OTTAWA, Canada (March 19, 2013)—Sikhs from all parts of Canada gathered together to meet with the Federal government, the National Democratic Party and Liberal Party leaders, and members of the opposition party to advocate for important Sikh civil and human rights issues at the first Canadian Sikh Summit in Ottawa D.C. The delegation encountered 27 MPs including Ministers and Parliamentarians from the ruling party, leaders and critics of opposition, and their staff members. A total of 150 delegates attended this momentous event with the goal of bringing light to the deliberations and the concerns of the Canadian Sikh community.
United Sikhs committee members discussed on-going issues and problems of the Sikhs in Canada and around the world with ministers, leaders and critics. The Sikh Summit initiated on the evening of February 26th at the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel bringing together all the three national parties represented by their robust team of Ministers, MPs and Critics.
Director Ranbir Singh, encouragingly said, “Sikhs hail Prime Minister Harper’s creation of Office of Religious Freedom to make the protection of religious freedom of vulnerable religious minorities a key pillar of the Canadian foreign policy. We strongly advocated for this in 2011”. Significant parts of the 2012 Global Sikh Civil Rights Report included Sikh leaders who raised various international and domestic civil and human rights issues, additionally giving recommendations for successful resolutions. The delegation addressed a large range of international issues including the “Right to Turban” campaign in France, minority rights in Pakistan and the lack of judicial prosecution for the perpetrators of atrocities committed against the Sikh community in 1984 in India, and ongoing domestic issues such as racial and religious profiling, employment discrimination, hate crimes and xenophobia in a memorandum that was presented to the MP’s.
Highlights of the evening included an outstanding presentation given by Harinam Singh Khalsa on introduction to Sikhism. Mr. Sunit Singh Tuli, creator of the worlds most economical Tablet, shared his success story of a Canadian Sikh Enterpreneur. A compelling history, heritage and contribution of Sikhs in Canada sermon was given by Tuvrayan Kaur. Ragubir Singh along with his metal companion, his bicycle, was a main attraction as many came to discover how this man traveled to 108 countries on his bicycle from 1968 to 1973 covering more than 90,000 kilometres and starting his journey with a mere 3 dollars in his pocket. Other notable speakers included: Priti Kaur-Conservative Party, Baljit Bawa-Liberal Party and and Martin Singh -National Democratic Party (NDP).
Sukhwinder Singh, Community Director of United Sikhs, said, “The situation impacting the Sikhs in Afghanistan are of grave concern and the world communities need to be aware of it and work with their governments to resolve such matters and issues.”United Sikhs through the committee meetings initiated the dialogue with Ministries, Critics and their staff members. One concern was the safety and security of the Sikhs in Afghanistan as the US troops pull out of Afghanistan in 2014. The key issues being faced by the Sikhs in Afghanistan as communicated to the Sikhs are -“they cannot cremate their dead bodies according to Sikh practice, safety and security of the Sikh women and can’t teach their kids their cultural languages”.
Another issue highlighted by the sports minister is the problem faced by Sikh youth to play Soccer in Montreal with Patka (head covering). Although the Hijab is now allowed to be worn by FIFA ruling out the health and injury concerns, there are still roadblocks for the Sikh youths wearing Patka while playing Soccer. It was suggested that the Government should take initiative to educate the other communities about the minority religions and culture. Because many such misunderstandings stem from ignorance and misinformation.
On the 27th February, in the Parliament, Hon. Judy Sgro read about the success of Sikh Summit and appreciated the efforts of United Sikhs. The Sikh delegation also met with the Liberal party leader Bob Rae. During this meeting with NDP Leader Tom Muclair, his team of critics, MPs and staff members; the French turban issue was brought up.
The overall voice of the summit concluded with the agreement that the Canadian government should take more of a lead role to initiate and resolve the human rights violations against Sikhs in other countries.