Date: April 6, 2010
We would like to thank all of you for attending this Press Conference today, which is being held by the World Sikh Organization of Canada.
Let me first begin with the Introductions. My name is Gurdit Singh. I am the Vice President of BC region for WSO of Canada. With me I have Prem Singh Vinning the current President of the WSO Canada and Balpreet Singh Boparai, in house legal counsel for the WSO.
I will turn the stage to Balpreet Singh .
The World Sikh Organization of Canada is a non-profit organization registered in Canada. The WSO's mandate is 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.
The WSO works in cooperation with Sikh societies and organizations across Canada to advocate on behalf of religious, social, and legal interests of the Sikh community. Throughout its 25 year history, the WSO has tirelessly advocated for the promotion and advancement of human rights of all peoples, whether they be Sikh, Muslim, Jewish or of any other faith. In keeping with the principles of the Sikh religion, the WSO has continuously expended its own resources, with no government funding, to defend the rights of all, irrespective of their religious, social, cultural or ethnic affiliation.
WSO has been involved in addressing major social and legal issues in Canada since 1985. WSO has been an intervenor in such landmark cases before the Supreme Court of Canada such as Amselem v. Syndicat Nothcrest which clarified the law on Freedom of Religion as well as the case of Gurbaj Singh Multani where Sikh students secured to right to wear the kirpan while attending school.
WSO has also been active in several other issues including article of faith cases involving not just the Sikh community but also other religious communities such as the case of Azzy Mansour and her struggle to wear the hijab while playing soccer. WSO was also an intervener at the Air India Inquiry - the only Sikh organization to do so.
This gives you a brief history of WSO, and let me now turn to the issues that have prompted WSO to call this press conference.
Despite well over 100 years in Canada, the Sikh community continues to face significant challenges in explaining who we are and what we believe to our fellow Canadians. These include issues involving Sikh articles of faith, the linkage of the Sikh faith with violence and divides within our community. The Sikh community must accept at least some of the blame in this regard.
The two critical needs of the hour for the Sikh community are education and communication. Education of not only others, but also ourselves about how to express our beliefs and how we need to handle our internal differences. Recent events have shown how the Sikh community has effectively used protest as a vehicle of communication as well as shown how such protests, when not carried out properly, can be very damaging to the community.
With respect to human rights issues in Canada and the relationship of the Sikh community with other Canadians at large, we have seen the pendulum swing back to the right in recent years. Issues the community felt had been addressed and resolved have come back to the forefront. The education that took place several years ago has not been carried forward. For example, the struggle of Sikhs in BC to secure the right to wear the turban while riding a motor cycle has not resulted in similar rights for Sikhs in Ontario where Mr. Baljinder Singh Badesha is currently fighting the same battle. WSO is an intervener in that case. Similarly with the kirpan, after the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision upheld the right of Sikh Canadians to wear the kirpan, Sikhs still cannot wear the kirpan into many courtrooms across Canada. Ironically no restriction on the kirpan exists at the highest court of our land, the Supreme Court of Canada. WSO is currently involved in human rights litigation in Alberta and Ontario to secure this right. Finally, Sikhs who wish to work in the Oil Sands in Alberta are being asked to shave their beards to be fitted for gas masks in order to secure employment. No attempt at accommodation is being made and once again, WSO and the Sikh community are involved in a legal fight to secure these rights.
Even beyond the Sikh community, issues surrounding religious accommodation such as attitudes towards the niqab show a growing intolerance. We fear these recent trends may lead to an increasing marginalization of visible minority communities in Canada.
To address these issues, the Sikh community must once again take the lead in building stronger relationships with other communities. Our public institutions including schools, hospitals and government must be educated about who Sikhs are and their beliefs. WSO is currently working on developing these relationships. WSO has also embarked on a program of discussions with the Sikh community at large and Gurdwaras across Canada so a cohesive nationwide approach can be developed to address these weaknesses.
Finally, this discussion cannot be complete without addressing the role of media. Media can play a major role in educating the public. Media can help build bridges or contribute to the marginalization of communities. The onus is also on the Sikh community to build a better relationship with the media.
Taking up the need of the hour, the WSO would like to announce that we are offering our services across Canada free of charge to provide educational workshops and seminars on Sikh faith and culture to all interested parties, be they public or private enterprises. We are already working with some Government employers in order to deliver these services. Any one interested in receiving similar education or seminar is encouraged to contact WSO. We will be more than happy to be of service.