WSO: Celebrating 30 Years

December 2014 commemorates a special milestone. The WSO of Canada was founded on Dec 2, 1984.  For 3 decades we have been the voice of Canadian Sikhs. Through your invaluable support, we have helped shape Canadian law and culture, making this country one of the best places on earth.  As we reflect upon the past, we are reminded of the incredible progress that we have made, and the challenges that lie ahead in an increasingly interconnected world.

30 years ago, the WSO was established with a mandate to promote and protect the interests of the Sikh Diaspora, as well as to promote and advocate for the protection of human rights for all individuals, irrespective of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and social and economic status. This led to our involvement in the major social, legal, and political issues of the day. Whether it was helping the settlement and integration of refuges off the coast of Nova Scotia, liaising with the Truth & Reconciliation Commission to seek justice for our aboriginal brothers and sisters, or standing up for the right of a high school student to wear his kilt to his graduation, WSO has been a voice of inclusivity, reason and compassion.

(Photo Above: WSO Canada founding President, Gian Singh Sandhu, addressing delegates - Dec 2 1984)

Our mission has been grounded in Sikh values and principles, which, in keeping with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, envision a world where all members of society are able to participate freely without discrimination. Today, with the hard work of our volunteers, the WSO is the leading Sikh advocacy organization in Canada and continues to act as the voice of the Canadian Sikh Diaspora, on social, legal, and political issues.

Social Change
WSO believes that most change can be effected through dialogue and education, and wherever possible, endeavours to highlight social injustices while working with community groups to find solutions to pressing problems. WSO’s involvement in social justice matters over the past 3 decades has lead us to support many campaigns, the following being some examples:

  • Refugee Support - On June 12, 1987, a ship carrying 173 Sikh refugees landed in Charleston, Nova Scotia. The WSO raised public awareness about the dangerous conditions that the refugees were fleeing, helped secure the bonds necessary to secure their release, and provided them with free legal assistance. Listen to a radio documentary here.
  • Canadian Parliamentarians Examine Indian Human Right Violations - In 1992, the WSO sponsored a tri-party Canadian Parliamentarian group to visit India and examine the atrocities being committed against the Sikhs. The delegation included Barbara Green (PC), Derek Lee (Liberal) and Svend Robinson (NDP).
  • Khalra Centre for Human Rights Defenders - The WSO, in partnership with the Human Rights Law Network, launched the Khalra Centre in 2011 in order to provide human rights activists in India protection and support.
  • One Billion Rising - A campaign against violence against women - Each year on Valentines Day, WSO volunteers send Valentine Day cards and chocolates to women in shelters fleeing family violence, as a way of raising public awareness, and showing our support to women in abusive relationships.

    (Photo Above: Volunteers put together care packages for women shelters)
  • Alberta Floods - The WSO provided much needed support to our troops, through the provision of food, blankets, and other supplies during the 2013 floods in Alberta.

    Photo Above: Tejinder Singh, WSO's Regional VP, providing pizzas to military personnel)
  • Truth and Reconciliation - The WSO worked with Reconciliation Canada and the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) to bring awareness and healing for the many victims of residential schools.
    Watch the Video Here
  • KarmaGrow - In partnership with community groups, the WSO helped build and launch community gardens and farms, in order to provide food banks with a fresh source of produce.

    (Photo Above: WSO Board Members volunteering at the KarmaGrow project)

Government Relations
WSO recognizes that government plays an important role in ameliorating injustices. The WSO government liaison team works with government and political parties to identify governmental policies and programs which may either hinder or advance human rights. Some highlights of our government liaison work over the past 3 decades include:

(Photo Above: Parliament Hill vigil in honour of those lost during the 1984 Sikh genocide, November 2014)

  • Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council;
  • Presentation to the World Conference Against Racism;
  • Consultations with the Refugee Review Tribunals of Australia, United States and the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board;
  • Presentation to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, on Bill C-36, Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Legislation;
  • Presentations to Canadian Senate and House Committees on Bills C-16/C-18 (Citizenship and Immigration);
  • Presentation to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) on a study of the security of Canada’s immigration system;
  • Consultations and Submissions to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs on issues of foreign policy, including Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties;
  • Consultations with Canadian Department of Employment and Immigration on immigration policy development;
  • Consultations with the Ministry of Multiculturalism; and
  • Consultations with various human rights commissions, across Canada.

Legal Advocacy
WSO’s legal advocacy work is unparalleled.  The organization has helped shape the law and public discourse on religious freedoms in Canada and abroad. Whether intervening in landmark cases before the Supreme Court of Canada, working with the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) to create a model policy for accommodation of the Sikh Articles of Faith which has been used at subsequent Olympic Games, or making representations against the Quebec Charter of values, WSO’s legal team are seen as leaders in the field of human rights. While we await the outcome of our most recent intervention (Loyola High School, et al. v. Attorney General of Quebec) which was argued in March 2014, we are proud to reflect on our past legal successes: 

(Photo Above: WSO counsels Balpreet Singh and Palbinder Kaur Shergill, QC at the Supreme Court of Canada, March 2014)

For 30 years, the World Sikh Organization has been an influential human rights organization, dedicating its time, energy and resources to upholding the egalitarian principles and values of Sikhism as well as national and international human rights instruments. We thank you for providing us with this incredible opportunity to do seva (selfless service), and hope that you will work with us to bring about meaningful and positive change in the decades to come.

(Photo above: Sukhvinder Kaur Vinning, former executive director of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, holds a kirpan outside Surrey provincial court following the BC courthouse kirpan accommodation policy announcement)

Your financial support is critical towards helping us to implement Guru Nanak’s vision of a just and equitable society. Please visit our donation page to provide the support we need to continue our work.