[Member spoke in Punjabi]
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.