“Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh.
“Distinguished guests, High Commissioner, all of my Parliamentary colleagues, obviously MP Parm Gill, Minister [Tim] Uppal and his strong supporter there, his son, everybody else, Joy Smith, Bob Dechert, Brad Butt, Patrick Brown, Nina Grewal, Senator Enverga, Ron Cannan, C.S. Leung hiding in the corner there, LaVar Payne, Devinder Shory, Senator Ataullahjan, Senator Seth, Wai Young and Deepak Obhrai, Minister [Bal] Gosal who’s merging in with the crowd there, man of the people, and of course also thanks to Lois Brown for playing her piano today.
“It’s wonderful to be with all of you, friends, at this special time of year.
“I am honoured to join again with you and Sikhs around the world in marking Vaisakhi, the start of a new year and the anniversary of that time when Guru Gobind Singh Ji established the Khalsa, the body of pure ones, thereby founding one of the world’s great religions.
“Again this year, there have been many joyful celebrations across the country.
“Last month I’m told some 200,000 people – a little bit bigger than here on the Hill – some 200,000 people participated in the annual Vaisakhi Parade in Surrey, British Columbia.
“This, I’m pleased to note, is one of the largest Vaisakhi events held anywhere in the world.
“Furthermore, while gift-giving is a Vaisakhi tradition, the Surrey Sikh community took it a step further this year.
“Hard-working volunteers from the Amar Karma Organ Donation Society spent the day encouraging people to give back to their community by registering as organ donors.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think that is a great cause and we should all applaud their efforts there in Surrey.
“My friends, as you are all probably very well aware, during the next few years we have a number of special national anniversaries to mark, as we approach the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.
“This year, for example, on the road to 2017, is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.
“And, with that in mind, I would like to use this Vaisakhi observance to share a story that is of some importance, I know, to Canadians of Sikh heritage and a great story of service for all of us.
“I want to speak about Private Buckam Singh.
“In 1907, at the age of 14, he came to Canada and became a farmer.
“Now sadly, he faced discrimination in Canada, something not unusual for the times, although that makes it no less a matter for profound regret today.
“Nevertheless, despite all that, Buckam Singh still believed in Canada, and the idea and the ideals of Canada.
“So it was that when the First World War came, with other Canadian Sikhs he rallied to the cause.
“And as a member of the 20th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Private Singh joined his fellow Canadians in Flanders Fields.
“Now there he was wounded twice, and seriously so during the grim struggle at St. Eloi.
“He first went to the battlefield hospital run by soldier-poet John McCrae, and then later on to England.
“Ultimately, he returned to service, but in the process of all of this, Singh had contracted tuberculosis.
“Sent back to Canada, he died at an Ontario military hospital.
“And for many years, he was forgotten, as too often in those days, were the fallen and their bereaved families.
“Yet the story of Private Singh still speaks to us.
“Amid the goodwill of the Vaisakhi season, it reminds us that the values to which Canadians aspire are of universal appeal, crossing the boundaries of cultures, religions and backgrounds and bringing them together.
“I’m delighted to learn that, in recent years, members of Canada’s Sikh community have worked hard to see that Private Singh does not remain an unknown soldier.
“Since 2008, an annual memorial service has been held every November, November 11th, at his grave in Kitchener, where his service to Canada is recognized.
“Canadians of all faiths and creed pay tribute.
“As they should, for Sikhs have always contributed and never hesitated to defend the great values for which Canada stands because these are the same values that make you, Canada’s Sikh community, so strong.
“So, ladies and gentlemen, as we enjoy Vaisakhi again this year, let us also proclaim our admiration for the success of the Sikh community in Canada and for your tremendous contributions in making Canada the best country in the world.
“I wish all of you a happy Vaisakhi.”