Posts Tagged ‘diasporas’
On the weekend, Torontoist’s Kevin Plummer wrote about the efforts of a Sikh in Toronto a century ago to overcome racist Canadian immigration policies. Apparently he was quite well-liked at the time.
“We are subjects of the same Empire; we have fought, we have sacrificed. We have fought for the Empire, and we bear her medals; we have an interest in this country; we have bought about $2,006,000 of property in British Columbia; we have our church and pay our pastor, and we mean to stay in this country,” Dr. Sunder Singh said in a speech before Toronto’s Empire Club on January 25, 1912. One of the leaders of the South Asian community in British Columbia, Singh spent that winter in Toronto, campaigning for the easing of highly restrictive immigration regulations for South Asians. He continued: “To others you advance money to come here, and yet to us, British subjects, you refuse to let down the bars. All we are asking of you is justice and fair play.”
“Many people have been telling me that it is useless my trying to bring this question before the Canadian people,” the speaker concluded, “but I am firmly persuaded that, if the question is properly brought before right-minded Canadians, that they will say that the same rights should be given to the Sikh people as are given to any other British subjects.”
A reasoned argument persuasively delivered, Singh’s speech that day was interrupted by spontaneous applause no fewer than six times, an indication of the reception he received in Toronto initially. For a brief moment, it appeared that he might succeed in rousing Ontario’s Protestant and pro-Imperialist sentiment to the cause of loosening immigration restrictions. But ultimately, the justness of his argument couldn’t overcome the vociferous outcry from British Columbia or the personal attacks launched on his character.
Born near Amritsar, Punjab in 1882, Dr. Sunder Singh (also frequently spelled Sundar) was educated at Punjab University, then studied medicine in Glasgow, Scotland. After qualifying as a doctor before the license board in Britain, he worked as a ship’s medical officer on the mail line for two years, travelling between Liverpool, Brazil, and New York. Singh arrived in Canada at Halifax in March 1909, where immigration restrictions against South Asians were much less stringently enforced than on the West Coast.