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.