Religious Identity Politics Shrouds Brampton City Council

By: Surjit Singh Flora

 

The City of Brampton Council voted last week to declare the month of December a “Christian Heritage Month.” The action made some councillors voice concern that the City’s municipal government has its priorities either entirely or partly wrong.

Some church representatives demanded from Brampton Council that December should be celebrated as the Christian Heritage Month. December is arguably the most important month of Christianity because of Christmas, particularly in the West.

One of the reasons behind this demand is that some Christian groups felt left out of heritage month festivities. Brampton celebrates April as Sikh Heritage Month (announced 2013) and November as Hindu Heritage Month. The latter was just announced last month in 2019. The groups felt that equal representation mandated a Christian heritage month.

“Political pandering.”

Brampton Council unanimously approved the proposal. At a superficial level, it seemed to be a logical step. However, City Councillor Martin Medeiros from Ward 3 and 4, said that it was important to consider how long the Council would focus its attention on the wrong priorities. He named those wrong priorities as being cultural support or recognition for various groups.

Councillor Medeiros said, “I think we have to be very cautious of the encroachment and the way that we’re really blurring the lines. Ultimately, constitutionally, we are a democratic system with a separation between state and religion. As much as we respect all religions, that’s not our function, and right now, I think we’re blurring the lines. The time and effort on all these sorts of religious and cultural things, to a certain degree, is political pandering.”

At the same time, one delegate, former City Council hopeful Sam Kunjicka, held the current lack of recognition for Christianity responsible for such societal ills as crime, lack of education, and “economic and moral decline.”

The motion was presented by city Councillor Charmaine Williams of Wards 7-8 and supported by several delegations from churches around the City.

A city of religious heritage months

Adding to the fire, multiple communities and the religious issues have been spreading already in Brampton. Racial tensions have ignited over everything from permit battles for a temple to fireworks regulations for Diwali. Ironically, Brampton will be hosting its first Diwali Fireworks event from the year 2020.

Sometimes an anti-Sikh flyer was distributed by an immigration reform group called Immigration Watch, entitled “The Changing Face of Brampton.” It asked residents, “Is this (referring to increasing Sikh and Punjabi populations) really what you want?’ and sparked outrage among the Sikh community groups. Another flyer was distributed in 2015 that warned of the City’s dwindling ‘European’ population, implying the decline was a result of “white genocide.”

Councillor Medeiros said that spending time on such issues meant that the City Council’s primary tasks were diverted from providing basic services in the City. He noted that if the Council was involved in religious festivals, road naming, and so on, who would do the work of the public?

When a road in Brampton was given Guru Nanak’s (one of Sikhism’s saints) name, both Martin Medeiros and Councillor Pat Fortini from Ward 7 and 8 raised the issue in the City Council. Ultimately, a section of Peter Robertson Boulevard was named after Guru Nanak Dev. Along with these two councillors, former Mayor Peter Robertson (after whom the road was originally named) objected as well. Robertson called the road’s naming a “dreadful and dangerous” trend.

The issue of religion is a serious one that Councillor Medeiros has argued about in a statement. However, instead of proposing a solution, he stayed silent after raising the objection. This silence eventually led to him voting in favour of December as Christian Heritage Month. The councillor said that he did not want to favour one community over another. For him, he said, everyone was the same, i.e., Bramptonians.

A need to build religious tolerance

At the backdrop of this overall situation, the central tenet of the role of religion in human life needs to be revisited. Whatever the faith, the fundamental principle of each is love and peace. The central tenet of Canada as a country is secularism and multiculturalism.

An excellent example of using both of these principles for the good of humanity can be found from the Carabam celebrations. Throughout Carambram, Brampton has stalls from different countries that people from all walks of life journey and enjoy. On the same lines, there should be observed a week in the year during which different religions establish their stalls, strengthening their sense of religious tolerance towards one another.

Without such bridge building, all we can hope for are politicians who call for separation of religion while giving religious groups their wants in exchange for votes.

About the author

Asia Metro Editor

Surjit Singh Flora
editor@asiametro.ca

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