The opening of spring session at B.C. legislature with Sikh prayers may be historic, but the gesture was tokenistic considering some recent developments that reflect very poorly on a progressive government in Victoria.
Retired RCMP inspector Baltej Singh Dhillon performed the opening prayers as activists blocked entry and exit points of the building to show their solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are fighting a battle for land and clean water, besides their right to have an informed consent.
Dhillon was the first turbaned Sikh police officer to be recruited by the RCMP, and he had to face a racist backlash because of his appearance. While the ceremony was aimed at disseminating a message of inclusion and diversity, it was in complete contradiction to how the B.C. government is dealing with First Nations.
Indigenous and environmental activists have been opposing the Coastal Gaslink pipeline being pushed through the Wet’suwet’en territory despite serious concerns over the potential impact of the project on the livelihood of Aboriginal people and the ecology.
Right under the nose of a minority New Democratic government supported by the Green party, the RCMP raided the camp of land defenders on traditional and unceded Wet’suwet’en territory and made number of arrests. B.C. premier John Horgan is trying to put blame on protesters.
This has triggered ugly memories of the 1995 Gustafsen Lake episode when the then-B.C. NDP government supported an RCMP contingent suppressing the Indigenous resistance. The activists had gathered on their traditional land to hold a Sundance ceremony.
Ujjal Dosanjh, who was the attorney general and later became the firs premier of Indian ancestry, played an instrumental role in this controversial move.
A government has no moral right to hold Sikh prayers if it is in a direct confrontation with a less privileged group that has continued to endure structural racism in this country since the advent of colonialism.
After all, the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, taught his followers to stand up for the underdog and respect Mother Earth, air, and water. He was also thrown in jail for challenging tyrants.
If the New Democrats really care for the values of Sikhism, then they need to re-examine their approach on the Wet’suwet’en and related issues.
Notably, a United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has already recommended that three projects—including Coastal Gaslink pipeline—be halted as Indigenous communities have not been properly consulted.
Whereas the B.C. NDP opposes one of them, the Trans Mountain pipeline, it remains adamantly in favour of the construction of Site C dam, which is going to flood indigenous lands. Altogether, this goes against the spirit of United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the Horgan government has resolved to implement.
Ironically, Dosanjh recently reminded a gathering in India of Nanak’s activism.
Though it goes to Horgan's credit for speaking out against the persecution of minorities, especially Muslims under a right-wing Hindu nationalist government in India, Horgan and his team of South Asian MLAs mostly remain silent to growing state repression in India. Some do not miss any opportunity to please officials at Indian consulate, which is also like siding with oppressors in these difficult times.
It's worth noting that Khalsa Aid, an international Sikh humanitarian organization, has expressed its solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, unlike Dhillon, Horgan, and his Sikh MLAs. Khalsa Aid volunteers sat with the Wet'suwet'en sympathizers outside the B.C. legislature during a previous demonstrations. These volunteers also provided them with safety kits and lamps that were needed in their tents during protests.
Khalsa Aid’s Jatinder Singh told the Straight that he believes that the community has a responsibility to understand why the original inhabitants of this land had to struggle for their rights. He clarified that Khalsa Aid cannot take political position as it is a complex issue, but the safety and well-being of First Nations Land defenders really concern them.
This is not the first time that the group has come out in support of indigenous people. Khalsa Aid has also been supportive of impoverished First Nation bands on Vancouver Island. And the humanitarian organization has helped people all over the world in times of crisis without any discrimination.
Maybe Horgan should learn something from this group before trying to appropriate Sikhism, which is all about human rights and social justice.