• Remembering the Brave on November 11th

    Most of us will pick up a poppy on our way out of the local grocery store or bank by donating a coin or two and pin it on our jacket as a sign of respect for our soldiers. On November 11th we will remember the brave men and women who died in the line of duty for our country.

    When we look around our neighbourhoods today, our community is made up of people from a variety of cultural backgrounds many of whose ancestors served in the Canadian Army during World War I. Aboriginal Canadians, Chinese Canadians and Sikh Canadians all participated in the line of duty in the war to end all wars.

    Many Native communities were not supportive of the war effort as they wanted Great Britain to recognize them as independent nations first. This was not granted and the Aboriginals were exempted from the Compulsory Military Service Act in August 1917. Nonetheless nearly 4,000 Aboriginals (Inuit, Métis, and other First Nations Canadians) and many of them from isolated and remote areas of Canada left the comfort of their homes and families to serve in the Great War.

    About 300 Chinese Canadians voluntarily enlisted during World War I even though they were denied their fundamental rights by the Canadian government of voting and entering certain professions. Chinese Canadians were also not conscripted as part of the Military Service Act.

    There is only a record of 10 Sikh Canadians who fought in WWI though thousands of Sikhs from India fought in Europe for the British Empire.  One of these 10 Sikh Canadians was the Victory Medal recipient Private Buckam Singh who came to British Columbia from Punjab in 1907. He had moved to Toronto in 1913 and enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in early 1915. He died in a Kitchener, Ontario, hospital in August 1919. He was buried in Kitchener’s Mount Hope Cemetery, the only known First World War Sikh Canadian soldier’s grave in the country. All of these brave heroes had one thing in common, loyalty for the country in which they lived in.

    A Sikh Canadian soldier during WWI. Image: Asia Canada

    A Sikh Canadian soldier during WWI. Image: Asia Canada

    Let us pause from our daily tasks tomorrow and remember the sacrifice and service of men and women who have lost their lives so that we might live our lives in peace and security. Please participate in your local Remembrance Day ceremony. Check out the list of events the City of Vancouver will be hosting tomorrow.

  • Canadian veterans and Barj Dhahan

    Veterans Are Not Just For Remembering

    We must do more than simply “remember” our veterans, we must ensure that we are honouring and supporting them.

    Last week a group of veterans rallied on Parliament Hill to call attention to what they call a broken Veterans Affairs system in the country. Despite recent recommendations from a House of Commons committee to ensure better services for ex-military members, the protesters are skeptical that these recommendations will come to fruition. In the meantime, these veterans are not receiving the compensation and care that they need.

    Canada does well when it comes to “remembering” war veterans, like the recent D-Day commemoration ceremonies across the country, but are we doing enough to honour and support those who have fought to defend our country and to build peace around the world?

    The Canadian military has a stellar history of participating in conflict resolution and peace-building initiatives all over the world, a fact that makes me proud to be a Canadian.

    Canada Military Families Fund, Barj Dhahan, Canada India Foundation

    Barj Dhahan and Canada India Foundation present a cheque to the Military Families Fund in 2010.

    In 2010 I suggested as co-chair of the Canada India Foundation that we honour the Canadian Military Families Fund with a donation of $25,000 at our annual gala.

    But it wasn’t just in 2010 that I became interested in supporting our military or in international affairs. I arrived in Canada in June 1967, right as the 6-day Arab-Israeli war began. That was one of the first major world conflicts that sparked my interest in international peace-building and conflict resolution. In 1970, I wrote a letter to the United Nations Secretary General about the ongoing struggle in the Middle East, hoping to contribute in some small way. From then on, I have been keenly aware of global issues and continue to seek initiatives to help bring about change for peace in the world.

    Barj Dhahan letter from United Nations

    Letter from United Nations in 1970.

    Since my arrival in this country, I have appreciated Canada’s role in world affairs since the First World War, and have felt proud of the respect that our peace-building efforts have garnered internationally. But the troubles of the world are just as real today as they were then, and I know that we as Canadians and as world citizens have an important responsibility moving forward. A few weeks ago at the BC Leadership Prayer Breakfast in Vancouver, which I have participated in for many years, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire spoke of the importance of “waging peace” in the world. He stressed the need to educate young children about other cultures and world conflicts so that they might become future peace builders. He also spoke of the importance of taking care of veterans – for how can we expect the young women and men of our country to put themselves on the front lines if we do not support them upon their return?

    I agree with General Dallaire; we need to support our veterans. This means ensuring that there is appropriate funding for veterans programs and services, and that these services are easily accessed with no time restrictions. Returning soldiers should not have to depend on private programs. This is a job for the Canadian government with the support of all Canadians.

    We must do more to ensure that we are honouring and supporting our veterans, that we are appreciating what each of them has done for each of us and for all humanity. We must do more than simply “remembering.”