Pariahs to power brokers: Sikhs have become a major political force in Canada

Sikhs long and arduous journey constitutes a great Canadian story.

Of the three historic milestones that Jagmeet Singh represents — the first non-white, first South Asian and first Sikh to become leader of a national party — it is his faith, to which he so visibly and proudly belongs, that is of the utmost symbolic and substantive significance.

A century after facing raw racism on their arrival in British Columbia, Sikhs have emerged a bigger political force than any other visible minority group. Theirs has been a long and arduous journey that, at long last, constitutes a great Canadian story.

In electing Singh as leader, the New Democratic Party atones for the sins of its precursor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which demonized the Sikhs from India — often mislabeled as Hindus — landing on the west coast in the early 1900s. CCF leader J.S. Woodsworth proclaimed that they were “decidedly grotesque” and “sadly out of place in Canada.”

Echoing him was the labour movement, the other founding pillar of the future NDP. In 1907, the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council passed a motion of “emphatic protest” against the “Hindoo laborers.” The Trades and Labour Council of Canada urged exclusion of “races that cannot be assimilated.” 

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