B.C. court order puts Sikh temple election in limbo

September 9, 2010 by The Canadian Press Source: www.ctvbc.ctv.ca
bc-temple (18K)
Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail
The Ross Street Gurdwara, Vancouver's oldest Sikh temple.
Sep. 1, 2010: Thousands of memberships at one of British Columbia's oldest Sikh temples have been canceled and an upcoming election has been put in limbo after a court ruling that could re-ignite the divisions between so-called fundamentalist and moderate factions.

The B.C. Supreme Court order against the Ross Street Gurdwara stemmed from allegations that the membership process involving about 6,000 people was flawed.

Kesar Bhatti, senior vice-president of the Khalsa Diwan Society, which runs the temple, said Wednesday that four recent members made allegations that could sideline the Nov. 6 election.

He said a count of between 4,000 and 5,000 membership forms by two lawyers for the complainants revealed that about five of them were unsigned and about 30 were duplicates, something that would have been picked up when the information was put into a computer.

"Does that invalidate 99 per cent of the other membership forms?" Bhatti said. "The judge seems to think so. It's a really troubling thing."

The court action was launched by four individuals who say they're part of a group called the Sikh Youth Vancouver, although Bhatti said it was recently formed as part of the battle to control the temple.

"We don't recognize any such group," he said, adding the membership drive was to close next Sunday, followed by nominations in October.

The court order means new memberships can no longer be accepted and the election, which is held every three years, could be postponed indefinitely, Bhatti said.

Judge Paul Walker ordered that an independent person run the membership drive for the upcoming election, saying both sides must agree on the individual or he will appoint someone for the job.

Amarjit Sandhu, who is among the four complainants, did not return calls for an interview.

Bhatti, 79, said the complainants are part of an effort by fundamentalists to take over the moderate temple that's been operated by the society since 1906.

"They have become members a few months ago because they wanted to fight the elections," said Bhatti, adding he has been involved with the society for 50 years.

"They go to other gurdwaras (temples), so-called fundamentalists."

Bhatti said the issue goes back to divisions in B.C.'s Sikh community more than a decade ago over whether people eating meals in temple halls should sit on tables and chairs or on mats on the floor.

"They want to do the same thing here," he said of the complainants in the current membership matter.

"I would say this is basically a fundamentalists versus moderates fight, carrying over from the last 10, 12 years. They don't represent any slate or anybody."

The tables and chairs edict was issued in Amritsar, India, home to the Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine, leading to friction at some B.C. temples, which got rid of furniture in the dining halls where three meals a day are typically served to anyone who walks in.

"We have not accepted that and we maintain that meals will be served on tables, and chairs," Bhatti said. "It's got nothing to do with religion, and I refuse to sit on the floor."

Bhatti said two lawyers for the society did not get a chance to defend its position at a hearing last Friday.

A new lawyer has now taken over the case, but was not available to comment.

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