THE World Sikh Organization of Canada on Friday sent a letter to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser, with respect to the crisis faced by Canadian gurdwaras due to restrictive visa policies which have effectively barred the entry of parcharaks (Sikh religious workers) to Canada for the past two years.
Tejinder Singh Sidhu, President, WSO of Canada, states in his letter: “We are writing to you today with respect to hardships faced by Canadian gurdwaras and the Sikh community as a result of restrictive immigration policies. We have heard from gurdwaras across Canada and the message we have consistently received is that gurdwaras are severely understaffed and struggling to serve the Sikh community because of restrictive policies implemented by Citizenship & Immigration Canada as well as the High Commission of Canada staff in India. These policies have frozen the arrival of Sikh parcharaks (religious workers) into Canada for the past two years. In short, Canadian gurdwaras are currently in crisis.
“With the COVID pandemic entering its third year, gurdwaras in Canada have been unable to bring Sikh parcharaks to Canada since early 2020. Many gurdwaras serving major Sikh communities such as those in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Surrey and elsewhere have been relying on parcharaks who arrived in 2019 or those who have long-term Canadian visas. Some gurdwaras have no parcharaks at all. The situation is unsustainable and has resulted in severe strain on gurdwaras and the parcharaks themselves.
“The Sikh community in Canada, which now numbers over 600,000 individuals, relies on gurdwaras and parcharaks to serve their spiritual needs. Throughout the pandemic, gurdwaras have been working diligently to serve their congregations and the general community by providing food, clothing, counseling, hosting COVID vaccine community clinics and providing religious services. While there have been capacity limits and restrictions on the size of gatherings, the number of services provided has not decreased. The Sikh community still continues to rely on gurdwaras for major life events such as births, weddings and deaths. The freeze on parcharaks coming to Canada has taken a toll on the mental and physical health of those currently serving in gurdwaras, many who have not been able to return to their families for more than two years.
“Canada’s largest gurdwara, Ontario Khalsa Darbar in Mississauga Ontario (OKD) reports that in 2019 it was staffed with 10 ragi jathas, eight pathis and a dhadi jatha. Today, in 2023, the numbers have dwindled to four full-time ragi jathas, two granthis/pathis and one kavishari jatha. Once again, the services provided by the gurdwara have not decreased.
“Like almost all other Canadian gurdwaras, OKD has been unable to sponsor any parcharaks since early 2020. There have also been significant difficulties in communicating with the High Commission of Canada in India which has been sending emails to an out-of-date email address and also claiming in one correspondence that OKD has been unable to establish that it is a “genuine religious organization”.
“Recently, the Migration Desk, Canada Consul General Chandigarh sent revised instructions to gurdwaras related to the inviting of parcharaks. The revised instructions require gurdwaras wishing to sponsor a new religious worker to send information about the religious worker being replaced including their boarding pass or a ‘copy of their entry stamp back to India’.
“This requirement would oblige gurdwaras to send parcharaks back before the processing of visas for the parcharaks coming to replace them. This will result in smaller gurdwaras being without any parcharak while waiting for the processing of new applications for the incoming individuals. If a visa request of a replacement parcharak is refused, the gurdwara will be placed in a situation where they will have to immediately search for a new parcharak. Any arriving parcharak will also need time to prepare for the visit including time to resolve their personal and family issues and also arrange their travel, which may take several weeks – a period where the gurdwara will be without any staff.
“The new instructions do not appear to have been developed with any wide consultation or input from Canadian gurdwaras and will lead to significant hardships.
“We call on you and your ministry to immediately work with Canadian gurdwaras to find a solution to the current crisis and ensure that sponsorship processes are optimized so that gurdwaras can continue to meet the spiritual needs of Canada’s Sikh population.”