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Opinion Sikh principles Jagmeet Singh should use to modernize our democracy

Shauna Singh Baldwin is an award-winning author. Her most recent work of nonfiction is Reluctant Rebellions: New and Selected Non-Fiction and her most recent novel is The Selector of Souls.

Jagmeet Singh, newly elected leader of the federal New Democratic Party, stirred the hearts of Canadians and people worldwide with his grown-up handling of a rabidly ignorant heckler at a political meeting. The attorney-turned-politician showed more than one million worldwide viewers how to deal with the truly deplorable. Some say the heckler was practising "protection of Canadian values," which for them includes opposing motion M-103, a motion to condemn Islamophobia. But many Canadians who saw the clip recognized a Sikh tenet in action: Sarbat da Bhala (goodwill to all).

Some have pointed out the brown-skinned, turbaned Sikh-Canadian had no choice but to deal with the in-your-face harassment in a forgiving manner. Such is the lot of minorities everywhere. Visible or invisible, we are required to know the majority culture just for survival; the majority, whether English or French in origin, isn't required to know much about us. Or even think about us.

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Which explains why to many Canadians, Jagmeet Singh is a first, an aberration. However, Mr. Singh stands on the shoulders of previous Indo-Canadian politicians: Hardial Bains, Raj Pannu, Ujjal Dosanjh and the many Sikh men and women who participate daily at the local level.

I urge Mr. Singh to take a few positions inspired by Sikh principles to modernize Canadian democracy:

  • Learn constantly: The word Sikh means a learner – that’s why everyone can be a Sikh. I hope Mr. Singh’s election makes it less cool to be ignorant and fear-filled. Make it unacceptable to be ignorant of other Canadians. Each one, teach one about yourself. Each one, interview one to learn about one another. And each one learn one more language besides French and English.
  • Be a feminist (From Guru Nanak: “Without Woman, there would be no one at all”): Headscarves allow young Muslim women to participate in public spaces and compromise with the tradition. Wigs make it possible for young Orthodox Jewish women to work. Head coverings help minority women. Opposing a ban on dress codes also benefits Sikh men and women who wear turbans, Orthodox Jewish men wearing yarmulkes, nuns who wish to wear a coif and brides who enjoy wearing veils. It has nothing to do with that bogeyman “sharia law” – it’s the secular, feminist thing to do. I hope Mr. Singh continues to oppose a ban on headcoverings.
  • Include all Canadians (Sarbat da Bhala): Re-enfranchise non-resident Canadians. Change the rule that Canadians who live more than five years outside Canada lose their vote. Expats and Canadian diplomatic personnel posted abroad are Canadians and represent Canada every day. Modern communications make it possible for non-resident Canadians to be attuned and involved with Canadian politics today. We should not be disenfranchised.
  • Help more Canadians to work (Kirat Karo): Ask all Canadians to invest in Canada. Change the rule that non-resident Canadians cannot invest in Canada without losing 25 per cent of their return on investment to taxes. Change the rule that individual non-resident Canadians cannot invest in Canadian real estate.

My hope is that Mr. Singh's election widens Canadian majority awareness. Sikhs don't proselytize, but Canadians may better understand Sikhism every time we see leaders like Jagmeet Singh practising its principles.

Come to think of it, we might better understand Christianity, Islam, Judaism and many other faiths if we all practiced the principle they have in common: compassion.

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