Gurpreet Singh: Sikhs celebrate Pierre Trudeau's birth centenary in Surrey

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      The late father of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was remembered today by the Sikh community in Surrey.

      It came one day after Pierre Trudeau's 100th birthday, which fell on October 18.

      Known for his liberal immigration policies and championing of diversity, former prime minister Trudeau Senior is widely seen as someone who stood for the rights of minorities in this country.

      Members of Sikh community in Surrey came together at the Crystal Banquet Hall to celebrate his birth centenary just as Canada is heading for a federal election on October 21.

      Cutting across party lines, those associated with Trudeau’s federal Liberal party and the NDP came out to pay tributes to the deceased leader. They called upon the community to vote strategically to defeat right-wing forces to safeguard the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that was given to Canada by Trudeau Senior.

      They insisted that South Asians must not split progressive votes as this would help Conservatives and far-right People’s Party of Canada, whom they felt would be worse for visible minorities.

      The event was started by a young Sikh student, Navkiran Singh Sekhon, who shed light on the life and contributions of Trudeau Senior in shaping an inclusive Canada.

      Among those who spoke were Liberal incumbents Sukh Dhaliwal and Randeep Singh Sarai. Both Dhaliwal and Sarai are seeking reelection from Surrey-Newton and Surrey-Centre, respectively.

      They noted that multiculturalism remains the most important legacy of Pierre Trudeau. They emphasized that they were only able make it to Parliament because of his efforts to promote equality. And they each acknowledged that it was Trudeau Senior who influenced their decision to join the Liberal party.

      Others who spoke included former trade unionist and long-time NDP supporter Lehmber Sidhu. He said that Trudeau contributed a lot to Canada through his progressive values.

      An author and cofounder of World Sikh Organization, Gian Singh Sandhu, shared his personal memories of Trudeau and said that he built rapport with the Sikh community when Canada was still grappling with blatant racism and turbaned Sikh men faced hostility.

      He also went into the details of the significance of charter of rights that helped all minority communities to preserve their culture and heritage in Canada.

      World Sikh Organization founder Gian Singh Sandhu offered lavish praise for Pierre Trudeau's efforts to promote equality through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

      Punjabi journalists Manmohan Singh Samra and Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal said that Trudeau Senior was larger than life. They added that all immigrants irrespective of their party affiliations must remember him and keep the struggle alive for his unaccomplished dream of a "just society" by constantly fighting against racism and right-wing forces bent upon turning Canada into a white man’s land.

      I was also given an opportunity to say a few words. I reminded the gathering of Trudeau Senior's problematic relations with Indigenous communities but mainly spoke about his importance in the global context and how he stood up against the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

      I added that his son must also learn from his father and stand up against the U.S. government and growing foreign interference in Canadian politics by the right-wing Hindu nationalist government of India.   

      Others who spoke at the event were Arshbir Singh, Karnail Singh Maan, and C.J.S. Sidhu.

      Arshbir Singh was also one of the main organizers, forming the Pierre Trudeau Birth Centenary Committee to host the celebration.

      The Saturday event proved that the Sikhs in predominantly South Asian ridings of Surrey aren’t necessarily inclined to support Jagmeet Singh—the first turbaned Sikh leader of the NDP—as Liberals too enjoy wider support within the community due to their reverence for Pierre Trudeau.

      It is partly for this reason that provincial NDP supporters in Surrey have traditionally voted for Liberals in federal elections.

      Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor and a cofounder of Radical Desi.

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