Reject C-38, Sikh High Priest tells Sikh MPs

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Monday, 28 March 2005

Toronto Star, March 28, 2005

AMRITSAR, India—The world's highest Sikh authority has admonished Sikh-Canadian MPs to block the homosexual marriage bill in Parliament, saying anyone who votes it into law will be ostracized by their community for flouting their religious duty. ...

in a blunt warning to observant Sikhs, with possible repercussions on the Canadian political scene, Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti described the severe consequences facing any MP who dares to defy his directive on "the laws of nature."

Interviewed in the revered Golden Temple, where he occupies the highest Sikh temporal seat, Vedanti disclosed for the first time that he personally reminded six visiting Sikh-Canadian MPs during their visit here two months ago of their religious duty to oppose gay marriage legislation now being debated by Parliament.

"The basic duty of Sikh MPs in Canada should be to support laws that stop this kind of practice (homosexuality) — because there are thousands of Sikhs living in Canada — to ensure that Sikhs do not fall prey to this practice," he said.

Dressed in a traditional white kurta cotton shirt and maroon turban, Vedanti grew impassioned as he described his occasionally tension-filled encounter with the visiting MPs last January on the eve of Prime Minister Paul Martin's official visit to nearby New Delhi. Martin had been scheduled to make a personal visit here but it was cancelled to make time for stops in Thailand and Sri Lanka in the wake of the Dec. 26 tsunami.

In bypassing Amritsar, Martin avoided a potentially embarrassing encounter with Vedanti, who would have hosted his tour and waded into Canadian domestic politics. But the visiting Sikh MPs were not able to escape the stern lecture delivered by the revered religious figure, who repeated his strong wording during an interview in his private study overlooking the temple precincts where pilgrims come to worship.

"I told them about Sikh teachings and how Sikhs should come forward to protect these Sikh tenets," said Vedanti, acting as the Jathedar Akal Takht — the highest Sikh authority.

"The Sikh religion would never accept such MPs. Nobody would support such a person having such dirty thoughts in their mind because it is against the Sikh religion and the Sikh code of conduct and totally against the laws of nature."

Sikhs around the world must maintain fidelity to these religious teachings, he argued, and no politician is exempt. Anyone who disobeys his directive risks the wrath of all Sikhs.

"Most of the Sikh community would resent them, and the majority of the Sikh population living in Canada would boycott them," he predicted, referring to the more than 280,000 Sikh Canadians.

Gesturing sharply with his hands, Vedanti singled out rookie Liberal MP Navdeep Bains (Mississauga-Brampton South) for daring to disagree with him during their meeting last January.

"There was one Sikh MP who didn't agree," he recalled, citing Bains by name.

The other visiting MPs "preferred to remain silent on this issue" and merely listened respectfully to the high priest's message.

Vedanti's words were echoed yesterday by Manjit Singh Kalkatta, another highly respected Sikh preacher who sits on the governing body of the Golden Temple, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.

Kalkatta, a former Punjab state cabinet minister who personally hosted a visit to the Golden Temple by former prime minister Jean Chrétien in late 2004, confirmed Vedanti's account of the encounter with the visiting Sikh-Canadian MPs two months ago.

"We expect from every practising Sikh, whether he is a member of a legislative assembly or Parliament, that he would abide by his faith," Kalkatta said.

If not, he cautioned, "it might be that they are censured."

He described how Bains made his views known and was subjected to strong pressure to amend his views or face the consequences.

"I was successful in putting a message to him that he should not espouse this cause publicly, as the Sikh people would reject that and he would lose his own people's support. He is a baptized Sikh, and must adhere to the principles of his religion."

Kalkatta noted approvingly that Liberal MP Gurbax Malhi (Bramalea-Gore-Malton) stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, but expressed dissatisfaction that fellow Liberal Ruby Dhalla (Brampton-Springdale) was non-committal during her visit.

"The lady MP (Dhalla) she abstained from saying anything" during the discussions in Amritsar, he said.

Dhalla is believed to be leaning toward the bill but has said she will consult her constituents. Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, also a Liberal, supports the legislation. Conservative MPs Gurmant Grewal (Newton-North Delta) and his wife Nina Grewal (Fleetwood-Port Kells) are known to oppose it.

Parliament is expected to have a free vote on the same-sex marriage issue, except for cabinet ministers who must support the bill. But the bottom line is that every vote will be closely watched by Sikh religious figures here and in Canada, Kalkatta predicted.

"The advice given by the highest Sikh temporal authority to every Sikh is saying that it is unnatural and ungodly, and the Sikh religion cannot support it. When the appeal is made to every Sikh from the highest authority, then MPs come under the same thing."