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Former Deputy PM pledges aid to Sikh community

Todd Lawson Chief Staff Writer Hundreds of people, including former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps, came to Squamish's Sikh Temple Sunday (Feb. 22) to mourn the loss of a young widow who never had a chance to say goodbye to her husband.

Todd Lawson

Chief Staff Writer

Hundreds of people, including former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps, came to Squamish's Sikh Temple Sunday (Feb. 22) to mourn the loss of a young widow who never had a chance to say goodbye to her husband.

Sukhdeep Dhillon had been married to her husband Karmjit just three months when he died in a two-vehicle crash on Hwy. 99 Jan. 31 that took the lives of seven Squamish residents.

Because of the government's refusal to grant Dhillon, an Indian citizen, a special emergency visa to attend her husband's funeral until the morning of the ceremony, she wasn't able to say a proper goodbye to her husband of just three months until this past week.

"She lost her husband and her dreams are shattered," said Squamish Sikh Society Secretary Avtar Gidda. "She was planning to come to Canada to start a new life here with Karmjit."

The Squamish Sikh Society and others throughout the Lower Mainland are upset with the way the visa situation was handled by government and immigration officials. They feel that due to the tragic circumstance, the young widow should've been granted a special emergency visa to be able to attend the final prayers for her husband.

It took 18 days after Karmjit's death and nine days after his funeral before she finally left India and arrived in Squamish to collect her husband's ashes.

"Help came only after there were no more tears left in our eyes," said Gidda.

On Sunday (Feb. 22), a special service was held at the Gurdwara Baba Nanak Sahib temple, where some special guests were welcomed with open arms. Former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps turned up at the temple after she heard the news of the tragic accident which suddenly killed five members of the Squamish Sikh Society.

Copps was attending the final prayers and memorial service for the President of the Mission Sikh community, a close friend of hers, and came to Squamish to lend her support and promised to provide her assistance with future immigration affairs.

"She is a great friend of the Sikh community and she came to lend her support. Hopefully she can help us [with immigration matters] in the future so this kind of situation never has to happen to anyone again," said Gidda.

Copps, who lost the Liberal leadership race to Prime Minister Paul Martin last November, spoke to Sikh community members and officials at the temple, and addressed the problems that caused so much grief and despair for the young widow Dhillon.

"It's inconceivable that in Canada, a widow should be denied the right to bury her husband," said Copps. "There's no reason why a person should have to stand in line overnight to be told no - without any explanation. This is not dignity."

"We'll do what we can to make sure this horrible oversight by the Government of Canada does not happen again," she added. "The government needs to examine the details of this situation and not pass it up as a bureaucratic mistake. There is no excuse."

Copps addressed the widows who lost their husbands, and expressed her sympathies to the entire community of Squamish.

"There are no words that can wash away the pain from this tragic accident. As a mother and grandmother, I can't imagine the pain of losing your children and grandchildren before you. I hope you will all be strong, there are seven families that need your support and guidance."

Sukhdeep Dhillon's nightmare ordeal began on Feb. 6, when she left her hometown of Darapur for the eight-hour journey to the offices of Canada's High Commission in New Delhi. On two occasions they refused her application for a visitor's visa, claiming that it was unlikely she would return to India.

It wasn't until MP John Reynolds stepped in to make a personal guarantee that she would return within three weeks that they changed their tune.

"We had a guarantee from members of parliament that she would return," said Gidda.

But by then it was much too late.

Her father had to twice borrow money to cover all of the travel expenses and processing/ visa fees, which amounted to 100,000 rupees - an economic disaster for the family.

But she finally made it to Canada and to Squamish, and has been spending her time grieving with friends and family, as well as visiting Karmjit's place of employment in Whistler, the accident site and the funeral chapel. She has also visited some of the places in Squamish that her husband enjoyed.

She would like to remain in Canada to become part of the community here, but knows that she must hold up her end of the bargain.

"Our wish is that we stay together," said Balbir Singh Dhillon, her father-in-law. "But the people, the mayor, the MPs and government officials gave their word and we must honour that."

"I didn't even have time to grieve for my husband," said Sukhdeep Dhillon through an interpreter. "When they denied my visa, it was like he died a second time."

To thank the entire community and pay their final respects to their fallen friends, fathers and sons, a special 48-hour prayer will be held at the Sikh temple on Fifth Avenue beginning on Thursday, Mar. 4. Everyone is welcome.

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