Confronting Ignorance & Racism in Canada

The Sikh community has been front and centre in the aftermath of the tragic Wisconsin Gurdwara shooting which took the lives of six worshippers.  The shooter, Wade Michael Page, was a white supremacist and a member of the skinhead group “Hammerskin Nation” (which also has branches here in Canada).

The question that remains unanswered is how could such a tragedy have taken place?  Although the specific motive behind the targeting of the Sikh Gurdwara in Wisconsin will never be known, it is not difficult to conclude that racism likely played a significant part.

Surrey Vandalism

In Canada, we are far from immune from the problem of racism.  Memories may have faded of the brutal beating and murder of Nirmal Singh Gill by five racist skinheads in the parking lot of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey in 1998 but racism, particularly against the Sikh community, remains a reality.  In March of 2012, two Sikh men were attacked in Edmonton by members of the skinhead group ‘Blood and Honour’.  In June, the Khalsa Community School in Brampton was defaced with “KKK” graffiti and swastikas.  Unfortunately, racist graffiti against the Sikh community is not uncommon and has taken place both in Surrey and Montreal in the recent past.

Last Friday, CKNW’s Philip Till Show in Vancouver featured Dave Foran who wrote an offensive email to Shere-e-Punjab Radio in the wake of the Wisconsin shooting  stating that although he doesn’t condone violence, he believes “Sikhs are disrespectful” because they don’t “blend in” after moving to Canada.  He also stated, “your long beards, turbans, clothes and waddling as you follow each other down the street is enough to make us sick. Lose the traditions or stay in India.”

According to Foran, during a trip from Surrey to North Delta he and his son counted a total of 47 Sikhs.  He insists however that he is “not prejudiced”

If Foran’s comments were not alarming in themselves, many comments were posted online in response to the story, supporting his position.  A few examples are below:

  • Dave Foran is simply saying what most people think but are to worried about speaking out.
  • Here Dave Foran, this multi-culturism has gone too far when other nationalities come here and they for example can drive motorcycles without a helmet just their turban or RCMP members can wear turbans…we built this country and if you come here adjust to our ways or stay home. Call me a racist if you will but many people feel the same way but wont speak out.
  • I agree with Dave as far as the display of religion goes. Other people from India do not display their religion like Sikhs… Sikhs have changed the uniform of the RCMP, will not remove their turbans when entering a Legion and will not wear helmets on bicycles or motor cycles. That is not coming to Canada and blending in…One man on the radio asked when he will become a Canadian and not an Indo-Canadian. Well, when would I become an Indian if I moved to India? If he can’t handle that then stay in India or go back.

Of course, both Foran and those who share his views ignore that Sikhs have been in Canada since the 1800s and are hardly newcomers.

Montreal Vandalism

Despite the long history of Sikh engagement in Canada, negative attitudes towards Sikhs are not uncommon.  In a 2009 survey, Maclean’s magazine found that only 30 per cent of Canadians had a “generally favourable” attitude towards Sikhs and that 26 per cent saw Sikhism as encouraging violence.

The first step in addressing ignorance and racism is acknowledging that it exists.

Ignorance is a major source of prejudice and hatred.  There is no doubt that the Sikh community must continue to reach out and educate about Sikh beliefs.  But in addition to efforts by Sikhs, all Canadians must speak out strongly against racist attitudes and statements.  Racism has no place in Canadian society.

In the aftermath of the Wisconsin tragedy, it has been heartening to see the media report on the Sikh community and talk about Sikh beliefs.  This is a welcome change from reporting that often erroneously links Sikhs with extremism or terrorism and perpetuates negative attitudes and bias.  It has also been heartening to see people of all backgrounds and faiths stand in unity with the Sikh community at this difficult time.  But it shouldn’t take such a profound tragedy for us to have the opportunity to learn about each other or build bridges.  We need to create spaces and opportunities to ask questions and learn about each other’s beliefs.

As Canadians and more fundamentally as humans, we have so much that unites us.  We all have a role to play in combating racism.  In the words of the tenth Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh, “Recognise all of humanity as one.”

6 COMMENTS

  1. Just to highlight from previous verses, those who hate others are apostate from God. Guru Ji had told us their endings but Guru Ji also told us what we should be focused on.

    “”There is darkness within the mind and body of an apostate. He has neither shelter nor place of rest.
    He continues roaming about, in many existences, like a crow in a deserted house.
    By Guru’s teaching Divine Light shines in the heart and by his word God’s Name is gained.””

    Let’s educate people correctly about Sikhism. Those who will not hear us. Let the Creator deal with them!

    WaheGuru Ji Ki Fateh!

  2. Sikhs seeks wisdom from our Guru Ji, Otherwise, we just like the rest of the world.

    Here is what Guru AmarDas Ji would say to us:

    ਸਿਰੀਰਾਗੁ ਮਹਲਾ ੩ ॥
    ਸਚਾ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਸੇਵੀਐ ਸਚੁ ਵਡਿਆਈ ਦੇਇ ॥
    ਗੁਰ ਪਰਸਾਦੀ ਮਨਿ ਵਸੈ ਹਉਮੈ ਦੂਰਿ ਕਰੇਇ ॥
    ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਧਾਵਤੁ ਤਾ ਰਹੈ ਜਾ ਆਪੇ ਨਦਰਿ ਕਰੇਇ ॥੧॥
    ਭਾਈ ਰੇ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇ ॥
    ਨਾਮੁ ਨਿਧਾਨੁ ਸਦ ਮਨਿ ਵਸੈ ਮਹਲੀ ਪਾਵੈ ਥਾਉ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
    ਮਨਮੁਖ ਮਨੁ ਤਨੁ ਅੰਧੁ ਹੈ ਤਿਸ ਨਉ ਠਉਰ ਨ ਠਾਉ ॥
    ਬਹੁ ਜੋਨੀ ਭਉਦਾ ਫਿਰੈ ਜਿਉ ਸੁੰਞੈਂ ਘਰਿ ਕਾਉ ॥
    ਗੁਰਮਤੀ ਘਟਿ ਚਾਨਣਾ ਸਬਦਿ ਮਿਲੈ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਉ ॥੨॥
    ਤ੍ਰੈ ਗੁਣ ਬਿਖਿਆ ਅੰਧੁ ਹੈ ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹ ਗੁਬਾਰ ॥
    ਲੋਭੀ ਅਨ ਕਉ ਸੇਵਦੇ ਪੜਿ ਵੇਦਾ ਕਰੈ ਪੂਕਾਰ ॥
    ਬਿਖਿਆ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਪਚਿ ਮੁਏ ਨਾ ਉਰਵਾਰੁ ਨ ਪਾਰੁ ॥੩॥
    ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹਿ ਵਿਸਾਰਿਆ ਜਗਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਪ੍ਰਤਿਪਾਲਿ ॥
    ਬਾਝਹੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਅਚੇਤੁ ਹੈ ਸਭ ਬਧੀ ਜਮਕਾਲਿ ॥
    ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ਉਬਰੇ ਸਚਾ ਨਾਮੁ ਸਮਾਲਿ ॥੪॥੧੦॥੪੩॥

    Sri Rag, Third Guru.
    Serve the True Lord, who will grant thee true greatness.
    By Guru’s grace, God abides within man’s mind and drives away his pride.
    When the Lord Himself casts His merciful glance, then alone is this fleeting mind restrained.
    O Brother! through the Guru meditate on Lord’s Name.
    When the Name treasure ever abides in man’s mind he finds a place in Lord’s palace. Pause.
    There is darkness within the mind and body of an apostate. He has neither shelter nor place of rest.
    He continues roaming about, in many existences, like a crow in a deserted house.
    By Guru’s teaching Divine Light shines in the heart and by his word God’s Name is gained.
    Thou art blinded by the wickedness of three dispositions and the darkness of the attachment of wealth.
    The men of avarice serve others, even though they advertise their study of Vedas.
    In sin they are burnt down to death. They are neither on this shore nor on the yonder.
    In the love of wealth they have forgotten the Father of the World. the Cherisher.
    Without the Guru, all the mortals are unmindful and are in the bondage of the myrmidon of death.
    O Nanak! by pondering on the True Name, under Guru’s instruction, thou art saved.

    Page 30 –

    Blessing of WaheGuru to All Sikh Nations!!!

  3. Vaheguroo,
    Truly disappointing, that Sikhs are expected to blend in and lose our allegiance to Gursikhi, while in Asia, even Saudi Arabia, Sikhs and other races, are able to live peacefully, with other races without having to lose one’s identity/ culture.
    How are Sikhs offending the non-Sikhs with their presence is what Sikhs need to question members of Parliament, and really take action on addressing this in public, then make findings known on the media not only in Canada, USA, but all western countries.
    Bhul chuk muaf

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