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Sikhs and their phenomenal rise in Canada

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Photo: www.sikhtrend.com

By Anirudh Bhattacharyya

Last week, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a student at the American University in Washington DC that he had more Sikhs in his cabinet than his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, he was stating a fact but also being facetious.

He appointed four Sikhs in November, giving the high-profile national defense portfolio to combat veteran Harjit Sajjan. But that throwaway remark was evidence of the evolution of the Sikh community in Canadian politics.

“There’s a certain amount of pride and it speaks to Canada’s multicultural policy but I don’t see it as a challenge to India,” said Satwinder Kaur Bains, director of the Center for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

While the cliché coming-of-age has often been applied to such moments in time, in this context it’s “very very appropriate”, Bains said.

But it isn’t just in the cabinet that Sikhs are becoming more influential. Recent changes to immigration policy, announced this month by the new Liberal Party government, simplified the process of family reunification and removed the waiting period for spouses to become permanent residents, both significant demands within the community.

As Bains pointed out, “The Sikh community has remained invested in its culture. India is still the main source country for marriage. The fourth cohort of Indo-Canadians didn’t want to see that eroded.”

Canada’s Sikh population is estimated to be between 500,000 and 700,000, and as a percentage of the country’s population may be higher than that in India. But its political significance has increased because it is concentrated largely in the Greater Toronto Area and the Vancouver Metro region, with their wealth of seats that decide electoral majorities.

The Liberal Party’s victory in the 2015 parliamentary election can partly be attributed to winning over the community. In fact, its campaign graphic for how the middle-class would benefit from proposed tax cuts showed a family named Singh.

“If you simply look at the numbers, it’s a significant change. That’s a sizeable portion of the cabinet,” said Shinder Purewal, professor of political science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, BC.

But Purewal, who ran as a Liberal candidate for parliament twice, was sceptical of the impact this will have long-term, even as he described Trudeau’s statement as “childish”.

“Individuals have become more powerful. But it’s the bureaucracy that makes the decisions. You don’t see Sikhs here. Same thing, perhaps, in private boards. I want to see if this trend of political power leads to more power in the public and private sectors.”

Herb Dhaliwal, the first Indo-Canadian and Sikh to be appointed a minister in the Western world, on the other hand, is thrilled: “I’m proud that others have come forward. There are more Sikhs with much bigger portfolios. That says a lot about our country.”

Sikh symbols like the turban or kirpan are no longer alien to Canada. Unlike in the US, where Sikh stand-up comedian Jus Reign recently had to remove his headwear for security reasons, in Canada their higher profile has meant greater understanding.

“There is no why, just because. Sikhs are part of the Canadian mosaic,” Bains said, stressing the country’s policy of multiculturalism, even with its faults, had helped the process. That mainstreaming of Sikhs has helped them win nearly 20 seats in this House of Commons, with a handful in non-traditional areas.

Dhaliwal made history in 1997, and Bains believes “each minister will say they stand on the shoulders of giants”.

Sikhs have been engaged in Canadian politics since they first came to the country, but it took nearly 90 years for them to arrive in Ottawa, the capital and centre of political power in Canada.

Source: Hindustan Times

  • Shriya Katoch

    Justin Trudeau is highly progressive.With allocating half of its cabinet to females and appointing Sikhs .He truly knows about demographics.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Yes indeed. If there are so many Sikhs in Canada, they should be given some kind of reservations as we have for Anglo-Indians. This is a very good step taken to unify people. Great going Mr Justin Trudeau!

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  • Shriya Katoch

    Justin Trudeau is highly progressive.With allocating half of its cabinet to females and appointing Sikhs .He truly knows about demographics.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Yes indeed. If there are so many Sikhs in Canada, they should be given some kind of reservations as we have for Anglo-Indians. This is a very good step taken to unify people. Great going Mr Justin Trudeau!

Next Story

Americans Arrive in Canada Seeking Affordable Prices for Insulin

Caravan to Canada trekked across the border in May for the same reason

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Americans, Canada, Insulin
Advocates from the United States exit a Canadian pharmacy after purchasing lower-cost insulin in London, Ontario, June 29, 2019. A self-declared "car. VOA

A self-declared “caravan” of Americans bused across the Canada-U.S. border on Saturday, seeking affordable prices for insulin and raising awareness of “the insulin price crisis” in the United States.

The group called Caravan to Canada started the journey from Minneapolis, Minn., on Friday and stopped at London, Ontario, on Saturday to purchase lifesaving type 1 diabetes medication at a pharmacy.

About 20 people made the trip, according to Nicole Smith-Holt, a member of the group. Smith-Holt said her 26-year-old son died in June 2017 because he was forced to ration costly insulin.

Caravan to Canada trekked across the border in May for the same reason, and Smith-Holt was on that trip, too. She said the previous group was smaller than this week’s group. Americans have gone to countries like Mexico and Canada for more affordable medications in the past and continue to do so, she added.

Americans, Canada, Insulin
U.S. residents get set to depart a Canadian pharmacy after purchasing lower-cost insulin in London, Ontario, June 29, 2019. VOA

‘Resurgence’ in visitors

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported in May that Canadian pharmacists have seen a “quiet resurgence” in Americans coming to Canada looking for cheaper pharmaceuticals.

Insulin prices in the United States nearly doubled to an average annual cost of $5,705 in 2016 from $2,864 in 2012, according to a study in January.

While not everyone purchased the same amount of insulin, Smith-Holt said most people were saving around $3,000 for three months’ worth of insulin, and as a whole the group was saving around $15,000 to $20,000.

Prescriptions for insulin are not required in Canadian pharmacies Smith-Holt said, but the caravan has them so they can prove to the border patrol they are not intending to resell them when returning to the United States.

T1International, a nonprofit that advocates for increased access to type 1 diabetes medication, has described the situation in U.S. as an insulin crisis. Quinn Nystrom, a leader of T1International’s Minnesota chapter, said on May via Twitter that the price of insulin in the United States per vial was $320, while in Canada the same medication under a different name was $30.

“We know that many people couldn’t make this trip because they cannot afford the costs associated with traveling to another country to buy insulin there,” Elizabeth Pfiester, executive director of T1International, said in a press release.

Banting House

Americans, Canada, Insulin
Smith-Holt said her 26-year-old son died in June 2017 because he was forced to ration costly insulin. Pixabay

An itinerary said the caravan planned to stop at the Banting House in London later in the day. The Banting House is where Canadian physician and scientist Frederick Banting, who discovered insulin, lived from 1920 to 1921, and the building is called the “birthplace of insulin,” according to the Banting House website.

Also Read- Thousands March in Madrid to Ditch Traffic Restrictions Set Up to Improve Air Quality

Smith-Holt said the group was not currently planning any future trips, but they could be organized in the near future depending on need. She hopes for long-term solutions in the United States like price caps, anti-gouging laws, patent reform and transparency from pharmaceutical companies. (VOA)