Vaisakhi parade in Vancouver dishes up free food and friendly politicians

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      I've come to love the annual Vaisakhi celebration in South Vancouver.

      Families distribute free home-cooked Indian food, politicians are on their best behaviour, kids have mock sword fights in the street, and people of all cultures come together in a colourful festival showcasing Punjabi culture and the Sikh religion.

      But today's parade offered something new.

      I spotted the first white turbaned woman riding her hog among members of the Sikh Motorcycle Club.

      Tara Kye came in from Chilliwack to join the male Sikh bikers, who traditionally lead off the procession.

      Musician Tara Kye was the first white woman to ride with the Sikh Motorcycle Club in a Vaisakhi parade.
      Charlie Smith

      This was just one of many signs of inclusivity. The South Asian LGBT group, Sher Vancouver, also joined the parade for the first time.

      Every year, the Sikh Motorcycle Club is followed by the Khalsa Diwan Society float. It carries the holy scriptures of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib. It's accorded the status of a living person.

      Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan represents Vancouver South in Parliament.
      Charlie Smith

      The founding of the Khalsa in Punjab is also commemorated in the parade.

      Guru Gobind Singh created this military order in 1699, inviting volunteers to join him in a tent to be beheaded for the sake of Sikhism.

      It was a test of their faith. And the first five who entered were not killed; rather, they became the first inductees into the Khalsa, which protected people of various faiths from being forcibly converted to Islam by the ruling Moguls.

      These men represented five brave volunteers who were the first inductees into the Khalsa.
      Charlie Smith

      As is customary in the Vaisakhi parade, five men in orange robes lead the holy scriptures through the streets of South Vancouver.

      It's an election year in B.C., which usually draws lots of politicians. But I arrived just after the ceremony ended at the Ross Street Temple so I missed seeing Christy Clark this year. 

      City councillor Raymond Louie says he supports NDP candidate and former councillor George Chow in Vancouver-Fraserview.
      Charlie Smith

      I did spot B.C. Liberal candidate Suzanne Anton, who's seeking re-election in Vancouver-Fraserview, where the temple is located.

      She's running against former city councillor George Chow, who's carrying the NDP banner.

      Chow was endorsed on-site by his former Vision Vancouver colleague, Raymond Louie, with whom he served two terms on council.

      "He's a hard worker and he's connected to the community," Louie told the Straight. "Even after he was elected, he stayed connected with the community. He's involved with the Chinese Cultural Centre and the Chinese Benevolent Association. And he continues to show up on matters that matter to the wider community."

      Louie added that Chow helped the Vision Vancouver-controlled council introduce positive environmental measures and lay the groundwork for the federal government to get more involved in funding infrastructure.

      In contrast, Louie often disagreed with Anton, who was an NPA councillor over the same two terms as Chow sat with Vision Vancouver from 2005 to 2011.

      "Our focus on council was making sure we were proactive in dealing with the homelessness issue," Louis said. "Dating back to the time when she was on council, there was resistance. Now we find ourselves of course behind the ball in terms of making sure people have an affordable place to live. As a result of her resistance, we find ourselves worse off than we could have been had their majority [from 2005 to 2008] made the investments that were necessary."

      There were hordes of other New Democrats, including Peter Julian, who's seeking the leadership of the federal NDP.

      MP Peter Julian has picked up several endorsements from MPs as he continues his campaign to try to succeed Tom Mulcair as NDP leader.
      Charlie Smith
      There was no shortage of B.C. New Democrats at the parade, including leader John Horgan (third from left).
      Charlie Smith
      New Democrat candidates David Eby (left) and George Heyman (right) joined MP Don Davies (second from left) and community leader Amarjit Toor for a photo.
      Charlie Smith
      Chief Adam Palmer, Balbir Sidhu, and Deputy Chief Steve Rai were among tens of thousands in the Vaisakhi parade.
      Charlie Smith
      It wasn't just Indian food that was available for free along Southeast Marine Drive.
      Charlie Smith