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Canada celebrated its 150th birthday on the 1st of July, 2017, marking the day in 1867 when the province of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia merged to form a self-governing state.
Later joined by Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island and the territories of Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, Canada is now more than 37 million people strong and boasts an economy of $1.57 trillion and growing.
Celebrations featured Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor General David Johnston, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla as well as performances by singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie and U2 band members Bono and The Edge, topped off with an air show.
As part of the celebration, a series of 150 stories were also featured, initiated by the Canadian race Relations Foundation (CRRF), Canada’s leading agency dedicated to the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. This special series paid tribute to Canada’s diversity, democratic principles and multiculturalism by highlighting the stories of remarkable Canadians and organisations.
As part of this series, the story of former Liberal Member of Parliament, Gurbax Singh Malhi was also featured.
According to CRRF, the face of Parliament in North America changed when, in GurbaxSingh Malhi, a turban wearing Sikh, was elected to represent the Liberal Party in the Bramalea-Gore-Malton region of Ontario, at Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
“This milestone change was the result of our political landscape accommodating the changing dynamics in Canada’s cultural mosaic and symbolically represented the coming of age of Canadian politics,” said Malhi.
Malhi recalls one of the many stories of racism and hardship in Canada as he canvassed his first election campaign in 1993. “They would call me ‘Paki’,” said Malhi.
“I was verbally abused and stigmatised as a lesser class of immigrant peoples. My goal was to eliminate this bias and politics was the means to achieve that.”
Malhi was born in a small village in Punjab, India in 1949. His father dies when he was just five years old and fifteen years later he lost his mother to complications from asthma.
By the time he was 26 years old, he had completed his studies in political science, history and English at Panjab University and took two years of law courses. Soon after, Malhi married his wife, Devinder. They arrived in Canada in 1975 and worked at minimum-wage, labour-intensive jobs until Malhi obtained his real estate license in 1985.
“When I ran for the first time, I was told that I wouldn’t win for another 50 years because of the turban,” Malhi said. “When I first came here, I only had eight dollars in my pocket and a million-dollar ambition. I always believed that he could succeed – and I did.”
Malhi believes there is a lot of work that still needs to be done in terms of fighting racial inequality, especially in light of the ongoing tensions within and between communities and religions.
He hopes for a brighter future and a better, more inclusive Canada.