I am pleased to share the World Sikh Organization of Canada’s 2016 Annual Report with you, our friends and partners.
We list our achievements and initiatives, describe the deepening of our relationships and recount the source of pride of volunteering for an organization whose primary aim is Sarbat da Bhalla (the welfare of all). In many ways, looking back is a way to consider and make sense of where we are now and where we are headed in the future.
When I consider our past year, I can think of a host of great successes. Our organization has grown and transitioned to a new board. Through this, we’ve extended the depth, reach, and influence of our legal work, community outreach and networks. In all of these areas, we have grown bolder and are now speaking to audiences that, in years past, we did not have the opportunity to engage.
In recounting our successes, I would be remised if we did not mention the challenges faced. These have come from mainly a transition to a new younger board, but also because of genuine efforts at experimentation. There are projects and initiatives that didn’t come off in the way we’d hoped or took longer to develop than expected. But, with both the good and the bad, we’ve seen that the need for WSO remains and hope you will continue to support our organization into the future. Reflecting on the state of Canadian Sikhs, on the host of social challenges before us— workers facing discrimination due to their articles of faith, misrepresentation of Canadian Sikh values and views, a diverse education system, an increasing marginalization of religious voices in the public square—a voice for Canadian Sikhs that can offer well-reasoned responses that represent the voice of the community is needed now more than ever.
We are pleased to report on the recent accomplishments of the World Sikh Organization of Canada. We have remained focused on the five priorities set out in our nation objectives, which are:
- to foster understanding and good will towards all nations, creeds, persuasions and faiths;
- to act as a representative body and spokes-body of the Sikhs of Canada and help resolve differences amongst members and member organizations;
- to liaise with government and non-government agencies and to apprise them of the interests of the Sikhs;
- to encourage, develop and maintain close relationships with similar and like-minded organizations throughout Canada;
- to do all such things not inconsistent with the doctrines and ethics of Sikhism and the law of the land as are conducive to the attainment of the objectives of the World Sikh Organization of Canada.
This report describes many of the projects WSO initiated in 2016. My involvement with this organization has allowed me to connect with Canadians across the country – this has been a truly humbling experience. The feedback and support that we’ve received this year continues to fuel our work going forward.
I am proud to report that WSO continues to be a representative body and the only national Sikh organization with active volunteers from coast-to-coast. In 2016, the WSO was a leading advocate on behalf of Canadian Sikh community. We are regularly approached by members of the community facing legal issues with respect to human rights or Sikh articles of faith. WSO worked with NHL arenas across Canada to develop and implement kirpan accommodation policies. We worked with Synchro Canada to ensure a young Sikh swimmer could wear her kara during synchronized swimming tournaments. We assisted a young Canadian Sikh at the World Karate Federation tournament in Croatia to compete while wearing his patka, when he was told it would not be permitted. WSO intervened in several situations this year where Sikh travellers were improperly screened at Canadian airports and faced aggressive searches or improperly trained screening agents. In Montreal, WSO reached out to security at the city’s courthouses to ensure that Sikhs wearing the kirpan could attend court proceedings freely following the introduction of new airport-style screening platforms.
We have continued to foster understanding and good will towards all nations, creeds, persuasions and faiths while working organizations such as the Office of Human Rights, Freedom and Inclusion, Canadian Race Relations Foundation, Canadian Interfaith Conversation, Peel School Board Faith Forward, Ontario Human Rights Commission, etc. WSO is proud to be a sponsor of the Cardus Foundation's Faith in Canada 150 initiative. This initiative is in commemoration of Canada's 150th anniversary and role of faith in Canada. WSO's legal counsel Balpreet Singh serves as Co-Chair of the Cabinet of Canadians and is joined on the Cabinet by Palbinder Kaur Shergill and myself.
WSO's KarmaGrow initiative grew this year to include community gardens in Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Surrey. The WSO hosted the second annual Sikh Youth Leadership Institute in Ottawa in which, after taking part in a rigorous application process, twenty Sikh youths between the ages of 18-25, from across Canada, including Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, were selected to take part in the program. Participants received leadership training in emotional intelligence, advocacy, community building and social justice. We were joined by power panels of leading Sikh business executives, politicians and advocates. WSO also introduced two soft launches in 2016 with the Jaswant Singh Khalra competition and Sikh Family Helpline. The Sikh Family Helpline has begun offering culturally appropriate social services to Sikhs in Canada. The 1-800 number is available to call across Canada and callers can leave their details and be contacted by trained Sikh volunteers and guided with respect to addressing various social, health and legal issues WSO also launched the Turban,Eh imitative in Calgary and Edmonton this year where Sikh volunteers tied turbans on all those interested in getting a turban tied and in the process provided a background on the Sikh faith and significance of the turban. We will be expanding this initiative to cities across Canada in 2017
The staff and Board members made significant and important contributions to our organization. Our volunteers continued to build the capacity of the organization to better serve our community. I want to thank the WSO members for their supportive, thoughtful, and always positive discussion surrounding issues. The Board has expressed genuine gratitude for the members’ work over the past year.
It is an honor to do this work, and to join forces in this cause with outstanding partners across Canada and worldwide. To all of you, I extend my deepest thanks.
World Sikh Organization of Canada