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Immigration officials who refused to allow Sikhs to immigrate under the names Singh and Kaur were making a mistake, Immigration Minister Diane Finley said yesterday.

But although Ms. Finley issued a statement saying that she has told her department to stop it, neither her office nor her department would explain how the refusal of such names became a regular practice. Nor would they comment on whether other common surnames like Zhang, Lee, Mohammed, and Kim have also been refused.

The government faced an uproar this week over complaints that immigration officials had written applicants to tell them that the surnames Singh and Kaur were not eligible for those applying to come to Canada, and they would have to provide another name instead.

Many Sikhs adopt the name Singh, for men, or Kaur, for women, as a symbol of unity, although practices differ. Some use it as a middle name, but many orthodox Sikhs adopt it in place of their previous family name, and many families have borne only the names Singh or Kaur for generations.

In her statement, Ms. Finley insisted a 10-year-old policy of asking Singhs and Kaurs for additional names was intended to make it easier to distinguish between people.

But she said it was supposed to be voluntary, "and I can assure you I have directed the department to ensure that this type of erroneous letter is not sent out again."

Brampton-Springdale Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla said she has hundreds of complaints from Singhs and Kaurs who were told they had to provide another name, and many letters from immigration officials saying it was mandatory.

For example, a May 23 letter sent to her on behalf of a constituent sponsoring a spouse, asked for their passports and stated: "Please note that their Sikh surnames must be included in the passports, as the names 'Kaur' and 'Singh' is not sufficient for the purposes of immigration to Canada."

"For Sikhs, the Singh and Kaur names are sacred. They are religious tenets," she said.

Another Toronto-area Liberal MP, Navdeep Bains, said he also saw cases involving families called Singh for generations. If immigration officials want to guard against fraud, forcing people to change their name won't help, he noted.

Toronto immigration lawyer Michael Niren said he has run into cases where the documents have changed the name so that Singh or Kaur, or other common names like the Korean "Kim" are no longer the last name.