American media coverage of the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting often included primers on Sikhism, sidebars that would be considered superfluous up here in Canada.
Though estimates vary wildly, both countries appear to have similar numbers of Sikhs (Canada’s half-million v. 750,000 in the US), but America’s total population is nearly ten times greater. Turbaned bearded men aren’t an uncommon sight in the Great White North, be they cabbies or Cabinet ministers.
That’s not to say they are universally beloved.
American Sikhs may quietly come to thank their gurus that they were shoved into the nation’s consciousness by a crime where they were the unambiguous victims.
When the largest mass murder in Canadian history occurred in 1985, Sikhs were the perps. That incident, along with many minor ones, has ensured that Sikhs ranked second only to Muslims in a national poll measuring negative attitudes toward different faiths.
On June 23, 1985, more than 300 passengers—280 of them Canadian—died when Air India Flight 182 out of Montreal exploded over Irish airspace. The Canadian Sikh terrorists responsible called it revenge for the Indian government’s attack on the Golden Temple the previous year. Considered Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple was being occupied by extremists when President Indira Gandhi sent in the army, leaving over 500 dead. Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards assassinated her in October 1984.
Multiple investigations of the Air India bombing over the course of two decades—the fact that millions of Sikhs share the surname “Singh” didn’t exactly speed things up—have cost taxpayers an estimated $130 million.
The latest inquiry concluded in 2010 that—wouldn’t you know it?—it was all our fault. You see, a “‘cascading series of errors’ by the government of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had allowed the terrorist attack to take place.”
That’s not even “blaming the victim.” That’s blaming the bouncer, the bartender, and the janitor at the tavern where the rapist met his prey.
To say that Flight 182 left previously neutral Canadians with a poor impression of Sikhs is an understatement. Hostility toward them increased further because instead of issuing humble apologies then adopting a temporarily low profile, many Sikhs weirdly grasped the opportunity to push their luck.
That sounds like a suicidal strategy. So naturally, this being liberal, self-loathing Canada, it worked beautifully. Annual Sikh parades celebrate convicted mass murderers whose photos have pride of place in some Canadian gurdwaras (where stabbings occur with troubling regularity).
Devout Sikh males observe the “Five Ks”—the five “articles of faith” they are supposedly required to wear at all times. The special underwear, bracelet, and comb are of no interest to outsiders. However, two of them—kesh (long beards and uncut hair kept under a turban) and the kirpan (a ceremonial dagger) are a different matter.
With the Air India atrocity still fresh in Canadians’ minds, RCMP recruit Baltej Singh Dhillon appointed himself the Rosa Parks of the Mounted Police and campaigned for his right to wear his turban instead of the famous regulation hat. His victory was never in question: Turbaned Sikh soldiers have fought on the empire’s side with legendary distinction since before World War I, and come on—the Stetson’s not even Canadian.
For countless “old stock” Canadians, English, and French, none of that mattered. Herman Bittner of Calgary sold thousands of novelty calendars featuring cartoons of turbaned, dark-skinned Mounties and the slogan, “Is this Canadian or does this make you Sikh?”
Then there’s that troublesome kirpan. Depending on their opponent, Sikhs cleverly pivot on whether or not wearing it is a religious requirement. When France banned all religious accessories from public schools in 2004, some Sikh spokesmen argued (unsuccessfully) that the dagger is really a cultural symbol like the Italians’ gold Cornicello.
Back in Canada, however, there is no need for such fibs. Freedom of religion is a Charter right, and white guilt is the Anglo liberal elite’s sacred faith.
Being a “distinct society,” however, means Quebec gets to retain its legendary hostility to foreigners. The kirpan is unapologetically banned in its National Assembly. The so-called “kirpan case” went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2006, but it started in a Montreal schoolyard five years before. Had that Singh family lived in accommodating Toronto or Vancouver, an expensive, drawn-out Charter challenge would’ve been unnecessary.
So Sikhs can wear the kirpan in Toronto courthouses, even though their present day metal detectors were only installed in the first place after one Kuldip Singh Samra, “infuriated that his bid to stop an election at a Sikh temple was tossed out by a judge, took a .357 magnum into Osgoode Hall,” killing two men and leaving another paralyzed in 1982.
Some now suspect he’d also been planning to assassinate the father of official multiculturalism, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Yes, the tasteless jokes write themselves—except that if Herman Bittner were to print them on calendars, he’d be dragged before one of our Human Rights Commission tribunals.
But not, I suspect, before selling way more than a few thousand copies this time around.
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