Mr. Speaker, I am so delighted to support the member for Surrey—Newton in his Bill C-376 to designate a Sikh heritage month. In this place it is difficult sometimes to get things through the House quickly, and I have worked with the member to make sure he had an opportunity to get to third reading so quickly.
I am glad to be the last person to speak to third reading of this bill. There are only two clauses in the bill: its name, and the proposal to make April of every year Sikh heritage month. However, there is one powerful message: Sikh heritage is Canadian heritage, and we are one.
Newfoundland has a modest population of non-European immigrants who each have an outsized impact on raising our cultural awareness. The Sikh community is a perfect example of this graceful and organic process of diversity awareness, and this is the purpose of Bill C-376. It is to provide a forum and an occasion on which we can focus on the important contributions of the Sikh community to our rich Canadian diversity.
The official home of the Newfoundland Sikh Society is the gurdwara on Logy Bay Road in my riding of St. John's East. One could mistake it for a large, white saltbox house in a traditional Newfoundland Irish colonial style but for the bright orange gables and the distinctive Rajput arch style typical of Sikh architecture. It is understated but still quietly dramatic, a perfect meld and juxtaposition of Sikh heritage and Newfoundland heritage.
The physical gurdwara is only 15 years old. It was founded in 2003. Until then, the congregation would meet in people's homes or local halls in St. John's or across the province, demonstrating the spiritual unity of a community that is geographically divided, like so many diaspora.
The population of Sikh Canadians in my province, like that of all Newfoundlanders, waxes and wanes with our economy. According to census data, it tripled from 300 in 2001 to almost 900 in 2011, and has since subsided. However, when I speak to Rami Wadhwa at the Sikh temple, he tells me that it maxed out at 75 families who really participate in the gurdwara.
Now there are about 50, but it will grow again because Sikhs are very welcome in our province. As he was explaining to me, some of the new Sikhs arriving and participating in Newfoundland and Labrador Sikh culture are actually from Italy. They are coming over as skilled workers and to work on farms. They are coming to Canada to become Canadian. It is great that they have a spiritual home in the gurdwara.
This bill would help us prove that Newfoundlanders welcome Sikhs. April is the Sikh new year festival of Vaisakhi, with many important milestones related to the founding of the Khalsa in 1699. It is a very appropriate month to be Sikh heritage month. With the passage of Bill C-376 here and in the Senate, we hope April will have renewed and enhanced significance as an occasion to learn about the young and vibrant teachings and culture of Sikhism, and the selfless pursuit of truth. The values of Sikhism are eternal values shared by all Canadians, like unity and equality of all humankind, selfless service, striving for justice, honesty and honest conduct, and a life devoted to these values.
Their congregation has changed over the years in so many ways. The initial members of the congregation came in the 1960s as teachers. In the 1970s, engineers and doctors joined the community. Now we have trades and business folks who are coming to participate in the oil and gas industry and other sectors.
I know many of us have friends across the country who are Sikhs, but in Newfoundland and Labrador I have a very close friend, Dr. Jasbir Gill. Dr. Gill was born in England while her father was finishing his studies in engineering. Her mother, who was a trained teacher, was there with him. Then they moved to Goose Bay, Labrador, where he worked at the base. Although her mother was unable to get her teaching qualifications transferred from India to Canada, she ran the day care there.
I asked Jasbir to give me an important feature of Sikhism that she would like me to share, and what makes her cultural heritage so important. One thing that really struck me was when she said there is enormous support within the Sikh community for all other cultures. She talks about how the gurdwara in St. John's East encourages its members to participate and share in the spiritual life of other congregations of other faiths in the community, including the Jewish community, the Hindu temple and others.
It is just so wonderful to see how this melding of cultures truly embodies the spirit of what it means to be Canadian. In fact, it truly embodies what a Sikh heritage month can and should be, this opportunity to share and grow together, to learn about each other's cultures and to develop this type of respect.
There is also a very interesting new immigrant coming to my riding of St. John's East, Satnam Singh Bhamara, the seven-foot, two-inch centre for the St. John's Edge basketball team. He was recently with the Dallas Mavericks farm team. He is the first Indian-born player drafted into the NBA. We are so very excited to welcome the newest member of the Sikh community into our homes and our television sets, and to go to an Edge game at Mile One Centre to see this incredibly tall and talented player play. It is so great.
I want to congratulate the member for Surrey—Newton for all he has done. He has been so excited about this opportunity to help celebrate Sikh heritage month. He has worked with all members to make that happen. He has reached out to the community across the country to let them know about this opportunity.
I encourage all members to support this bill at third reading.