[member spoke in Punjabi]
I rise today on behalf of our government to add my voice in support of Bill C-376, an act to designate the month of April as Sikh heritage month, which seeks to recognize the enormous contributions of Sikh Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
I acknowledge that I am speaking here on the traditional unceded lands of the Algonquin peoples.
First and foremost, I want to thank my good friend from Surrey—Newton for bringing forward this private member's bill.
Before I speak on the substance of the bill, permit me to share with members the pride and strength of the Sikh community in Scarborough, the area that I represent.
Gursikh Sabha Canada in Scarborough was built by sheer determination, strength and sense of community of a small, but vibrant Sikh community in northeastern Toronto. This community in Scarborough faced the challenges of racism head on. ln building the gurdwara, the community faced opposition, but the community organized and challenged convention that opened the doors for many more places of worship of various faiths to take hold in Scarborough.
Gursikh Sabha celebrated its 30th anniversary recently and I am so grateful for the warmth and generosity extended not just to me but to all my colleagues.
It is a well-known fact that Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world. Today, Canada's Sikh population is more than 500,000, making it the second largest Sikh population in the world. Canadians of Sikh descent contribute to Canada's social fabric in many ways and one of their most visible and most influential contributions is seva.
Sikhs have been living in Canada for over 120 years and Sikh Canadians have helped build our country from coast to coast to coast, working on the railroads, in the lumber mills, in mines and in farming fields across our great country.
Today, many Sikh Canadians have received international recognition for their work and have established themselves as leaders and trendsetters in their field of expertise. This progress has not been without its challenges.
Although today Sikh Canadians are seen as an integral part of the Canadian mosaic, this was not always the case.
ln 1914, the Komagata Maru, a Japanese ship carrying Sikhs fleeing India, was turned away by Canadian authorities and was forced to return to lndia where 20 of the more than 300 passengers were killed by British authorities. ln 2016, the Prime Minister apologized to Sikh Canadians on behalf of the Canadian government for this unspeakable act.
It is noteworthy that the same year the Komagata Maru with its passengers, including veterans of the British Indian army, were sent back to India, three young Sikh men enlisted in Smiths Falls, Ontario, to fight in World War I. Their names had been lost to history until very recently, when Private Buckam Singh's grave was discovered in Kitchener and then this year in September, when the names of Lashman Singh and Waryam Singh were added to the cenotaph in Smiths Falls. This dedication to Canada, despite not being accorded basic civil rights, such as the right to vote, should never be forgotten.
Today, Sikh Canadians continue to contribute to every single aspect of our society, from excelling in business to representing Canada at the Olympics to introducing the world to Sikh and Canadian arts and culture.
One of the most visible contributions is right in the House of Commons and other legislatures across the country. Sikh Canadians have attained some of the highest political offices in Canada. I would like to especially mention a few members of our cabinet namely, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Natural Resources, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, among many other colleagues of the Sikh faith in the chamber.
I wish to personally take this opportunity to thank my good friend from Mississauga—Malton, who is also the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, who in many ways opened the door for someone like me to be here. I suspect many of my colleagues will share in the same sentiment.
In 1988, Canada became the first nation to proclaim the Multiculturalism Act. The act requires that we continually safeguard equality for all Canadians, in all economic, social, cultural and political aspects of their lives. Our multicultural heritage is about more than just a commitment to welcoming diverse people from around the world. It is a commitment to principles of equality and freedom, grounded in human rights and enshrined in our legislative frameworks, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, 1988.
This was most evident in the case of Inspector Baltej Singh Dhillon, whom I had the opportunity to meet in person last year, and his quest to serve Canadians by joining the RCMP. As most members of the House will remember, there was a public debate that turned very ugly very quickly. Dhillon never set out to be a hero, or even a poster child for the charter, but in his humble way, he respectfully sought the right to wear a turban in the RCMP. Much hate was propagated against him, but he simply resisted and stood his ground.
At times he was alone, but he was emboldened by the support of his community and his many allies around the country. After some 18 months, the government caved, and in 1991 Baltej Singh Dhillon became the first of many turbaned Sikhs to join the RCMP and many other places where uniforms are required.
Hundreds of people like Mr. Dhillon have led a subtle fight with quiet confidence and great dignity. Some have defied public perception, while others have brought the fight to Parliament or turned to the Supreme Court of Canada to have their rights recognized. They were not looking to change the course of history. They only wanted our governments to treat them with respect and dignity.
Diversity is a core component of our Canadian identity. Canada is becoming increasingly diverse, which is also reflective of the growing presence of individuals of Sikh heritage across the country. The contributions of Sikh Canadians are vital to the social, economic and political fabric of our nation.
Finally, I would like to thank all Sikh Canadians for contributing to our great country. Celebrating our interconnectedness and the many unique communities and cultures that thrive here gives us a chance to discover what we all share in common. This allows us to fully appreciate the value of our differences. In celebrating our diversity, we learn about our common struggles and our shared values. We learn how far we have come, but also what hurdles must still be overcome. We thank the Sikh Canadian community for opening many doors and overcoming many obstacles that have forever changed our country for the better.
[Member spoke in Punjabi]