Loose Cannon: Sikh and you shall find bigotry

Thursday, February 25, 2010

  • Distortions and fear-mongering have dominated debate over whether Guelph Sikh Society should be permitted to construct a temple

    Distortions and fear-mongering have dominated debate over whether Guelph Sikh Society should be permitted to construct a temple

Written by Greg Beneteau

With Vancouver playing host to the Olympics, Canada’s commitment to the multicultural ethos has been the subject of much debate.

The involvement of First Nations in the Olympic Torch Relay was overshadowed only by the involvement of First Nations in opposing said relay.

There was a spirited debate over the lack of French at the opening ceremonies – in both official languages, no less. Even Vancouver’s visible minorities complained of being left out of the Games.

Still, most Canucks are seemingly standing firm in their belief that Canada should strive to be a welcoming place for different colours and creeds. No matter where you come from, the narrative goes, there is a place for you in Canada’s vast multicultural mosaic.

We should keep this in mind when considering the plight of the Guelph Sikh Society, whose proposal to build a place of worship in the south end has ignited a storm of controversy and shameful fear-mongering.

The roughly 300 members of the Sikh faith living in Guelph have outgrown their storefront church on Stevenson Street, where they have held services since 1998. Last year, they applied to the city to have a parcel of land on Clair Road rezoned in order to build a 2½-storey, 18,000-square-foot temple.

Residents in the area have cited a range of concerns about rezoning the property for a temple, including incompatibility with the neighbourhood aesthetic, increased traffic and tax increases resulting from increased use of infrastructure. City council listened to the concerns and left the application for city staff to consider.

The opponents of the development also started a website, stop-the-temple.info, to raise money for a mailing campaign and possible legal action against the city.

I don’t know how the fundraising efforts are going. Mostly, the website seems like a rumour mill for dubious claims, like the assertion that the temple will accommodate 2000 worshippers instead of the 400 claimed by both the city and the Sikh Society. This is seemingly intended to provoke alarm at the thought of a massive influx of foreigners into the neighbourhood.

Despite organizers’ pleas to “refrain from any racial comments,” the website also contains shocking comments by people warning of terrible consequences if the Sikhs (all 400 of them) are accommodated in our city. They also manage to insult Muslims at the same, presumably as a precautionary measure.

The authors of these appalling screeds might have the benefit of anonymity, but their words should be exposed so that people can understand the depth of misunderstanding that exists against Muslims and Sikhs.

“Last I checked, they are suicide bombers, child molesters, they kill their kids because they go out after dark, rapists, Con artists, Scammers,” read one posting.

“First its [sic] a Sikh Temple. Next it will be a Mosque. Both are violent cults and next it will be a memorial to martyrs aka terrorists. We must stop this eastern influence,” warned another.

And finally, the "reasonable accomondation" argument: “Bottom Line? If you want an Eastern temple to worship in, Air India offers daily flights to Bombay and Calcutta from Toronto. Or, there's always Brampton! The majority should not be forced to adapt to the minority.”

The comments are similar to anonymous letters filed during a council meeting in December, which were equally offensive.

Though the group of home-grown bigots is likely small in number, there is undoubtedly a racist undercurrent to arguments against the Skih temple. As Scott Tracey pointed out in The Mercury, city council previously considered building a much larger long-term care facility in the same spot as the planned temple, without concerns raised about traffic or taxes.

Guelphites should not allow themselves to be defined by the irrational ramblings of a few. If we want people to feel welcome in this city, we should start by supporting the Sikh community in its quest to build a temple. God knows they need a sanctuary.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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