Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-376, an act to designate the month of April as Sikh heritage month. I would like to thank the member for Surrey—Newton for introducing this legislation.
We have taken time throughout the year to acknowledge the many great people who make up Canada's cultural mosaic. I would be happy if April were to officially become the time to reflect on and honour the many great contributions Canadian Sikhs have made to our country.
Sikhs have a long, proud history in Canada. The first Sikh settlers are understood to have arrived aboard the Empress of India in 1897. However, I learned from the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada that Sir John A. Macdonald had appealed for an army of Sikhs to defend our nation long before the Empress's arrival. He was concerned by the threat posed to us by our southern neighbour. It is telling that he recognized the incredible bravery that Sikhs have long displayed on the battlefields around the world, and requested their support specifically.
Indeed, Sikhs would go on to serve admirably in many other conflicts around the world. Like Canadians, Punjabi Sikhs were British subjects and were called upon to defend freedom and democracy in its time of need. They stood stalwartly alongside their fellow Commonwealth forces in the muddy trenches of World War I. Known as the black lions during the war, they won great renown in that horrible conflict. They also fought bravely against the Japanese during World War II, in places like Malaysia, Burma and Italy. Long before large numbers of Sikhs opted to become Canadians, they shared a proud and honourable history with their Commonwealth allies.
It is one of history's great injustices that despite their shared Commonwealth heritage and brave commitment to their country, Sikhs were not always welcomed by their fellow Canadians. They helped construct the Canadian Pacific Railway, that great link that finally connected east and west. It served to unite and strengthen our young country. We owe anyone who was involved in building it a great debt of gratitude. However, Sikhs were paid less than white workers. They were not made to feel welcome by their fellow Canadians.
This was the case for many Canadians not of European descent at the time. It was not until many years later that non-European Canadians came to be accepted as they should be. I understand that our government often issued prejudiced decrees discouraging their presence in our country. Indeed, for much of the early 20th century Sikhs faced discrimination. I think we all now know the story of the Komagata Maru. That ship was turned away for no other reason than racism. I am glad that Canadian Sikhs have now received a much deserved apology for that shameful incident.
Despite the discrimination they faced, I am happy to say that many Sikhs chose to call Canada their home. Their vibrant culture has enriched our country immensely. The bill's preamble notes that there are now over half a million Canadian Sikhs. Their population is large enough that even Hockey Night in Canada is offered in Punjabi. In fact, the announcer, Mr. Singh, who is a popular commentator on the Punjabi Hockey Night in Canada, is from my riding. He is from Brooks, which I call home. That is where he grew up. His father, Doc Singh, was a teacher in the high school and a well respected educator.
Brooks is a vibrant, multicultural city today with people from all over the world living and working there. Over 100 different countries are represented in that community, and it has changed a lot since Doc Singh came to the city of Brooks.
Indeed, I know that Sikhs have settled largely in urban areas, but my own rural riding of Bow River is also home to many Sikh descendants. They contribute greatly to Canada's prosperity and economic success. I know they are now well represented in countless industries operating across the country. I know their dynamic communities are achieving great success.
Without a doubt, Sikhs both past and present, have made incredible contributions to Canada. I am happy that institutions like the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada in Mississauga are doing such a great job of highlighting Sikh history. According to its website, its mandate is to create a dynamic, learning-focused permanent Sikh museum and educational facility. The Sikh Museum will celebrate the Canadian Sikh experience and its vibrant history, explore the richness and complexities of Sikh spirituality and identity, and commemorate and honour Sikh history.
Those are fantastic objectives, but it is about time that a month is officially designated to celebrate their contributions. This will help further highlight their contributions.
In closing, I would like to thank the member for Surrey-Newton once again for introducing this legislation. I think it is going to be a very positive thing going forward. I am happy to say I will be supporting it wholeheartedly.