Canada’s British Columbia yet to elect a turban-sporting Sikh leader to its assembly | world-news | Hindustan Times
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Canada’s British Columbia yet to elect a turban-sporting Sikh leader to its assembly

Sikhs settled in British Columbia over 100 years ago, and accounts for approximately 40% of the Sikh population in Canada.

world Updated: May 11, 2017 20:45 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Civil rights lawyer Amandeep Singh lost in the British Columbia assembly elections by a mere 1% of votes.
Civil rights lawyer Amandeep Singh lost in the British Columbia assembly elections by a mere 1% of votes.(Courtesy: Amandeep Singh)

A curious anomaly in Canadian electoral politics appeared to persist as the province of British Columbia, where Sikhs settled over a 100 years ago, again failed to elect a turbaned member of the community to its Assembly.

British Columbia accounts for approximately 40% of the Sikh population in Canada — around 200,000 in all. It has had a Sikh Premier (the equivalent of Chief Minister) in Ujjal Dosanjh, but he did not sport a turban. The province has elected turbaned Sikhs to the Federal House of Commons, the most famous of whom is defence minister Harjit Sajjan.

But Tuesday’s assembly elections, the results of which were declared on Wednesday, the province once again failed to elect a turbaned Sikh to the provincial legislature.

This year, there were a couple of strong contenders to break that streak. Amandeep Singh of the New Democratic Party (NDP), a civil rights lawyer, contested the Richmond-Queensborough riding (as constituencies are termed in Canada) but lost by a mere 1% to Jas Johal of the Liberal Party. Meanwhile, accountant Gurminder Singh Parihar of the Liberals lost to Harry Bains of the NDP in the riding of Surrey-Newton. Both Johal and Bains are also Sikhs, but neither wears a turban.

Satwinder Bains, director of the Centre for Indo Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, felt this might “just be happenstance” but may also stem from the discrimination Sikhs faced for decades after first settling in British Columbia.

“Here, people have long been excluded from jobs and/or the community because of their turbans and that narrative has informed how our community has evolved over the 100 years in British Columbia. Most men felt they were forced to remove their turban for sheer survival. They have kept their heads down in terms of settlement and integration and tried very hard not to rock the boat that they had taken berth in,” she said.

Whatever the reason for this strange electoral phenomenon in Canada, the province will have to wait for the next polls to see if this preeminent symbol of Sikhism will make its presence felt among British Columbia’s MLAs.

Indian-origin Olympian elected to British Columbia assembly

A Canadian Olympian of Indian origin was elected to the British Columbia assembly after results came streaming in the early hours of Wednesday. Ravi Kahlon, 37, who was part of the Canadian field hockey team in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Olympics, won the riding of Delta North on an NDP ticket.