TORONTO: Top Canadian political leaders, including federal minister Bal Gosal, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Tom Mulcair, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Brampton mayor Susan Fennell joined over 80,000 Sikhs in celebrating the 28th annual Vaisakhi parade here on Sunday.
Organized by the Ontario Sikh and Gurdwara Council (OSGC), the parade started with prayers from Toronto’s CNE Grounds at about 1pm. Led by the traditional Panj Piaras (or Five Beloved Ones who symbolize the five Sikhs who were baptized into the Khalsa on this day in 1699 by the last and tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh), the parade wound its way through major city thoroughfares before entering Nathan Phillips Square.
As the parade culminated at Nathan Phillips Square in the heart of Toronto, the organizers, and prominent Sikh and political leaders gathered on the stage to address the huge gathering. The whole place had been turned into a sea of saffron-blue turbans and duppattas.
Free food stalls were crowded with people – Sikhs and non-Sikhs – enjoying a taste of Punjabi hospitality on this most important day in the Sikh Calendar.
Proceedings at Nathan Phillips Square began with the singing of Deh Shiva Var Mohe (written by Guru Gobind Singh) and the Canadian national anthem by school children, followed by a brief show of Sikh martial arts.
Speeches began with Dr Rajwant Singh, chairman of Washington-based Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE), highlighting the historical parallel journey of Sikhs in Canada and the US. He urged the gathering to dedicate themselves to working for the welfare of their adopted country and their homeland of Punjab.
In the day’s first political speech, federal minister Bal Gosal, accompanied by fellow Indo-Canadian MP Parm Gill, delivered the messages of congratulations to the Sikh community from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, accompanied by her Indo-Canadian minister Harinder Takhar and MPPs, said her government was ready to work with the Sikh community on issues concerning them as she lauded the role of the community in Canada and Ontario.
Then came Tom Muclair, leader of the Canadian opposition New Democratic Party (NDP). Wrapped in a shawl and accompanied by Olivia Chow, Martin Singh and other prominent leaders of his party, he listed what his party has done for the Sikh community, including the recognition of the five Sikh symbols and the issue of kirpan, and supported April as Sikh Heritage Month in Canada. He said his party will seek a formal apology by Canada in the nation’s parliament to coincide with the 100th anniversary next year of the Komagata Maru tragedy in 1914.
Newly elected Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, who wore a flowing Punjabi dress, highlighted the Sikh code of Khalsa and its similarity to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and praised the contribution made by the Sikhs to Canadian society.
Greeting the Sikh community, Tim Hudak, leader of the Ontario Conservative Party, said the Sikhs have become an integral part of the Canadian mosaic and made accomplishments in many fields.
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath said her party has always sought feedback from the Sikh community on issues impacting them.
And as usual, Susan Fennell, mayor of Brampton which is the city with the largest concentration of the Sikh community in Canada, highlighted how the Sikhs have enriched her city in various fields. She was welcomed with cries of Bole So Nihal when she said that she never misses the annual Vaisakhi parade.