THE World Sikh Organization of Canada held its biennial convention on Saturday, November 11 at the Punjab Bhavan in Surrey, B.C. Delegates from across Canada attended the convention to reflect on the successes of the past two years and to chart a course for the future.
WSO Vice Presidents from the five national regions presented their reports on local activities, successes and challenges, followed by a report by WSO legal counsel Balpreet Singh. Balpreet Singh spoke about the latest success of the organization with respect to the ability of Sikhs to wear small kirpans with less than 6 cm blades on airplanes. While this change will apply as of November 27 to domestic and international flights from Canada, it will not apply to flights to the US. Balpreet Singh reminded the convention that prior to 9/11 the WSO had secured an accommodation for amritdhari Sikhs to wear kirpans with up to 4 inch blades on domestic flights but this was later discontinued due to changes in airline security policy.
Balpreet Singh also spoke about his appearance at the Supreme Court of Canada earlier this month with respect to a case involving a Jehovah’s Witness community that excluded a member because of alleged drinking and abusive behaviour towards his family. The excluded member applied to the court to judicially review the decision of the Jehovah’s Witness Elders’ Council which was then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. He said that the WSO’s intervention in the case was important to safeguard religious freedoms of religious organizations, including those of the Sikh community. The decision in this case is expected in the new year.
Next, Gurpreet Kaur Rai, a graduate of the Sikh Youth Leadership Institute, spoke about the program and the amazing success its graduates have enjoyed as a result of the mentorship and training they received. She said that graduates gain a confidence from the program that if other Sikhs have achieved success in fields such as business and politics, they too can make the impossible possible.
Recently appointed Community Relations Director Jasjeet Singh spoke about important steps being taken to strengthen relationships with the community and governments on all levels.
WSO President Mukhbir Singh said, “WSO has worked for the interests of the Sikh community for the past 33 years and it is because of the long-term vision of our founders that the leadership of the organization has been passed to the next generation.”
Mukhbir Singh spoke about the recently launched Sikh Family Helpline and the services it offers to members of the Sikh community facing mental health, family or addiction issues. The anonymous telephone line which can be reached at 1800-551-9128, provides resources to Sikh families that are culturally sensitive.
Mukhbir Singh also mentioned that the WSO has assisted in hundreds of cases involving Sikh articles of faith and continues to provide this service free of charge. The greatest example of this is the Gurbaj Singh Multani kirpan case at the Supreme Court of Canada which secured the right of Sikhs in Canada to freely wear the kirpan. WSO played an important role in the case as an intervener. Anyone facing any legal issues can contact WSO’s legal counsel at 416-904-9110 or visit the WSO website at www.worldsikh.org.
At the conclusion of the convention, the 31-member board of directors of the organization was unanimously selected. Past WSO Executive Director Sukhvinder Kaur Vinning and founding President Gian Singh Sandhu announced the board on behalf of the organization:
* President: Mukhbir Singh, Ottawa
* Senior Vice President: Dr. Bhavjinder Kaur Dhillon, Surrey
* Director of Finance: Gurleen Kaur Sidhu, Brampton
* Director of Administration: Harman Singh Kandola, Edmonton
* BC Vice President: Aman Singh Hundal, Kelowna
* Alberta Vice President: Tejinder Singh Sidhu, Calgary
* Central Vice President: Harbans Singh Brar, Winnipeg
* Ontario Vice President: Sharanjeet Kaur, Brampton
* Quebec & Atlantic Vice President: Amrit Kaur, Montreal
Mukhbir Singh said, “I am grateful for having been selected for another term as President of the WSO. The WSO has a proud history of being the voice of Sikhs in Canada and standing up for human rights for all. I am also proud to be part of a progressive board of young Sikh professionals who believe in Sikh principle of Sarbat da Bhalla or upliftment of all. The WSO has played an important role in Canada and we are inspired by the history of service in the organization. This history will help guide us as we continue to work towards a country where everyone’s rights and freedoms are protected and all are equal. We believe that with support of the community, we will continue to take important steps forward in the term ahead of us.”