April is a special month for the Sikh community around the world and here in Ontario. Sunday is Vaisakhi, also known as Khalsa Day, which is the Sikh New Year. It is one of the most important dates on the Sikh calendar because not only does it mark the beginning of a new year, but it also commemorates the birth of Sikhism in 1699.
But April is also a special month because it is Sikh Heritage Month. Ontario made history in 2013 by officially designating April as the world’s first Sikh Heritage Month. More provinces are now recognizing the significant contributions that Sikhs have made to Canada and are also declaring April as Sikh Heritage Month.
Sikhs have a long history in Canada and have historical ties to the labour movement. The first Sikhs arrived in British Columbia more than 100 years ago and worked mostly in the railway, forestry and fishing industries. The government banned Sikh women and children from settling in Canada until 1919, so Sikh men lived and worked here while their families remained overseas.
Sikh men suffered many forms of racism, including being cheated out of their wages. They made less money for the same work compared to white men. In 1943, organized labour in Canada launched a campaign called “Fair Pay to the Sikh” in order to address this pay inequity.
In today’s political climate, it’s important for all of us to learn about the history of how Canada came to be what it is today. Through the knowledge and understanding of our past, we can progress as a society and effectively fight pay inequity and racism against all religious groups and racialized people.
To all OPSEU members of the Sikh faith, we wish you a Happy Vaisakhi.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, First Vice-President/Treasurer