A little over 5 years ago the WSO embarked on a mission of renewal
We renewed the board.
We renewed our executive.
We renewed our initiatives and projects.
And, today, while we stay rooted in our strong tradition and pedigree, we look forward with renewed vigour representing the interests of Sikh Canadians.
When looking back on the year that was, compiling some of our biggest moments from 2018, I can't help but feel a sense of joy in knowing that this organization is as relevant today as it was back when it was founded in 1984.
Thank you once again for being part of our journey, and here is to an even better 2019!
Here are the WSO's top 10 achievements and moments from 2018!
(In no particular order)
For Sikh Canadians, the trip brought an unprecedented amount of anti-Sikh commentary in Canadian media, a very problematic and dangerous India-Canada security sharing framework, and racism and violence against local Sikhs.
We got to work by first combating the anti-Sikh narrative in the media by challenging journalists, correcting stories, writing op-eds and publishing open letters.
We also launched the #AskCanadianSikhs hashtag campaign which was viewed by millions and included a countrywidetour of panel events with media experts.
We followed up this effort over the past year with editorial board meetings across the country and continuing to meet reporters with the intention of ensuring ill-informed journalism does not happen again, and the Canadian media does a better job of providing the nuance our story deserves.
This year was a challenging one for Sikh Quebecers.
Quebec is a province our community continues to face particularly difficult obstacles to freely practice our religion.
Earlier this year we called on the Montreal police to accommodate turbans, and we followed up our advocacy on this file by holding a press conference where we called on the Quebec government and civil service to engage in dialogue about religious symbols and removing barriers to hiring Sikhs.
Our efforts were covered by all major Quebec media and added the Sikh voice in the conversation around religious symbols in public service.
Now, with the election of the CAQ and their public stance on cracking down on religious symbols in the workplace, we have doubled our efforts in changing the dialogue and providing a Sikh perspective.
As Sikhs in Quebec continue to face significant challenges, we will continue to advocate on behalf of Quebec Sikhs and ensure our rights are protected.
In May this year, the World Sikh Organization of Canada, in partnership with the Peel District School Board, launched the Sikh Faith E-Module.
The E-Module, intended for students, their families, staff and our community partners will share information on Sikh faith, culture, heritage and much more.
The Sikh Faith E-Module is the culmination of several years of collaboration and effort and will provide information on best practices when interacting with and educating Sikh students.
In 2011, we conducted a survey of over 300 Sikh students between the ages of five and seventeen in Peel and found that approximately 40% reported being bullied because of their Sikh identity (in a subsequent survey in 2016, the number had declined to 27%).
We shared the results with the senior leadership of the PDSB in the spring of 2012 and the idea of creating a resource on Sikh students was discussed.
After several years of dialogue and cooperation, the Sikh Faith E-Module has now been launched.
We will be working to make this resource available to other school boards across Canada in 2019.
Earlier this year a string of videos and messages made the rounds on social media blaming international students for a slew of societal issues, including violence, in the community.
Rather than allowing international students to be marginalized within our own community, we took an approach to empower them instead - a population which now numbers close to 100,000 in Canada.
We launched orientation sessions across Canada for newly arrived international students from Punjab.
We held sessions in cities across Canada, including Montreal, Ottawa, Brampton, Windsor, Winnipeg, and Surrey.
We often worked in conjunction with college administration and/or local Sikh Student Associations, where we worked together to provide students the tools necessary to make the most out of their experience in Canada, including awareness around their rights and responsibilities while studying in this country.
After the huge success of this programming in 2018, we will be expanding this initiative in 2019.
The 2018 Public Safety report on Canada’s terrorist threat environment included “Sikh extremism” as one of five major threats to Canada for the first time this year.
The move appears correlated to repeated unsubstantiated Indian accusations of rising extremism in the Sikh community that reached a crescendo during the visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to India earlier this year.
While the 2018 Public Safety report does not make any reference to current extremist activities in the Sikh community, it does state, “some individuals in Canada continue to support Sikh (Khalistani) extremist ideologies and movements.”
The report does not point to any current incident of violence or terrorism associated with the Sikh community in Canada and only references the 1985 Air India tragedy.
We will continue to push on this file well into 2019 as we plan to meet the Minister of Public Sa addedfety Ralph Goodale early in the new year.
Through the selfless and amazing efforts of the late Manmeet Singh Bhullar, many families were temporarily brought to India where they have been privately sponsored by Sikh families here in Canada.
Their journey to Canada has been challenging, and in July of this year, after a suicide bomber killed the leadership of the Sikh community in Afghanistan,we sprung to action calling on the Canadian government to take immediate action and expedite the arrival of Afghan Sikhs to Canada.
We are now hopeful that these families will begin arriving in Canada at the start of 2019.
We continue to call on the Canadian Government to create a direct sponsorship program for the Sikh and Hindu families still left in Afghanistan.
This year has been the most active for the Sikh Family Helpline (SFH) and general mental health awareness from the WSO.
We held our 5th annual One Billion Rising event across the country, hosted our inaugural fundraising and awareness SFH bowl-a-thon in Brampton, had an SFH balloon and information stall at the Winnipeg Nagar Kirtan, and held an open mic night in Calgary around mental health.
We look forward to continuing to promote and develop our Sikh Family Helpline and being a voice for mental health awareness in the Sikh community.
In August we held our fourth annual Sikh Youth Leadership Institute (SYLI) in Ottawa.
It was our most competitive year to date, and after taking part in a rigorous application process, twenty Sikh youths between the ages of 18-26 were selected to take part in the program.
The attendees came from coast to coast, including Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia.
More than half of this year's participants were Sikh women.
SYLI has been the biggest piece in our youth empowerment movement, where we have also continued to work in conjunction with Sikh youth and Sikh Student Associations in hosting meetings, events, and projects across the country.
We have many new projects lined up for 2019 and are looking forward to expanding our youth development initiatives over the next year.
2018 has been a year filled with challenges and successes.
Even in a country like Canada, we continue to face accommodation barriers in places that would surprise most.
This year we helped many Sikhs from across Canada deal with issues at workplaces, schools, BC Ferries, the World Karate Federation, and elsewhere with respect to their articles of faith.
We have also gone to the Supreme Court of Canada, and we will continue to be at the forefront of Sikh legal advocacy in 2019.
We have been actively working with various interfaith and community partners over the last year in new and innovative ways.
In the lead up to the Ontario provincial elections this past June, we launched #WeVote, a non-partisan get out the vote and democratic engagement initiative, in partnership with The Canadian Muslim Vote, Operation Black Vote Canada, and Tamils in Public Service. The initial launch included an op-ed in the Toronto Star and a collection of video ads. We are expanding the program in the lead up to the 2019 federal elections, and are excited to share new updates in the new year!
We were also active participants in the Parliament of World Religions (PoWR), which took part in Toronto this year. We moderated various panels (which included panelists from other organizations like the Sikh Coalition and SALDEF), hosted workshops on topics such as online hate speech, and much more.
We were happy to be strong ambassadors for Sikhs across the world at this year's PoWR!
For those that have not previously donated to the WSO, I hope you look at our achievements from the past 12 months and see the value in our work and consider making a financial contribution.