Canada is known as an enthusiastic, diverse, and tolerant country. This is the result of Canadians from all walks of life, races, and cultures, ensuring that Canada is a country we can all be proud of. This is one of the reasons why we observe the months of Italian, Tamil, Black, Jewish, and Asian heritages. These months help us recognize, respect, and remember who we really are. Uniting our values, principles, and ideals is a common theme for Canadians.
The month of April recognizes and emphasizes the important contributions that the Sikh community has made — and will continue to make — to Canada's social, economic, political, and cultural heritage.
Canada proudly has more than 500,000 Sikhs living here, making it one of the world's largest Sikh populations in proportion to overall country population. The United States, by comparison, has 700,000 Sikhs calling that country home.
Sikhs began to immigrate from India at the end of the 19th century, and members of this community began contributing to Canada through their achievements in various fields and helped shape Canada's diversity. The core principles of Sikhism include generosity, equality, openness, and compassion. Sikh Heritage Month is an opportunity to reflect on the key role that the Sikh community plays in building a stronger, consciously more inclusive Canada.
April is an important month for the Sikh community. This month, Sikhs in Canada and around the world celebrate Vaisakhi, which marks the creation of the Khalsa and the Sikh articles of faith. Sikh Canadians celebrate Vaisakhi, also known as Khalsa Day, widely throughout Canada.
Every year in Toronto and Vancouver, a large Khalsa Day parade is organized; more than 150,000 Sikhs from all over Canada participate, but from few years due to the pandemic the parades have been postponed.
By proclaiming April as Sikh Heritage Month, governments recognize the essential contributions that Sikh Canadians have made to the social, economic, political, and cultural fabric of the country.
Sikh Heritage Month was first recognized in Ontario in 2013; Alberta has been recognizing this awareness month for five years. On Nov. 7, 2018, the federal Parliament voted to celebrate Sikh Heritage Month nationally in April of every year. It is also important to acknowledge that the journey that Sikhs experience in Canada is not always easy.
Followers of this faith can face intolerance and prejudice. These challenges effectively have made Sikhs second-class citizens at times, due to unfair labour laws. Many Canadians are aware of the terrible Komagata Maru incident in 1914, in which a chartered ship of Sikhs arrived in Vancouver in search of a new life. But a former practice excluded immigrants from India entering Canada and the arrivals were refused entry because of these discriminatory laws.
The incident was a factor in overturning such practices, so that Sikhs became seen as equal members of Canadian society. By 1947, Sikhs were able to vote in federal elections. They support the right to vote and believe that citizen participation is not only a right, but also an important part of citizenship.
In 1908, the Sikh community established Canada's first Sikh temple in Vancouver. This has become a centre of faith, residence, advocacy and assembly, and community leaders are committed to finding ways to positively impact the entire Canadian community.
The Sikh religion includes a number of traditions: “The Articles of Faith and the turban worn by Sikhs ensures that they are always recognizable and visible. The Sikh identity was engineered to stand out and compel Sikhs to battle for justice and equality.”
The rich Sikh history in Canada is very personal to me because it is also reflective of my own 33 years in Canada and my personal journey and experience.
The Canadian Charter of Rights ensures I have the right to wear a turban on my head and keep a long beard on my face, as well as allowing me to wear my five “K” on my body including kesh (uncut hair), kara (a steel bracelet), kanga (a wooden comb), kaccha (cotton underwear) and kirpan (steel sword.) It's a right worth celebrating and remembering during Sikh Heritage Month