Prime Minister Trudeau delivers remarks at the Vaisakhi Celebration on the Parliament Hill
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa. Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.
Thank you all. Thank you to all of the Sungat for being here today. I want to especially thank Minister Chagger for her kind introduction and thanks also to everyone who is involved with bringing us all here together. I know there was a lot of work done and it’s wonderful to see so many people come together here. In particular, I’d like to thank Darshan Kang for lending out his office for the akanbat (ph) and to the Ottawa Sikh Society for all their support. And thanks too to Dr. Harjit Kaur for her fantastic singing and before that Rupinder Kaur and our own Anju Dhillon. This room was once known as the reading room, but perhaps the singing room would be more appropriate for now. Thank you for sharing your talents with us today.
Across our country, at Nagar Kirtans and in Gurdwaras, we will see hundreds of thousands of Canadians celebrating the creation of Khalsa in 1699 by Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji. When we reflect on the creation of Khalsa, we think of the call that Guru Gobind Singh Ji made for five brave volunteers to be inducted into the Khalsa. What Guru Gobind Singh Ji had in mind was a society based on equality. Those five individuals came from different religions, castes and professions.
When we think of Canada, these same principles apply. Equality is our objective. Every Canadian, no matter who they are and where they come from, deserves a real and fair chance to succeed.
And that is as it should be. In a country as welcoming and diverse as Canada is, a country strong, not in spite of our differences, but because of them.
Unfortunately, as we all know, Canada hasn’t always lived up to that ideal. This year will mark the 102nd anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident where 376 passengers of mostly Sikh decent arrived in Vancouver and were refused entry into Canada due to the discriminatory laws of the time. The passengers of the Komagata Maru, like millions of immigrants to Canada since, were seeking refuge and better lives for their families. With so much to contribute to their new home, they chose Canada and we failed them utterly.
As a nation we should never forget the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community at the hands of the Canadian government of the day. We should not and we will not. That is why next month on May 18, I will stand in the House of Commons and offer a full apology for the Komagata Maru incident.
An apology made in the House of Commons will not erase the pain and suffering of those who lived through that shameful experience. But an apology is not only the appropriate action to take, it’s the right action to take and the House is the appropriate place for it to happen. It was in the House of Commons that the laws that prevented the passengers from disembarking were first passed. And so, it is fitting that the government should apologize there on behalf of all Canadians. It’s what the victims of the Komagata Maru incident deserve and we owe them nothing less.
Just as we look back and acknowledge where we have failed, so too do we need to celebrate the remarkable success of the Sikh community here in Canada and Vaisakhi is the perfect opportunity to do just that. April is a special month, not only for Sikhs, but for all Canadians. It marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which ensures that no Canadian needs to make the choice between their religion and activities in their day to day lives. The charter ensures that the five Ks are protected. As Canadian Sikhs gather with their loved ones to mark the creation of the Khalsa, it is a chance to reflect on shared values and celebrate the successes of the past year.
I know that these values, a dedication to community service and to the principles of equality, inclusion and respect serve as inspiration to all Canadians. Sikhism values a commitment to honest hard work and volunteerism while ensuring equality for all. The Sangat here knows the value of hard work and understands the sacrifices that have been made so that future generations may have greater opportunities. The Sikh community in Canada is more than a hundred years strong and its members have always excelled in every field and sector. In so many ways this community is key to Canada’s own economic and social success. And I know this past year has been a really remarkable one for Canadian Sikhs, particularly in the political realm. My friends, I am so incredibly proud to serve in a parliament that has seventeen Sikh members. Each is an exceptional individual. But there’s one part of Harjit Sajjan’s story that I think is particularly interesting to share on this day. Between 2011 and 2014 he was the commanding officer of Duke of Connaught’s Own, the same British Columbia regiment that once forced out the Komagata Maru. A century ago Harjit’s family might well have been turned away from Canada and today he is one of four members who now sit with me in Cabinet. As you may know, with the record number of Sikh MPs elected last October, Punjabi became the third most common language in the House of Commons after English and French. Now I can’t claim to speak the House’s third language as well as I do its first two, but on this occasion I am deeply honoured to be able to say again, Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa. Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.