27% of Sikh students surveyed in Ontario’s Peel Region bullied for their Sikh identity; situation improving

Harkirat Singh

THE World Sikh Organization of Canada released a report on Wednesday in Brampton on issues faced by Sikh students in Ontario’s Peel District School Board (PDSB) schools. The report, titled “The Experience of Sikh Students in Peel”, is based on survey results of over 300 young people between the ages of five and 17 who identify as Sikhs. The report aims to bring a better understanding of the challenges faced by Sikh students in Peel, a region that has one of the highest proportions of Sikhs in Canada. The report finds that 27% of Sikh students surveyed reported being bullied for their Sikh identity.  This figure is down from 2011, when in a similar survey conducted by WSO found over 40% of Sikh students reported being bullied.

In July 2016 the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) conducted surveys amongst Sikh young people attending summer camps in Peel region (Ontario, Canada). The objective of the survey was to measure the prevalence of bullying targeted towards the Sikh identity to better inform remediation and prevention options available to schools, parents, and caregivers.

The report examines the following areas:

* Frequency and nature of bullying experienced

* Factors motivating the bullying behaviour

* Level of parent and teacher engagement when bullied

The key finding of the report is that 27% of Sikh students reported being bullied because of their Sikh identity. The largest percentages of students bullied were among those who wore visible articles of faith such as the uncut hair, turban and kara (Sikh bracelet). Thirty-four percent of students who kept at least one visible article of faith said they had been bullied. Students who did not wear any article of faith reported an 11% bullying rate.

One student reported that due to bullying, she “avoided class by pretending to be sick so that I wouldn’t go back to school the next day”. The WSO hopes to use this report to inform and engage with educators on possible remediation actions to further reduce the impact of bullying.

Notably, there is a reduction in the rate of bullying reported in the 2011 data. This trend indicates that changes in policy and diversity initiatives within the Peel District School Board may be drivers of the improved results: school staff were reported to be helpful in solving bullying issues in 36% of bullying instances in the 2011 survey, whereas this year’s report showed them to be helpful in 51% of cases.

Since 2011 WSO has been actively working with PDSB on raising awareness about issues faced by Sikh students and also been participating in PDSB’s Faith Forward initiative.

WSO National Vice President for Ontario, Sharanjeet Kaur said: “One in four Sikh students report being bullied for their Sikh identity in Peel region, despite being a region with tremendous diversity and one of the highest proportions of Sikhs in Canada. This finding demonstrates that there is still more opportunity for actions that better support our young people and foster healthy and safe environments. We are pleased however that there has been significant positive change at the PDSB since our first survey in 2011.  We are committed to continuing our work with PDSB to address issues faced by Sikh students. We hope that the findings from this report will also be used to assist the wider community of practitioners to better understand the dynamics of bullying.”

PDSB Director of Education Tony Pontes said, “At the Peel District School Board, we value the views and input from community partners like the WSO. The findings of this report will help us in our ongoing work to ensure all of our students feel safe, welcome and included. We are currently working with the WSO on an online staff training module, which will be launched in September 2017. We will also be looking at more ways to address the findings through the board’s climate and bullying prevention work. We have a strong, longstanding relationship with the WSO and we look forward to our continued work together to inspire success, confidence and hope in each student.”

Peel School Board Trustee Harkirat Singh (Wards 9, 10) said, “As a turban wearing Sikh who went through the public school system in Ontario, I know firsthand some of the adversity our young people can face. I am happy to see that things are getting better, however we still have more work to do. The Peel District School Board is taking some significant steps to help Sikh students feel more welcome. Schools host Langar Days and Turban-Tying days to improve understanding and break down stereotypes. Further, this year we are also introducing modules about Sikhism for our educators and administrators to improve their understanding as well.”