Rajinder “Raj” Kahlon has faced discrimination for his religion and/or appearance numerous times since he first arrived in Canada from India in 1971. Once, in Surrey, an RCMP officer did nothing to help when a drunken white man bashed on his family’s car in a Surrey grocery-store parking lot, refusing to pursue the matter. A mine supervisor in Grande Cache, Alta., refused to interview Kahlon for a job because he was wearing a turban.
Still, Kahlon professes a deep love of Canada and especially Squamish, and it has loved him back. The former owner of True Value Hardware was named Businessperson of the Year in 1998 and Citizen of the Year in 2000; in 1999 he became the first traditional Sikh elected as a city councillor in Canada. He was re-elected twice.
The recent shooting outside a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing six, prompted Kahlon to forward a letter written by a U.S.-based Sikh in response to the actions of white supremacist shooter Wade Michael Page to many people he knows, including The Chief.
In part, the letter — titled “Journey of a Sikher” and addressed to Page — states, “My dear misguided friend, you felt powerful holding a gun and firing at innocent people. You felt that your mission and your message were going to clearly resonate and create an environment of fear within us. I can assure you [that you] failed badly in this, as the community you chose to target has seen much worse. The Sikhs have endured even a price on their heads, yet they did not give up their faith. Their identity is still intact.”
It has been suggested that the Aug. 5 shooting might have been at least partly a case of mistaken identity — that Page may have thought he was targeting Muslims in the attack, because most images of Osama Bin Laden have shown him wearing a turban.
During a chat at his home in the Paradise Valley on Friday (Aug. 10), Kahlon said that to him, it matters little who was the real target.
Throughout their history, beginning with the First Guru in 1469, the Sikhs have stood up in defence of all who were being attacked, no matter what their background, Kahlon said. Much of the persecution was meted out by Muslim rulers in the Punjab region of India — and the persecution and violence were directed not just at the Sikhs, but at others as well.
Defending innocent people is a key facet of the religion, Kahlon said.
“Sikhs have always stood up for religious freedom,” Kahlon said. “We are here to send a message to the community that we believe in equality and tolerance and acceptance.
“That’s a message I want to send out — you’re [Page] shooting innocent people, but… tolerance has to come. Each and every one of us has to educate ourselves and show acceptance and tolerance.”
In the letter to Page, the Sikh writer stated, “We pride ourselves of [sic] standing in the front lines to absorb hate; that is what our identity is about. It is not just mistaken identity; whether you thought we were Muslim or not does not matter to us, as nobody should be the target of such a crime. Our identity puts us at the forefront of constantly reshaping our resolve. We do not feel it is a burden; in fact, it is our biggest strength.”
Added Kahlon, “There are bad apples everywhere, but the Sikhs believe in acceptance and peace.”
Rev. William Roberts, the new temporary Priest in Charge at St. John’s Anglican Church, on Friday said the congregation plans to send a letter of condolence and support to those at the Squamish Sikh Temple in response to the tragedy.