Religion

Sikhs Continue to Make a Life in Canada
Sikhs make a life in Canada.

Sikhs make a life in Canada.

Sikhs make up about 1.4 percent of the current Canadian population, according to the most recent National Household Survey. Those numbers translate to a community with over 468,000 members in a country of almost 36 million people. As part of the global diaspora of Sikhs, Canadian followers of this faith enjoy more opportunities while facing unique challenges.

Sikhs Arrive in Canada in the 1800s

The first Sikh settlers, a group of British Indian Army officers, came to Vancouver aboard the Empress of India ocean liner in 1897. These and later immigrants typically found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway, on farms, and in the lumber industry. They faced discrimination in many aspects of their daily lives. Sikh workers, along with other South Asian immigrants, were frequently paid far less than white workers performing the same jobs. Additionally, ignorance about their religion resulted in these individuals being classified as Hindus, and thus they were accused of observing a caste system. The Sikh religion adheres to principles taught by Guru Nanak, who spoke against discrimination based on caste, creed, or gender and believed in equality for all humans. Thus, such a characterization of the Sikh immigrants was inaccurate.

Growing Racism Yields Disastrous Results

As anti-immigrant sentiment grew among white Canadians and successive laws against Asian immigrants were passed, many Sikhs were forced to leave for the United States, Mexico, and South America. One notorious refusal of Indian immigrants occurred in 1914 when a chartered ship carrying hundreds of Sikhs from the Punjab region of India was turned away by the Canadian government. When the vessel returned to India, British soldiers murdered over a dozen of its passengers. The Wall Street Journal disclosed in 2016 that the Canadian government apologised for the affair, known as the “Komagata Maru incident,” in May of last year.

Fighting for Equality

Throughout the first half of the 1900s, Sikhs who stayed in Canada fought for their civil rights. This included their activism with the Khalsa Diwan Society, an organisation formed for the religious, social, political, and cultural development of the community. This era also saw them contributing to Canadian society. One famous example is World War I veteran Buckam Singh, who served with the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion and was wounded twice in the line of duty. While his story and heroics were almost forgotten for over a century, modern Canadian history now recognises and includes his efforts. Furthermore, all Sikhs had earned the right to vote by 1947.

A New Wave of Immigration Brings Renewed Possibilities

Beginning in the 1950s, educated Sikhs began to emigrate to Canada. These professionals joined the medical, technological, legal, academic, and other advanced fields. Over time, they contributed to making Canada a more diverse nation in several aspects, including entering politics and public service. In a November 2015 Washington Post article, Ishaan Tharoor reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet included four Sikh public officials. However, Trudeau’s announcement, along with his later statements about equality and civil rights for people of colour in Canada, have not stood without criticism. Writer Ramesh Thakur opined in a March 2016 piece in the Globe and Mail that the number of Sikhs in Canada’s cabinet is out of proportion with their percentage of Canada’s population, with greater representation than the 468,000 in the country would warrant.

What Does the Future Hold? 

Canadian Sikhs now pursue career, educational, and other opportunities that were once denied to many of their predecessors. However, they may face new challenges ahead as anti-immigrant sentiment has started to increase. The New York Times reported on this trend in January 2017, revealing fears that the right-wing extremism prevalent in United States politics may be moving northward across the border. What happens next for the Sikhs in Canada remains to be seen.

Lent – A Season of Fasting
Lent is a time for religious people to give something up for their religion for a set amount of time.

During Lent, religious artifacts, such as this crucifix, will be covered for the entire duration of the fast.

One common thread between most Christian religions is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, or Easter. The weeks leading up to Easter are often used as a time of remembrance of Christ’s ministry and what he went through before his death. In Christianity, the season of Lent is the 40 days before Easter. Because the date of Easter is based on a lunar, rather than solar, calendar, the beginning of Lent changes each year. Traditionally, the first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday, which in 2017 falls on March 1.

Traditions of Lent

On Ash Wednesday, Christians attend a worship service in which the minister or priest makes the sign of a cross with ashes on the forehead of the worshipper. This symbolizes the sinfulness before God and human mortality. In the Bible, in both Hebrews and Numbers, the ashes of a red heifer would sanctify the ceremonially unclean. Ashes were thought to be purifying.

Human sorrow is represented by ashes. In the book of Esther, the Jews “lay in sackcloth and ashes” as a way of mourning the edict of the King that allowed for the destruction of the Jews. Job used dust and ashes as a symbol of repentance.

Fasting is one of the most common ways that Lent is observed. In older times, the tradition would be to have one full meal per day, with smaller meals allowed. The idea was that a person should have enough food to sustain strength, but never enough to feel full. Each community would have their own traditions, but generally, animal products were forbidden. Fish and fowl might be allowed on Fridays.

On Sundays, the fast would be suspended, but during Lent, Christians would refrain from saying “Alleluia” or the “Gloria in excelsis Deo” rite. These rituals were associated with joy. Because Lent was a time of sorrow, the words would be replaced with another phrase or simply omitted during the season.

During Lent the religious objects such as the cross, statues and pictures might be veiled for the entire 40 days. However, Anglican and Methodist churches traditionally only cover the objects on Good Friday. In more progressive churches, the liturgy of Lent might not be observed at all. Instead, the emphasis is on Easter Sunday, rather than penitence.

Fasting for Social Change

One current trend seen around Lent is that of a positive fast. People don’t just give up food or pleasure, but instead contribute to environmental stewardship. At Greenanglicans.org, people are remembering the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness by doing one thing every day to be more environmentally conscious. For example, have dinner by candlelight and then talk and play games together.

Charisma House, a Christian publisher, is suggesting a 10-day word fast from complaining, criticism, sarcasm and gossip. According to Isaiah 58:6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” The study asks you to watch what you say for just 10 days, to help you change a pattern of discouragement and negativity.

Another interesting concept is taking on atheism for Lent. For 40 days, a Christian examines literature that speaks to who God is and his or her beliefs in God. It’s a time to examine ideological structures of religion.

You do not have to honor Lent to celebrate Easter, but respect those who do. It’s a Christian tradition that means a lot to those who do partake in the season.

 

Prime Minister Trudeau Introduces Legislation Protecting Gender Diversity
The heart painted

There have been huge strides in the LGBT Community recently.

Even if you don’t follow politics in the United States, you’ve probably seen something about the transgender bathroom policy debate. In a nutshell, there are certain locations in the United States that are passing laws to limit bathroom use based on a person’s sex at birth, whether the person identifies as a different sex today. It’s turned into a national debate, with businesses, states, cities, and the federal government each weighing in. While this situation should be watched, the real news in Canada is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has introduced a bill that extends human rights protections of gender diversity to all Canadians.

Gender identity is described as an individual’s personal experience of gender. It’s not the same thing as their sexual orientation. Essentially, it is a sense of being a man or woman, or neither, or anywhere along that spectrum. Often, when a person’s gender identity is different than their assigned sex at birth, they may be called transgender. Cisgender is the term for gender identity that conforms to the gender given at birth. Gender expression is how people present the gender in public, which might be through dress, hair style, body language or voice.

Five Key Things to Understand About the Legislation

On May 17, 2016, the Government of Canada introduced a bill that would give basic human rights to the gender-diverse community. According to the Department of Justice website, there are five things that you should understand about the new legislation.

  1. Gender diversity is an umbrella term that includes gender identity, gender expression and transgender.
  2. The “Canadian Human Rights Act” would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.
  3. The Criminal Code will be amended to include hate crimes based on gender identity or expression. These types of criminal offenses could have longer sentences.
  4. According to a study from 2010, 18 percent of transgender participants had been denied employment based on their gender identity. Transgender individuals face much higher levels of discrimination than cisgender individuals.
  5. Transgender individuals face higher risks of violent crime. One study estimates that at least 20 percent of the participants had been physically or sexually assaulted. Many people do not report these crimes to the police.

Currently, the “Canadian Human Rights Act” prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Ethnic origin
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Colour
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • Family status
  • Disability
  • Convictions when a pardon or suspension has been ordered

The proposed legislation would make it clear that transgender individuals have protection under the law.

Social Media Discussion

PM Trudeau opened the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #FreeToBeMe. Overall, the bill has support from many different organizations and leaders, including the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board; Bill Morneau, Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre and Canada’s Minister of Finance; Eric Alper, SiriusXM Host; and TELUS, a communications provider. The hashtag is also being used on Facebook with a great deal of support.

Once the legislation is passed, it will be a huge step forward for LGBT rights in Canada and in the international venue. Canada is on the forefront of human rights for all its citizens. Jody Wilson-Raybould,

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, issued this quote:

“In Canada, we celebrate inclusion and diversity. All Canadians should be safe to be themselves. The law should be clear and explicit: transgender and other gender-diverse persons have a right to live free from discrimination, hate propaganda, and hate crime. We are committed to making Canada stronger by ensuring Canadian laws reflect the rich diversity of our people.”

More governments need to take up the fight for inclusion and safety for all their citizens. Trudeau and the other leaders who support this legislation make us proud to live here.

New Year, New Wedding Traditions

canadian wedding blog 12.13.13Recognizing Old and Creating New Canadian Wedding Traditions

Weddings are one of the most fascinating cultural events for people all around the world. Every religion, country, and ethnic group has distinct traditions associated with weddings. Some wedding traditions require the pomp and circumstance of an ordained minister that has spent years learning theology and who is familiar with a specific sacred text. Other traditions are newly made by couples who are ready to make the world their own. Canadian wedding traditions are similar to many of those in Western culture.

A Typical Canadian Wedding

It is a little silly to label any one specific wedding style as typical. In the past, religion has dictated what is important in a wedding ceremony and what is not. A large and historic church, such as the Catholic Church, has specific ceremonies that accompany a wedding. In fact, they have important ceremonies for many things. One such holy rite was held on December 8th of 2013 as the NotreDame de Quebec Basilica received holy bronze doors that were to be opened after a priest knocked three times. Once the ceremony ends, the doors are sealed for at least 25 years, if not longer.

Non-Denominational Traditions

Even as children, many young women dream of their wedding day and once engaged, they excitedly plan every detail. Canadians host what is known as a Trousseau Tea. Although not a particularly common practice, sewing a trousseau was very important to English women and some other European countries for many hundreds of years. Since cloth was precious, and a woman wanted to be able to bring lily while linens with her to her marriage, a girl would begin saving sheets, dresses, table cloths, etc., for her marriage. Now, instead of sewing bed sheets, Canadians prefer to host a luncheon or dinner for friends that cannot make it to the wedding ceremony. This special Tea could be described as making good memories with which to enter a marriage instead of linens. This is a Canadian wedding tradition that does not belong solely to any one religious denomination.

Saying Special Vows

A very common practice among married couples in Canada and around the world is writing their own vows before their wedding ceremonies. These vows can be anything a couple would like to promise one another. Ceremonies that contain personalized vows are able to be overseen by anyone who is ordained to perform weddings. There need not be any association with religion if the couple does not wish it. One of the most freeing options for any soon-to-be wed couple is the possibility of creating their own Canadian wedding traditions. Women and men are often excited to begin new lives starting with matrimony, and what better way is there than to start than with brand new traditions that can be passed on to their own children.

Canadians with Religion Are More Likely to Lie for Money

money

At the University of Regina in Canada, a study has attempted to get some data about the tricky subject of people lying, especially where there is money to gain from the lie.  One result of the study seemed to indicate that more than half the subjects were willing to lie to get a direct financial gain.  The study was set up to let the subjects remain anonymous, and involved testing whether a person would give truthful information to another person in the test, knowing a lie would likely end up delivering more money to the person who told it.

The study split volunteers into teams of two, separated them, and set up a situation where two packages worth $5 and $7 in one version, or $5 and $15 in another version of the controlled study were to be divided between the two participants.  Person A knows the amounts in the delivery, and is directed to tell the other person which is the higher amount.  Person B gets to choose which to select (presumably the higher amount).  Person A had the opportunity to be dishonest, with anonymity, and with no other impact on the study, except that lying could be counted on to be likely to return a few extra bucks to that person.

The creator of the study then connected the willingness to lie in the study for greater gain to other individual traits, which had been noted at the outset, including major area of study (the subjects were all college students), and other categories, including religion, family background, age, and some economic indicators, including student debt.  The three largest indicators of willingness to lie in the study were religious identity (those that self-identified as more religious being more likely to use deceit for financial gain, although lying is classed as a sin in the main religions represented), being a child of a divorced couple, and being a business major.

The creators of the study seemed nonplussed by the last two indicators of higher levels of willingness to be deceitful, being familiar with prior studies that supported the notion that business majors as a class were ambitious and statistically more prone to value financial gain over moral values.  Perhaps it is true, as the creator of the study postulates, that a religion that distinguishes itself as the one true faith, as most major faiths teach, creates a condition in which there are those who are inside those particular parameters of righteousness and those who are not of the flock, and perhaps for some with this worldview, it is easier to cheat a little for some extra money, as against those who are not of the same faith, even if lying is a sin in the belief system.

But for those who respect all as children of the same universe, such as the Universal Life Church teaches, the idea of damaging or harming another individual to benefit oneself would be anathema and would conflict also with the principle of doing good in the world.  This may be closer to true religion, the notion that harming one causes harm to all.

Canadian Charter Harms Religious Freedom
A young girl wearing a hijab

A young girl wearing a hijab. one of many religious symbols prohibited by new law.

Quebec’s Charter Restricts Religious Freedoms: Considered Unconstitutional

Quebec cited gender equality as the foundation for its proposed charter to restrict all government employees from wearing symbols of their respective faiths while on the job.  Some religious symbols that would be unlawful for all employees that bill hours to government agencies that receive tax monies include hijabs, kippas, turbans, and crucifixes.

Freedom of Religion and Gender Equality

Parties that are advocates for the proposed charter in Canada have made claims that the charter would further the feminist movement.  Others argue that this stance is misogynistic (and counterintuitive) at worst and nonsensical at best.  Many women of Muslim and Orthodox Jewish faiths independently choose to dress modestly and cover their hair when practicing their respective faiths.  Modest dress and covering of hair was largely rooted in a pro-feminist philosophy in which women were to not to be objectified.

Pandering Religious Freedoms

The Shafia murder trial in which an Muslim man from Montreal was sentenced to life in prison after murdering his first wife and three daughters allegedly due to their refusal to wear headscarves, refusal to cease dating, and refusal to regularly attend school was repeatedly used to support the argument that religious symbols and doctrines are used for violence against women.  Should the backbone of religious freedoms and policy in Canada be based on a bizarre quadruple murder?  In other words, should policy surrounding religion pander to the lowest common denominator in any given society?

Celebration of Different Religions

The Universal Life Church takes a strong stance that different religions should be celebrated.  Religious symbols such as hijabs are not a detriment to individuals or society as a whole.  The freedoms offered by Canada have attracted a rich and culturally diverse population.  Furthermore, people have the right to work in jobs that do not restrict their inherent rights to practice religion in the form of wearing items that are symbolic to individual faiths.

Legal and Moral Ramifications

The larger legal issue behind the proposed charter to ban religious symbols worn by government workers while on the job is Canadian human rights on a larger scale.  Currently, the charter would be a clear violation of Canada’s Notwithstanding Clause.  However, passing the charter could open new legal channels that restrict religion in different contexts.  Morally, placing substantial limitations on the right to practice religion in a reasonable manner does not seem right.

Do that which is Right

The Universal Life Church believes that it is important to do what is right, regardless of political pressures or alternative agendas.  Diversity and symbolism of different faiths should be celebrated, and individuals should not have their freedoms restricted.