surrey's 20th annual Vaisakhi parade. The RCMP estimated that over 500,000 people attended.

According to Statistics Canada, there are nearly 470,000 Canadian Sikhs. That makes Canada likely home to the largest Sikh diaspora community in the world. Passing the bill before us today would provide Canadians from all walks of life the opportunity to learn more about the contributions, celebrations and culture of their Sikh neighbours and community members. It is something I encourage all Canadians to take advantage of.

My riding of Vancouver East is home to the Akali Singh Sikh Society. I have had the pleasure of working with the society on obtaining visas and permits for visiting religious workers. This has provided me the wonderful opportunity to learn more about the Sikh community in my riding and also for members of the society to share their knowledge with the rest of the community. The society started in 1952 and began construction on its current gurdwara in 1981. In addition to religious services, the society regularly hosts community meals, offers Punjabi language classes, runs youth camps and offers free tax filing services for seniors and low-income families. These valuable community roles stem directly from the Sikh faith's emphasis on selfless service, justice and equality.

Passing this bill would also allow Canadians to learn from past injustices that Canada has perpetrated against the Sikh community.

As members are aware, the Komagata Maru marks a dark chapter in Canadian history. Nearly 400 passengers, mostly Sikhs, were refused entry into Canada at Burrard Inlet because of a discriminatory law. The passengers were sent back to India where 19 of them were killed. During the 2015 election campaign, the now Prime Minister made the promise to officially apologize for the Komagata Maru incident in the House of Commons within the first 90 days of his mandate. That, as we know, did not happen in that timeline.

On February 3, 2016, I put on notice Motion No. 35, which called on the Liberal government to officially apologize for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident as a reminder of the Prime Minister's election promise. By so doing, I was also carrying on the hard work of former NDP MP Jasbir Sandhu, the hon. Jinny Sims, who is the current B.C. Minister for Citizens' Services, and the tireless efforts of the Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation which initiated the call for justice in 2012.

In working with the community, together we were able to pressure the Prime Minister to do the right thing. On May 18, 2016, the Prime Minister finally formally apologized in the House of Commons for the actions taken by the Canadian government and the irreparable harm the decision caused in this dark chapter of Canada's history.

It would be worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on that discriminatory law that cost the lives of 19 people. The Government of Canada had put in place a law that prohibited passengers from disembarking in Canada if the vessel they were on had stopped at any point during its journey here.

Then in 1939, under the unofficial policy of “none is too many”, Canada would refuse refuge for another ship searching for safe haven, the MS St. Louis. On it were 900 Jewish people fleeing Nazi Germany. The ship was forced to leave and it is believed a quarter of those passengers were killed in Nazi death camps during World War II.

The Prime Minister's description of the laws that prevented Komagata Maru passengers from disembarking immediately and those on the MS St. Louis reminded me of the current influx of asylum seekers to Canada. The safe third country agreement aims to prevent people seeking asylum from entering Canada if they stopped in the United States during their journey here.

It appears that we have still not learned from the mistakes of the past. We are continuing to turn people away, not on the basis of their claim but on the basis of the path they took to arrive here as they search for safety and a better life.

I hope that the government reflects on the Prime Minister's apology to the Sikh community for their mistreatment under the laws of Canada at that time and what it means to truly make sure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. I hope the government keeps this in mind when my New Democratic colleagues and I continue our call for the suspension of the safe third country agreement upon our recognition that the United States is not a safe country for asylum seekers at this time.

I am proud to support the bill. It gives Canadians a chance to learn more about the Sikh community and Canada's past, including the not so bright moments. That is what gives us the motivation and ability to do better, to ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

As noted, I encourage Canadians who have questions about the Sikh faith or just about the day-to-day life of Canadian Sikhs to simply ask them. The World Sikh Organization is constantly engaged on Twitter through #AskCanadianSikhs. They are happy to answer anyone's questions and help Canadians better understand their Sikh neighbours. We can all learn from each other. We need to celebrate with each other about who we are no matter where we come from. That is part of our multicultural mosaic that speaks to who we are as Canadians.

My New Democratic Party colleagues and I wholeheartedly support the bill. As mentioned, our leader, Jagmeet Singh, has paved the way in the Ontario legislature with his bill and now for the House of Commons to do the same is something which we very much welcome.

I thank the member for tabling the bill and supporting the initiatives that my former colleague in the NDP tabled previously.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2018 / 6:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour and my privilege to rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-376, an act to designate the month of April as Sikh heritage month.

I must first commend the member for Surrey—Newton for all of his hard work in bringing this bill forward. I know that this piece of legislation means a lot to Sikh Canadians in my riding of Brampton North, as well as Sikhs across Canada and abroad.

The passage of this bill would recognize the contributions of Sikhs to Canadian society and educate future generations about our language, traditions and history in Canada. I look around at my fellow Sikh members of Parliament, listen to their persona! stories, and cannot help but acknowledge and be grateful that we have had the opportunity to be here today because of the hard work and struggles of the Sikh community before us.

Since arriving on Canadian shores, Sikhs have been active members of our society. Canada is now home to one of the largest Sikh populations in the world, and the Sikh community has become known for their compassion, work ethic and entrepreneurship.

The month of April holds particular significance to Sikhs, as it is the time of year when the community celebrates Vaisakhi, which marks the birth of the Khalsa Panth. Sikhism is rooted in the teachings of equality, unity, selfless service and social justice, values that all Canadians hold dear and strive to incorporate into their daily lives. Sikh values are in fact Canadian values.

However, it has not always been easy. The Sikh community has been a victim to racism, discrimination and violence. Generations of Sikhs have struggled to find their place. Our clothing, our turbans, our kirpans, our food and our traditions were not welcome. From the rejection of Sikhs aboard the Komagata Maru to the desecration of gurdwaras, the history of Sikhs in Canada has dark chapters.

However, those dark chapters are now coming to a close, because as a country we have grown. I, the daughter of Sikh immigrants, today, have the opportunity to stand in the House and speak to legislation that recognizes the importance of my heritage, so that tomorrow, Sikh youth can take the utmost pride in who they are and be able to share and celebrate that heritage.

Sikhs have found their place in this country, because our proud legacy of multiculturalism does not ask us to chose between our faith and our religion. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has allowed Sikhs to physically and spiritually be who they are without giving up being Canadian. The implementation of the charter has ensured that equality and diversity have become the pillars and strength of our nation.

I have been fortunate to be able to travel to every province and territory, and to see how the contributions made by Sikhs are evident from coast to coast to coast.

I went to Nunavut early last year, and I visited a Sikh who is working on a Liberal campaign and for a riding association. I met Sikhs in New Brunswick who were driving taxis. I know Sikhs who are running homeless shelters, food banks, and a lot of other services, including meals on wheels. I have met Sikhs who are teaching Bhangra in Whitehorse and in Halifax. They have made contributions to celebrate our heritage all throughout the country.

With Bill C-376, we are able to share and celebrate Canadian heritage through a Sikh lens. As our Prime Minister stated when he visited the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada, the story of the Sikh community in Canada is, in fact, just the story of Canada.

This summer, I was excited to be on hand as we announced funding for the museum and a project aimed at creating a Canadian Sikh heritage trail and a travelling Canadian Sikh timeline exhibition, along with a web portal and interactive mobile application showcasing facts, figures and Sikh personalities that have shaped the civic life of Canada. The project will allow current and future generations of Canadians to learn more about the struggles, sacrifices and successes of Sikhs, as they travel across this beautiful country.

As I speak about our heritage and history in Canada, I wanted to take a moment to highlight the contributions of Canadian Sikh women. In 1912, Harman Kaur and Kartar Kaur fought for the right of women and children to join Sikh men in Canada. In 1946, Ajit Kaur defended herself at city council when her neighbours did not want her to move in because they feared the family would lower their property values. In 1949 and 1950 respectively, Dr. Sarjit Kaur Siddoo and Dr. Jagdis Kaur Sidoo graduated from the University of Toronto as the first female Sikh doctors in Canada.

More recently, trailblazers like Palbinder Kaur Shergill, Lilly Singh and very our own hon. government House leader are contributing to our place in Canada and showing the next generation that anything is possible.

As I reflect on what Bill C-376 means to me, I am reminded of one of Rupi Kaur's verses, entitled “progress”:

our work should equip
the next generation of women
to outdo us in every field
this is the legacy we'll leave.

I want to once again applaud the member for Surrey—Newton for his work in leaving behind a legacy where every April we, as Canadians, celebrate our Sikh heritage and the contribution of the Sikh community to Canada. I would like to also thank him for his work and efforts on the Komagata Maru apology. He has been working hard on the issue since 1999.

I join my colleague in looking forward to seeing all members in the House passing this bill so we can honour and retell the Canadian stories for future generations to come.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2018 / 7:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the Conservative Party critic for heritage, I rise today to speak to Bill C-376, an act to designate the month of April as Sikh heritage month.

I commend my colleague opposite, the member for Surrey—Newton, for introducing this bill in the House.

Without a doubt this is an issue near and dear to his heart as a Canadian Sikh, and he represents his community honourably in the chamber, although, in my view, a little in a too Liberal way.

I also want to thank my Conservative colleague from Markham—Unionville. He has done so much to help the Sikh community as well as the immigrant community more broadly in our country. He has played a key role in our caucus in the work we are doing on files such as immigration, which are important for the Sikh community and all Canadians.

My colleague from Markham—Unionville is also a living example of the quintessential Canadian immigrant. He came to this country in humble circumstances and through his hard work has not only achieved success for himself and his family, but also his community and our country. When he arrived in this country in 1974, he was 21 years old and did not speak a word of French or English. He had a job that paid $1.50 per hour and would work 364 days per year. However, he told me that he took a break on Dominion Day, which would turn out to be Canada Day. We could see he was a proud Canadian early on.

In discussing the history and celebration of the Sikh community, I think of the new Canadians like my colleague and also like those I welcome every year to my riding. They come from all over the world and they are more than welcome. They come from Africa, Latin America and so on. They are like my Irish ancestors. Like the Sikh we have welcomed over the years, they come here to work hard, whether in farming or in industry. We are all better off and thankful for their hard work. Actually, they are the fabric of our country and this how our country is built.

I support this bill and its aim to designate every April going forward as Sikh heritage month.

Sikhism has millions of followers around the world. As we have heard, Canada is a home to over half a million Sikhs, making it the second-largest Sikh population in the world, after India. That deserves to be recognized.

What I also like about Sikh values is that they are universal human values, such as respect for others, kindness, charity, courage and honesty.

The significant Sikh population is represented in vibrant urban centres, such as Surrey, Brampton, and many other places across this land, whether in British Columbia, Ontario or Alberta. Without a doubt, the large and thriving communities of Indian and Punjabi heritage are essential to the increasingly close and important relationship Canada has with India. For one, cultural and educational exchanges between India, Punjab and Canada make our country richer.

India not only represents an opportunity for shared prosperity through trade with one of the world's largest economies, but also presents an opportunity to strengthen ties with the world's largest democracy. Democracy is something that unites people and countries. Indeed, we have seen how much Canadian Sikhs contribute to our Canadian democracy. In the last parliament I served as minister with Canadians of Punjabi heritage in caucus and in cabinet. I think of my former colleague Tim Uppal, who was the minister for democratic reform, or Bal Gosal, the former minister of sport, with whom I have entertained some good boxing galas where Quebeckers in particular were proving their talent. In British Columbia, we had Ujjal Dosanjh, a Canadian Sikh, who served as the premier of that province. I had an opportunity to visit Afghanistan with him when we were involved in the defence committee. In this parliament we also have members, like my colleague from Markham—Unionville on the Conservative side, as well as ministers and members on the government benches. Some day we may have the leader of the NDP join us in the House.

The first immigrants settled in British Columbia. They came to Canada with little or no money, but knew they wanted a better life for their families.

As my colleague mentioned, it has not always been easy for the Sikh community, as Sikhs have gone through difficult times. In 1914, hundreds of people wanted to improve their lives and their families' futures. They were hoping to find a better life in Canada, but were not allowed to enter. This resulted in the tragic Komagata Maru incident.

In fact, several deaths resulted from the Komagata Maru tragedy. We may remember that in 2008 the Right Hon. Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of Canadians. More recently, as made clear by the leader of Her Majesty's loyal opposition, the Conservatives will never forget the Komagata Maru, and we will use the memory of those who perished to learn from our mistakes and make this country even better.

Importantly, what is amazing about Canada is that despite regrettable historical chapters, communities like the Sikh community have come together and worked with all Canadians to move forward. While we learn from the past, we do not helplessly dwindle in the past. We do not focus on what divides us. Canadians, Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike focus on celebrating what unites us, because Canada has a lot to be proud of. This includes, without a doubt, the contributions of the Sikh community.

It is important that Canada's Parliament ensure that we recognize Sikh heritage and that we celebrate the contribution Sikh Canadians have made to the social, economic, political and cultural fabric. It is also important to recognize the richness of the Punjabi language and culture, not to mention their food.

It is important to note that April is the month designated to celebrate Sikh heritage month. As my colleague mentioned, it is an important month for the Sikh community because that is when Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi, which is a historical and religious festival in the Sikh religion that marks the new year.

Vaisakhi commemorates the founding of the Sikh community known as the Khalsa under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. Since that time, every April, Sikhs gather around the world to celebrate this important moment with parades, entertainment and gatherings of family and friends.

April is the logical choice for the Sikh community, and that is why I support this motion.

Essentially, this heritage month would allow us to make Canadians aware of the culture and heritage of the Sikh community and to educate future generations. For that reason, I wish to support this bill and I invite my colleagues to support it as well.

Perhaps this bill is long overdue. We, indeed, have dates designated for the Asian community, the aboriginal community and the black community at the national level. Recently, we also worked with one of our colleagues from the Senate to make Jewish Heritage Month a reality. I would like to thank my colleagues for working on that, but today we can make history again by supporting this private member's bill.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2018 / 7:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Raj Grewal Liberal Brampton East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise today to debate Bill C-376 at second reading. The bill was introduced by the hon. member for Surrey—Newton and I was more than happy to second the bill.

I am humbled and enormously grateful for this opportunity to speak in favour of a bill that provides opportunity to highlight the many contributions that Canadians of Sikh heritage have made to Canada, an occasion to educate future generations about the role that Sikh Canadians have played and will continue to play building our country from coast to coast to coast.

A Sikh heritage month is an opportunity to highlight, respect and honour the many contributions that Sikh Canadians have made to Canada. In fact, Sikh heritage month is already celebrated every April in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. I look forward to the passage of this bill so we can celebrate all across Canada.

April is a particularly significant month for Sikhs around the world. It was in April in 1699 when Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa Panth, which was the formal creation of the Sikh faith. Sikhs around the world believe in core values of naam japna, meditation, kirt karni, earning an honest living, seva, community service, and always helping the less fortunate. These are not just Sikh values; these are also Canadian values.

Today, Canada holds the second largest Sikh population in the world. Almost 500,000 Sikhs proudly call Canada home. Indeed, the Sikh Canadian story is a deep-rooted story with many ups and downs in Canadian history. Sikhs have worked hard across the country, from serving in our armed forces to building our railroads and working in the lumber mills in British Columbia. Today, Sikhs are doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, media personalities and even politicians. They have successfully established themselves as hard-working, generous people who are integral to the Canadian fabric.

As Sikh Canadian families enter the third and fourth generations in Canada, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the fact that the success of the Sikh Canadian community is, in large part, due to the early pioneers who left everything they knew in Punjab and India in search of a better life for themselves and their families. We salute the early taxi drivers, truck drivers, people in factories, the individuals who picked up the extra overtime shifts so they could start building their local temples for a place to pray.

The first Sikh temple was opened in British Columbia in 1907, the Khalsa Diwan Society, and it is still operating today. From that first gurdwara in British Columbia, Sikhs have built numerous gurdwaras from coast to coast to coast. From Halifax to Victoria, one could always drop in to a Sikh gurdwara, meditate and enjoy a community meal, known as langer.

Sikhs have always worked hard and today our community stands on the stories of giant Canadian Sikhs. Baltej Singh Dhillon comes to mind, the first turbaned RCMP officer; Gurbaj Singh Maltani, a young student who dropped his kirpan on the playground and fought for his right to wear his kirpan, his article of faith, all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada; Sikhs like Harnarayan Singh, who is breaking barriers on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition; and even our very own Minister of National Defence, who in 2014 was named the first Sikh lieutenant colonel of the Canadian army.

Indeed, the Canadian Sikh story is thriving today across the country. However, we did not get here by accident and the story of success will not continue without effort. Everyone in the House remembers that in 1914 the Komagata Maru, a Japanese ship carrying Sikhs fleeing India, was turned away by Canadian authorities. When the ship returned to India, many people were killed. The Prime Minister, in 2016, apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for this unspeakable act.

Even throughout my lifetime, I have experienced racism for wearing my turban and I have seen Sikh places of worship vandalized. Just last year, university students were being asked if they were extremists just for the simple fact that they were wearing their identity proudly.

That is why Sikh heritage month is so important. It is not just an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of Sikh Canadians, but, more important, an opportunity to educate Canadians and people all around the world of the Sikh way of life and the Sikh philosophy.