canadian immigration

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.

Canadian Government to Grant Millionaire Investors Permanent Residency

178113078The Canadian Government has begun accepting applications as of January 28 for its new Immigrant Investor Venture Capital Program. It is the latest version of a similar initiative started several years ago, and offers applicants a potentially faster track to permanent residency. The catch is that they are required to contribute $2 million to a government designated investment fund over roughly 15 years. Detractors call the program “cash for citizenship.”

The Details

Originally announced in December 2014, the final program details were made known in late January.

  • Up to 500 people may apply, but only 60 individuals and their families will be awarded permanent residency.
  • Interested parties can apply from January 28 to February 11, or until the maximum number of applications have been submitted.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander stated, “This pilot program is designed to attract immigrant investors who will significantly benefit the Canadian economy and better integrate into our society, which contribute to our long-term prosperity and economic growth.”

Fund Directive

The investment division of the Business Development Bank of Canada will primarily manage the money, but there is no guarantee of success. The directive of the fund is to “invest in innovative Canadian start-ups with high growth potential.” Participants will receive periodic dividends if the investment choices prove to be profitable.

What It Means to Be a Permanent Resident

Permanent residents are not Canadian citizens, but have specific rights including the following:

  • They are allowed to live, work and study any place in Canada.
  • They are protected by Canadian laws and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.
  • They will be eligible for the majority of social benefits available to Canadian citizens such as health care.
  • They can apply for citizenship.

Permanent residents are responsible for paying taxes and abiding by all Canadian laws. They are not able to vote or stand for political office, and are ineligible for certain positions requiring high-level security clearance. Another requirement is permanent residents must reside in Canada for a minimum of two years out of five. If they don’t, their permanent residence status may be forfeited.

Famous Canadian Immigrants

There are many opportunities afforded to the residents of Canada. The country is a politically stable democracy, has a robust economy and offers superior healthcare. Many people have chosen to immigrate to Canada over the years for these and other reasons. Some of the more notable immigrants are:

  • Adrienne Clarkson

Adrienne Clarkson was born in Hong Kong in 1939. Her family moved to Canada in 1941 as refugees, and she grew up in Ottawa. Clarkson is a journalist, broadcaster and stateswoman. In 1999, Queen Elizabeth II appointed her the 26th Governor General of Canada and she served until 2005. After that position, Clarkson was appointed to the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada in 2005.

  • Robert Herjavec

When he was 10, Herjavec’s family immigrated to Canada from Croatia to escape the communist regime. He started the internet security firm BRAK Systems in 1990 in his basement. In 2000, the company was sold to AT&T for $100 million. His next venture was to found the software security company, The Herjavec Group. Herjavec can be seen on the Canadian TV series Dragons’ Den and the American TV series Shark Tank. Both shows feature extremely successful entrepreneurs interested in investing in other promising start-ups.

  • Eckhart Tolle

Born in Germany in 1948, Eckhart Tolle moved to Canada in 1995 and currently lives in Vancouver. He is a renowned spiritual writer. His books, The Power of Now and A New Earth, have both made the New York Times Best Seller list.

The 60 immigrant investors who are selected will be granted permanent residency in a great country. However, there is no free lunch in Canada, and those interested will have to decide if the $2 million fee is worth it.