Mr. Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to stand in this House to speak in full support of Bill C-376, an act to designate the month of April Sikh heritage month.
The New Democrats in this House have, for decades, been strong supporters of multiculturalism and strong proponents of our country celebrating the diverse backgrounds of all groups and communities that make up the Canadian mosiac. The designation of heritage months are one very important way the government can recognize Canadian diversity, and in this case, the contributions made to Canada by the Sikh community or any other specific community that has been designated in a similar manner.
This bill itself designates the month of April Sikh heritage month, and as I will touch on in a few moments, there is a particularly important reason April is an appropriate month for that.
I have a couple of basic facts to situate this debate. According to the recent figures that have come before us, Canadian Sikhs account for about 1.5% of Canada's population, with a total population approaching half a million people, and almost half of those citizens, some 250,000 people, are located in the province of British Columbia. Ontario has about 225,000, and Alberta has almost 100,000 people of the Sikh faith. We know that Sikh communities are growing in provinces across this land, notably in Manitoba, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. In fact, Sikhs form the main religious group among South Asian immigrants within Canada.
This bill presents a great opportunity to educate Canadians concerning the Sikh community and its religion, which is based on some wonderful values. The Sikh faith is fundamentally based on the concepts of freedom, equality and justice. I think by sharing these values with Canadians, broadly speaking, we can develop a better understanding of and appreciation for a rich and unique heritage.
I want to say that this bill also follows the leadership of the leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, Jagmeet Singh, who, as an Ontario member of the provincial Parliament, in 2013 proposed and was successful in getting passed Bill 52, An Act to proclaim the month of April as Sikh Heritage Month. That bill received royal assent in that province on December 12, 2013. I believe it was the first bill of that type in Canada, to the best of my knowledge, and maybe the first bill of that type to be passed anywhere in the world.
While we are on that subject, it behooves us as members of this House, and I think I speak for all parties when I say that we are all strong proponents of Canada's multicultural fabric and are very proud of the diversity that is represented in our great country, to note that Jagmeet Singh is the very first leader of the Sikh faith who has ever led a major federal political party. That is notable. In fact, I think Mr. Singh is the first federal leader who is not of Caucasian descent.
With Jagmeet Singh, we have the very personification of the values the bill seeks to present before this House, and that is a celebration of the free and democratic society we have, where Canada is a place where people come from all over the globe seeking freedom, democracy, human rights and the right to pursue their lives in the manner they wish in a multicultural setting.
I think everyone in this House would probably join me in celebrating this step forward that the election of Jagmeet Singh as leader of a major federal party in this country represents in terms of Canada's development. Regardless of anyone's personal ideological beliefs, it has to be a positive step and a sign of inspiration to children and citizens across the country who come from a variety of backgrounds to see that they can be reflected at the highest levels of politics in our country.
I want to stop for a moment and say on a personal level how important the Sikh community is to me and the people of Vancouver Kingsway. I have been blessed to meet so many wonderful people of the Sikh faith, and I want to talk about a few of them now.
There was an organization in the greater Vancouver area, the Lower Mainland, called PICS, which is the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society of British Columbia. It is a wonderful organization that was started by an amazing person named Charan Gill, who was a courageous person who led unionization efforts, particularly among poor farm workers and migrant workers, and spearheaded this organization. PICS provides social support services to members of the South Asian community and beyond, ranging from employment, counselling and resumé building to job selection, parenting skills and ESL classes. The services run the full gamut, assisting people who come to Canada learn to integrate into our communities while retaining the best of their culture.
I want to point out that people like Inderjeet Hundal and the current CEO of PICS, Satbir Cheema, have carried on that fantastic tradition begun by Charan Gill. These people are bedrock community builders. They are pioneers in the Sikh community, but more than that, they are heroes in the broader Canadian community for all they have done to foster understanding and assistance to tens of thousands of people in our community.
I want to talk about my good friend Bill Basra, the president of the Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha temple. He has done so much to help members of the Sikh community. In that case, it is a temple that seeks to help people who are regarded to be the inheritors of the lowest caste. They fight against that caste system and fight for freedom and equality of all people. Not only do they help advance the interests of some of the poor and forgotten in the Sikh community, but they help remind all Canadians that we live in a country where we are all equal. Whether one is wealthy or poor, brown or white, Catholic, or Protestant, or Sikh or Hindu, we all are equal and deserve the same respect in the eyes of all Canadians.
I want to mention my good friends Hardev Bal and Mukhtiar Sandhu. These people have been members of the New Democratic Party for decades. Even though they struggled with language, a lack of credential recognition and with racism when they came to Canada, they joined in Canada's political system and threw themselves into the political party. To this day, they are proud members of the New Democratic Party. They contribute, as do many Sikhs of all parties, Liberal and Conservative and any other party, and have helped build the fabric of our democracy.
On the media side, Khushpal Gill, who publishes Sach Di Awaaz, has contributed to journalism. We all know that in our country part of the fabric of democracy is built on the threads of other very critical parts, including journalism. Khushpal Gill brings, in both Punjabi and English, important political news to members of the Sikh community and, in fact, the South Asian community.
I want to mention as well the importance of gurdwaras in our society. For Canadians who might be watching this, whatever their faith, if they have not visited a Sikh gurdwara, they should do so soon. These are among the warmest, most welcoming, most generous, most peaceful places of worship of any kind of place of worship I have ever been. Anybody in the House who has had the fortunate to be in a gurdwara knows that anyone is welcome. They serve lunch to the community at no cost and they welcome everybody of all faiths for a moment of meditation in a place that makes us remember those values of peace and equality that underline the Sikh faith.
Vaisakhi happens in April, which is why April is a particularly important for this. Vaisakhi is now not just a South Asian or Sikh festival; it is one all Canadians are able to partake in and enjoy.
[Member spoke in Punjabi]