House of Commons Hansard #332 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.


Divorce ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is that agreed?

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


Divorce ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Accordingly, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from September 19 consideration of the motion 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.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

4:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

When we last took up debate on the question, the hon. member for Brampton East had five minutes remaining in his comments.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Brampton East.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

4:35 p.m.


Raj Grewal Liberal Brampton East, ON

Mr. Speaker, once again, I am proud to rise in the House to debate Bill C-376 at second reading.

The bill was introduced by the member for Surrey—Newton, and I was more than happy to second it. I am humbled and enormously grateful for this opportunity to speak in favour of a bill that provides an opportunity to highlight the many contributions that Canadians of Sikh heritage have made to Canada, and an occasion to educate future generations about the role that Sikh Canadians have played and will continue to play in communities across this country.

At the heart of this bill are everyday Canadians. At the heart of this bill are values that all Canadians share, cherish and protect. At the heart of this bill are diversity, inclusion and tolerance.

Every day, Sikh institutions, like Seva Food Bank, are doing tremendous work, in this case by running and operating a food bank in Mississauga that provides services to over 900 families each month. The Guru Gobind Singh Children's Foundation, which operates under the motto “children helping children”, holds annual charity runs to help raise money for children in third world countries. The Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen is a voluntary organization in British Columbia, that is working on eradicating food insecurity through the Sikh practice of langar, a community kitchen, where everyone is treated equally.

These three organizations are just a small number of the numerous Sikh organizations across this country helping Canadians succeed.

A Sikh heritage month is also an occasion to educate future generations about the role that Sikh Canadians have played and will continue to play in this country.

It is well-known that Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world. Canadians of Sikh origin have contributed to this diversity, which is interwoven into the cultural fabric of our country. We continue to honour and preserve our history and heritage, in order to inspire future generations to continue sharing our country's story. Diversity is Canada's strength, and our differences, no doubt, make us stronger.

I fully support Bill C-376, which is seeking to formally celebrate the month of April as Sikh heritage month. I have always said I am a proud Sikh and proud Canadian, but I am most proud to live in a nation that does not make me choose between devotion to my faith and devotion to my country.

When people ask me about the Sikh Canadian story, I always sum it up as follows.

In 1867, then-prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald asked for an army of Sikhs to help secure Montreal from a U.S. invasion. In 2015, a Sikh was appointed the Minister of National Defence. This story is only possible in the greatest country in the world. Sikhs are truly living the Canadian dream.

I look forward to seeing this bill pass, and when it does, I will look forward to celebrating with Sikhs and Canadians of all different backgrounds across this country, from coast to coast to coast.

When people ask me why we need heritage months in the first place, the answer for me is quite simple. The beauty of Canada is that no matter where people come from, no matter what people believe in, Canada will always have a place for them, too. This does not happen by accident and will not continue without effort. Heritage months provide an opportunity to educate and learn about the history of our fellow Canadians, and that is why I fully support the concept of heritage months. I look forward to celebrating Sikh heritage month this April.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

4:40 p.m.


Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the discussion on Bill C-376, an act to designate the month of April as Sikh heritage month.

I want to begin by acknowledging my Sikh colleagues on both sides of the House who share their culture with us day after day. I am a French Canadian from the greater Charlevoix region. In my region, there are very few members of the Sikh community. However, working with them reflects what it means to live in Canada surrounded by other communities.

I was very surprised to learn that more than 500,000 Sikhs live in Canada and that they are the second largest Sikh community in the world. I wanted to point that out because we work alongside them every day. There are Sikh colleagues across the way as well, which means we also fight against them. However, it is not the Sikh community that we take issue with, it is the Liberals. It is important to make that distinction. I appreciate my colleague sitting to my right. I cannot name him, but he is Sikh as well.

I am very pleased to share this moment with them. Seeing all the different faces that live in Canada, living alongside them and learning to get to know them is how we open ourselves to the world. For Canadians, it is very important to be open to the rest of the world. That is one of our fundamental values. Canada is a very welcoming country, and we want it to stay that way. I will not say any more, for I am getting off track.

I fully support designating the month of April as Sikh heritage month. I hope that, every year, when we celebrate Sikh heritage month, they will share with us their culture and what makes them unique. Everyone knows that French Canadians from the Quebec City area eat poutine. I would love for Sikhs to share their cuisine and their music with us so that we can learn to know who they are.

As I said, I am not from one of Quebec's urban centres, so I had little opportunity to interact with Sikhs. Learning about their culture and lifestyle is a new experience for me. Their religion is not the same as mine. We believe in different gods, but we are not different. What makes each one of us different is our lived experience, our history and our culture.

I think this is an excellent bill because I believe it reveals another aspect of who we are as Canadians. We are Canadian, and Sikhs are Canadian. They are members of the Sikh community. I am a member of the French-Canadian community. I am a woman. The Sikh MPs who are here right now are men, but there are Sikh women parliamentarians, too.

Today, we are talking to one another in a spirit of friendship. We are learning about one another in a spirit of friendship. This is the kind of legislation that helps us be open to the world and gain a better understanding of where people come from. What I would also like them to do, when we get to celebrate Sikh heritage month, is tell us about their heritage and about their own culture, which is different than mine. I would like to learn about some of their musicians and discover what kind of music they listen to. These are the types of exchanges we should have because I want to discover this community.

I have a friend in this place and I know a little about him. By working together, we will end up understanding one another. Often, we are afraid of differences because we do not understand them and we do not want to learn more, and so, I would like to acknowledge the Sikhs who work here, who are elected officials. I thank them for being part of our daily lives.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

4:45 p.m.


Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Mr Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to support Bill C-376 at second reading. This is the bill that would designate the month of April as Sikh heritage month.

New Democrats have long been supporters of multiculturalism and celebrating the diverse backgrounds that make up the Canadian mosaic. The designation of heritage months is one important way that the government can recognize Canadian diversity and the contributions made to Canada by specific communities. April is, of course, a very important month for Sikh communities, as it is the month when Vaisakhi is celebrated.

Vaisakhi, as we know it today, grew from the traditional spring harvest festivals in the Punjab. These celebrations came to be marked as specifically Sikh celebrations, when in the 17th century, Guru Gobind Singh established a formal order of committed Sikhs, the Khalsa panth, and consolidated the Sikh articles of faith, practice and community. This was nearly two centuries after its founding by Guru Nanak, thus not only demarcating Sikhs as a community within India but also establishing the Khalsa as the temporal authority for that community.

Far be it from me to lecture on Sikh theology, but it is interesting to note that Sikh theology urges the cultivation of improvement of both the individual self, which, by the way, has no gender in Sikh theology, but also demands that Sikhs serve the community around them. This brings about an integration of the spiritual and temporal worlds. Therefore, the Sikh community remains to this day a community that places a strong emphasis on service to the community.

New Democrats have a long history of pressing for recognition both of the struggles of the Sikh community in Canada and the contributions of that community to Canada. Carrying on the hard work of former NDP MPs Jasbir Sandhu and Jinny Simms, in early 2016, the member for Vancouver East moved Motion No. 35, which called on the government to officially apologize for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, an apology finally delivered on May 18, 2016.

The first Sikh heritage month in Canada came about in Ontario as a result of the efforts of current NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in his capacity as MPP for Bramalea—Gore—Malton. Singh's private member's bill, Bill 52, an act to proclaim the month of April as Sikh heritage month in Ontario, received royal assent on December 12, 2013.

Now I want to turn for a moment to the story of the Sikh community in Greater Victoria and my riding, a history that stretches back more than a century.

The first people from India to migrate to B.C. were Sikhs from northern India, mainly the Punjab. It seems that Sikhs first travelled through B.C. as part of the British Empire army regiments that were travelling in 1897 on their way to Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Celebration and again in 1902 for the coronation of King Edward VII. These Sikhs noticed the similarities of the British Columbia forests to those of the Punjab and the great opportunities that would be available in British Columbia, opportunities that they should have been free to take up by travelling to and settling in British Columbia as British subjects.

By 1906, there were about 1,500 Sikhs living in Canada, almost 90% of those in British Columbia. Most were retired British army veterans and their families. By 1910, there were an estimated 4,000 Sikhs living and working on Vancouver Island, many working in the forest industry, applying skills that they had gained in the Punjab before coming to Canada and many, in particular, worked in part of my riding along the Gorge Waterway in lumber mills.

In 1912, the Gurdwara Sahib or the Khalsa Diwan Society was established with about 100 members. They built a gurdwara on Topaz Avenue in Victoria, the same site it still stands on today. At the time, this was B.C.'s third Sikh temple. The gurdwara opened with a massive parade of more than 1,000 Sikhs from all over British Columbia.

By 1969, the original temple building had become far too small to accommodate the community, so it was demolished to make way for a new and larger temple on that same site. In 2012, the Khalsa Diwan Society of Victoria celebrated its first 100 years, a community that included more than 3,000 members. In the spring of 2018, after more than 100 years' break, Victoria hosted its first Vaisakhi Day Parade.

Racism and legal restrictions often stood in the way of Sikh progress in British Columbia. Fears of Asian immigration to B.C. among Anglo-Saxon residents escalated in the early years of the 20th century, often based on fears that economic competition would lower wages, but nearly always also fuelled by simple racism.

As British subjects, Sikhs should have been able to immigrate to Canada and live and work there on the same basis as any other subjects of the British Empire. Instead, in 1908, the Canadian government implemented by regulation a legal requirement that immigrants arrive in Canada via a “continuous journey”. This was specifically designed against South Asians as no shipping lines sailed directly from India to Canada.

The result of this was the Komagata Maru incident that I mentioned earlier when a ship chartered by a Sikh businessman to bring 376 immigrants to Canada was denied landing in Canada, and after a two-month standoff was forced to return to India. It was a tragic incident for which the government has now apologized. This occurred in a year when Canada accepted more than 300,000 immigrants from Europe and the United States.

Progress in ending restrictions and legal discrimination on the Sikh community was slow. It was not until the 1920s that the restrictions prohibiting immigrants from India from bringing their families to Canada was lifted and Sikhs were finally allowed to bring their wives and children to join them in Canada.

Many men from the Sikh community volunteered during World War II, and this fact of service was used to try and leverage equal treatment in Canada. In 1943, members of the Khalsa Diwan Society of Victoria joined others in presenting a petition to the British Columbia premier asking that South Asians be granted the right to vote. In 1945, those who had fought in World War II were granted the right to vote in provincial elections, and finally in 1947, all South Asian men were granted the right to vote in both federal and provincial elections in Canada.

Being on the voters list had another importance that we sometimes forget, because in British Columbia it was not just a matter of right. The voters list was also used in order to register people to practise professions like medicine, law and pharmacy. The voters list was also used as the basis for getting government contracts and licences to use public resources. This meant that Sikhs, being off the voters list, were prohibited from practising law, practising medicine, getting grants of forestry and business licences that other Canadians were able to get.

It was not until 1963 that immigration regulations were changed to eliminate racial discrimination based on the country of origin. Since then, the Sikh community in Canada, and in particular in British Columbia, has grown and thrived.

While the Sikh population makes up only around 3% of the population of my riding and only about 6,000 of the population of greater Victoria, the Sikh contribution to greater Victoria far outweighs the numbers in many areas. This is true, whether we are talking about respected small and large businesses, and here I would include the Jawl family who have built one of the most respected and successful development companies in greater Victoria, or whether we are talking about small builders of affordable and luxury homes, like Jasbir Bhandal in the Gorge area and on the Westshore in my riding. It is also true whether we are talking about professions like law or medicine, or whether we are talking about community services and charitable organizations.

I want to single out two community leaders in particular, both of whom I am privileged to call friends.

The first is Moe Sihota. Moe was the first Sikh elected to a federal or provincial seat anywhere in Canada. He represented the provincial riding that is the heart of my federal riding. He served until 2001. In 1991, he became the first Sikh cabinet minister anywhere in Canada, and served in a number of posts, including minister of labour, and later as minister of the environment where he presided over a major expansion of the B.C. park system.

I first visited the Khalsa Diwan Society of Victoria in 1985 with Moe Sihota and the then leader of the B.C. NDP, Bob Skelly, and have always felt very welcome at the temple in my many visits since there.

The second friend I want to note here is businessman Gordie Dodd, who is perhaps surprisingly better known for his community and charitable work and his absolutely, hysterically funny business commercials than he is for his substantial business success. This year, I was pleased to participate in the ninth annual Guru Nanak Walk for Peace, and I have now made it to all but two of those walks. This is a walk organized and run by the Sikh community and led by Gordie Dodd. The walk raises awareness of the importance of peace while also raising funds for community organizations. This year the recipient was the hospice society.

I am proud that the NDP is led by a Sikh, Jagmeet Singh, just as in the past we have been led by leaders from other faiths, like Tommy Douglas, who was as we know an ordained Baptist minister, and in British Columbia, Dave Barrett who was the first Jewish premier in Canada.

Sikh heritage month will encourage continuation of Sikh traditions within Canada and it will help make those Sikh traditions better known to other Canadians. The more we know about each other, the stronger we all make Canada.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

4:55 p.m.

Gary Anandasangaree Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism (Multiculturalism), Lib.

Mr. Speaker,

[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]


Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

5:05 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

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]

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.


Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker,

[Member spoke in Punjabi]

I am honoured to rise today in support of Bill C-376, the Sikh heritage month act, put forward by the hon. member for Surrey—Newton.

Sikh heritage month would give Canadians the opportunity to learn about the history of Sikh Canadians and the many contributions they have made in shaping Canada into the great country it is today.

Sikhism began around 1500 Common Era, when Sikhism's founder, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, began teaching the faith. The practices were formalized by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. The 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, formed the Khalsa Panth and introduced the five Ks that help form the identity of a Sikh.

Women have always played an equal role in Sikhism. The first guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, described women's greatness when he said:

[Member spoke in Gurmukhi]


Today, we recognize the same principles of gender equality in Canada. It is clear that Sikh values reflect Canadian values. Sikhism emphasizes principles of volunteership, giving back to communities and providing a helping hand to those in need. That is perhaps why the impact of the Sikh community has been so pronounced in Brampton South. From blood drives and organizing mass bone marrow registration events as done by Match for Marrow to raising funds for our hospitals and raising funds for natural disaster relief, the contributions from Sikh Canadians to Brampton have been tremendous.

That is why this bill is so important. It provides us with an opportunity to recognize all those who worked tirelessly to make our communities better and contribute so much to our country's social, economic, and cultural fabric. Canada is at its best when we commit ourselves to our principles of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism. When we can recognize one another's contributions, struggles, history and dreams, it makes our country better. As our Prime Minister says, Canada is stronger because of our diversity, not in spite of it.

The Sikh Canadian community has a long and proud history since the first Sikh immigrants arrived in Canada in 1904 and established themselves in British Columbia. More than 5,000 South Asians, greater than 90% of them Sikhs, came to British Columbia before their immigration was banned in 1908.

The discrimination against Sikhs was most pronounced when in 1914, the Komagata Maru, a Japanese ship carrying hundreds of Sikhs fleeing from India, was turned away by Canadian authorities. This decision would have deadly consequences for many on board. Our Prime Minister apologized in 2016 on behalf of the Canadian government for this horrible act.

Despite facing discrimination, Sikhs established themselves and by 1908 built their first permanent gurdwara in British Columbia. Even though life in Canada for the earliest Sikh Canadians was difficult, they remained proud of their country. With their dedication and commitment to their new country, and with personal sacrifice, early Sikh immigrants to Canada laid the groundwork for their generation and for future generations.

During the First World War, Sikh Canadians were on the front lines with the Canadian Armed Forces. A chance discovery of the victory medal that belonged to Private Buckam Singh has highlighted the forgotten tale of the Sikh Canadian soldiers who fought for our country during the war.

Sikh Canadian soldiers have proudly served in the Canadian Armed Forces for decades. Indeed, our Minister of National Defence is a shining example. In 2011, the minister became the first Sikh to command a Canadian army reserve regiment, and we are proud of the Minister of Natural Resources, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and our House leader.

After the Second World War, life for Sikh Canadians began to change. By 1947, Sikhs were able to vote in federal elections. By the 1960s, immigration laws were changed and racial quotas were removed. It was during this time that Sikhs were able to establish themselves across Canada and the foundation was laid for future generations. For Sikh Canadians this is clear today, with vibrant communities thriving throughout our country.

Canada holds the second-largest Sikh population in the world, home to over half a million proud Sikh Canadians. Today Sikh Canadians continue to make major contributions to our country, as doctors, engineers, artists, politicians, in businesses and every field. Indeed, we have come a long way from 1914 when a boatload of prospective immigrants from India was prohibited from landing in Vancouver.

One of our goals as parliamentarians is to uphold Canadian values of acceptance. By celebrating the vibrant heritage of Sikh Canadians, we send a clear message of acceptance that makes a tremendous difference, not only for Sikh Canadians but for everyone in our country. It gives us a platform so that we can talk about and celebrate Sikh Canadian history, beliefs, values and heritage. Declaring April as Sikh heritage month would give all Canadians the chance to learn about the Sikh culture, religion and practices and help create more understanding and better connections between Sikh Canadians and their neighbours from all communities.

Once again, I commend my colleague from Surrey—Newton for putting forward this bill, and thank him for his dedication to representing his community and celebrating the diversity of Canadians. Being a Sikh Canadian myself, I believe this is a great step forward and I am proud to see the tremendous support that has been shown for this bill.

This bill would help shape our identity as Canadians and empower our youth. When our youth are able to learn about the contributions and history of each of Canada's rich and diverse populations, we are instilling and creating strong values of understanding, compassion and caring for one another.

This is a bill that embodies the Canadian spirit and one that I am proud to support. Sikh values reflect Canadian values. I encourage every member of the House to support this bill as we move forward.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we go to resuming debate and the hon. member for Bow River, I will let him know that there is not quite the full 10 minutes available to him as we need to leave some time in the hour for the right of reply. That gives the member about seven minutes or thereabouts for his remarks.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Bow River.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.


Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

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.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I invite the hon. member for Surrey—Newton for his right of reply. The hon. member has up to five minutes.

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to speak to my Bill C-376, an act to designate the month of April as Sikh heritage month. I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary, opposition critics, all the members who spoke and all members from all sides for their support for the bill.

I would also like to give special thanks to my esteemed colleague and hard-working member for St. John's East for giving me his private member's spot and allowing me the opportunity to have the second hour of the bill debated today.

As other members have mentioned, the journey of Sikhs in Canada has not only taken the community to great heights, but at the same time it has helped Canada transform into a proudly diverse and welcoming nation.

There are over half a million Sikhs in Canada, which is the largest population of Sikhs outside of India. Sikhs are now equal members of our society, working in every sector of our economy, and above all, very proud Canadians.

Along the journey, there were many contributions by Sikh Canadians who had fought for equality in our democracy, respect in our workplaces and freedom in our society. With the passing of this bill, we can ensure that all Canadians will learn about these contributions, better understand the history of our country and celebrate the culture and religion of those from the Sikh faith. Better understanding and celebrating religions is important because it strengthens our diversity.

To quote the right hon. Prime Minister, and member for Papineau, “Canadians understand that diversity is our strength. We know that Canada has succeeded—culturally, politically, economically—because of our diversity, not in spite of it.” There is a strong connection between Canadian values and Sikh values, as both put a priority on respect for others, selfless service and equality. These values are the foundation of the Sikh faith and our Canadian culture.

I want to take a moment and share with everyone a little about the Sikh faith. Fundamental beliefs of Sikhism include faith and meditation on the name of one creator, the divine unity and equality of all humankind, engaging in selfless service and striving for justice for the benefit and prosperity of all.

Sikhism is based on the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first guru and the founder of the Sikh religion, and the nine Sikh gurus who succeeded him. The 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, named the Sikh scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib as his successor, terminating the line of human gurus and making the scripture the eternal religious spiritual guide for Sikhs.

Sikhs have three core duties. In Punjabi, naam japna refers to the remembrance of God by repeating and focusing the mind on his name, kirt karni means to live and earn honestly, and vand chakna is at the core of the faith and means to care about your surrounding community and share your blessings with those around you.

This provides insight into how our cultures are so deeply connected. The values we share need to be better understood, and our history together needs to be remembered and celebrated. That is why I ask each and every member of the House to support the bill so we can continue to better understand more about one another and in the process strengthen our ties to this great nation.

I would like to thank each and every member on both sides of the House for supporting this bill.

[Member spoke in Punjabi]

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


Sikh Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Motion agreed to

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

5:35 p.m.


Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to stand and follow up a question I asked in the House this spring in relation to the carbon tax and the environment.

Agriculture is is extensive in my area, and the carbon tax is really tough piece for the agriculture sector. Farmers are at the bottom of the supply chain, which means that whatever price they can get is the price they have to take, and they cannot raise it. However, they are then subject to all of the cost increases above that, with input costs such as seeds, equipment, particularly fertilizer and fuel, and this year grain drying, because the crops will be harvested much later. All of these input costs, along with a hidden and a regressive tax on everything, are going to be very difficult for the agriculture sector.

We will hear the federal government say that the provincial government could do something to subsidize that or to put in exemptions, but this is a federal tax, and the availability of exemptions will vary. It is a tax on the agriculture sector. The government is asking farmers in the agriculture sector to increase their productivity from $55 billion to $70 billion to export, yet it is handicapping them with this tax. Their competitors do not have this tax to compete with in the international market. Therefore, with this hidden tax on everything and the upfront tax on agriculture, the government is playing it twice, and this makes it very difficult.

The government does not take into account all of the mitigation effects that have happened in the farming industry. The farming industry has become a very precise and technical industry. It has achieved many advances in how farmers work with planting, fertilizer, zero till, and the carbon sinks it creates. There is no credit for that. The costs of this tax are very regressive, but there is no recognition for how those in the industry are creating carbon sinks.

We have the federal government saying that the province could return money, but it never responded about the GST and the possibly hundreds of millions of dollars out of Alberta and B.C. alone that will go to the federal government. Is that money coming back? The Liberals talk about possibly returning money if the carbon tax is implemented, but they do not talk about the GST.

However, it is interesting that the government will exempt some industries, like the large cement industry being built in Quebec. That industry is getting an exemption from the carbon tax. The LNG project that has been announced will also get an exemption. Where are the farmers and the agriculture industry in this? They are are paying it not once, but twice.

This is a very regressive tax and very tough on the agriculture sector, a huge industry. When the minister says he has not met a farmer who does not support it, my response is that I have not met a farmer who does, and there are thousands in my riding.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

5:40 p.m.

Sean Fraser Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Lib.

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in response to the question both on the Notice Paper and delivered orally tonight.

Before I begin, I would like to thank my colleague and friend from Bow River. Despite our friendship, I have to say that I could not disagree more strongly with his position on this particular file. The Conservative Party had 10 years in government, and now a total of 13 years, to come up with a plan to actually deal with pollution. It still does not have one and refuses to come forward with a solid plan to protect our environment.

Quite frankly, Canadians know that protecting our environment is a priority. Even though I think most would acknowledge that this is the case, my colleague across the way, who belongs to one of the biggest political parties in the country's history, does not have a plan to take climate change seriously. In my opinion, the party he represents is out of touch and is being extremely short-sighted. In fact, the question here tonight is not asking what the government can do to help and protect our environment; it is asking about the cost of doing something.

To answer the question as succinctly as I can, there is going to be a net benefit for Canadians with the plan to put a price on pollution, not a detriment. My colleague does not even need to take my word for it. He can ask Stephen Harper's former director of policy, who indicated that the government's plan to put a price on pollution is going to result in middle-class families being better off. They will have more money in their pockets as a result. Our plan to put a price on pollution is going to protect the environment, help grow the economy and put more money in the pockets of Canadians.

We are taking action on the environment and the economy and doing so in ways that are going to benefit both. Putting a price on pollution is widely recognized as the most efficient way to reduce emissions and to create a sustainable clean-growth economy.

Pollution, quite frankly, already has a cost. The cost of inaction is greater than the cost of addressing the problem. We are already suffering from effects like smog, which not only has an environmental impact but a health impact. We are experiencing floods and wildfires in different parts of the country, like the very fire raging over the province the member represents.

Putting a price on pollution lets everyone see the cost of pollution so we can do something about it. Unlike the Conservatives, whose plan seems to be nothing further than making pollution free, we are making life more expensive for polluters and more affordable for Canadians. If my colleague is sincerely worried about the cost of a price on pollution for Canadians, I will reassure him by telling him that the cost of inaction, as I said, is greater than the cost of taking the problem seriously.

I wonder if the member understands that the cost of inaction on climate is actually going to exceed $5 billion by 2020, because that is the cost of not taking this threat seriously. In fact, we know that by 2020, our historical failure to take threats to the environment seriously is going to exceed this incredible figure of $5 billion.

I like to work from evidence-based decision-making, not decision-based evidence-making, and the evidence is clear. We have seen the governor of the Bank of England, a Canadian, Mark Carney, indicate that the economic opportunity is $23 trillion.

Our government is protecting the environment, taking the challenges posed by climate change seriously and trying to capitalize on the opportunity to make Canadians better off and to protect the environment, not only for ourselves but for our kids.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

5:45 p.m.


Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to see my colleague here tonight in the House and to be able to discuss this topic with him. He is someone I respect. I believe he is a fine representative for his area, and he speaks well in the House.

From my point of view, in a sense there is a carrot-or-stick approach. In Alberta, we find over 50 years of innovation in the oil sands. There were incredible things done between the 1960s and now with respect to innovation. It was done as a positive, not as a negative.

I believe that people in the agriculture sector have done incredibly positive things for the environment. They really believe in the environment, because without farmland, there is no business. They really believe in the environment and working with it, but with a positive approach, not a negative one.

This piece is really negative for farms. It is double taxation. It makes it very hard for them to increase when they are doing more innovation. They are doing it for the environment.

This is tough. This is hard. This is why the carbon tax is very regressive.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

5:45 p.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Lib.

Sean Fraser

Mr. Speaker, in response to the rebuttal, I would like to point out that there are components that actually encourage people to make investments to help protect our environment in the clean-tech sector, in public transit, and in conservation measures. We are going to put a price on pollution, because to me, the really negative aspect of not doing so is that we are making pollution free for those who actually damage our atmosphere, and we download those costs onto everyday Canadians.

There was an election a few years ago, in 2015. We committed to grow our economy and protect the environment at the same time. We were transparent during that campaign and indicated that our plan would involve putting a price on pollution.

We have a duty to protect our environment and to grow our economy. Just because the Conservatives could not do either does not mean that we are not going to do both.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

5:45 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 5:47 p.m.)