TORONTO: Over 100,000 Sikhs and people of other communities from all over the GTA joined in the celebration of Khalsa Day and Baisakhi New Year at the annual #khalsaday parade in Toronto along Lakeshore on Sunday.
Organized by the Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwaras Council, the parade celebrates the founding of the Sikh religion in 1699. This is the 39th parade in Toronto and is the third largest in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau skipped the parade – obviously because of the Indian Government’s ire at him appearing at the event last year when he become the first Canadian Prime Minister in a decade to march at the event, with some people carrying separatist Khalistan flags and posters featuring terrorist leaders like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
The criticism that Canada is serving as a base for revival of the defunct Khalistan movement, did not prevent several leading politicians from appearing at the nagar kirtan (as the parade is called) just as they had done in the Surrey Vaisakhi celebration in British Columbia last week.
Among them were Mayor of Toronto John Tory, NDP Ontario leader Andrea Horwath and PC leader Doug Ford. New Democratic Party (NDP) national leader Jagmeet Singh was present in Toronto and Surrey. In Toronto, reports said, he talked about alleged human rights violations in India.
“This afternoon I marched in the #Khalsa Day parade with Toronto’s Sikh community to honour the birth of Khalsa. Sikh Canadians have made a huge impact on our province and their values of equality, justice & freedom make it a better place,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne tweeted. She addressed the gathering as Khalistani flags fluttered and some people in the crowd held up banners calling for a 2020 referendum for a separate Sikh homeland.
The call for the referendum is being spearheaded by the activist group Sikhs For Justice.
The parade began at 10:00 pm from the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds and travelled east to Toront City Hall. Parade dignitaries addressed the crowd until after 5:00 pm, Langar (or community food) was served at both the exhibition grounds and City hall.
The southbound and northbound curb lanes on University avenue were closed for the parade and dispersal areas,with the Toronto police managing the route.
The parade also had posters and floats in memory of the assassins of former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, reports said.
The federal government was represented in the Khalsa Day Parade, with cabinet minister Navdeep Bains speaking from the stage.
MP Sonia Sidhu tweeted: “Today, I am delighted to join the KHALSA Day parade in Toronto celebrating Vaisakhi, Sikh Heritage Month, and KHALSA Day. Beautiful sunny day to be with my parliamentary colleagues and families from #BramptonSouth and across the GTA celebrating in #Toronto.
The organizers of the parade said 50 per cent of all donations received during the day would go to the families of victims of the Humboldt tragedy in Saskatchewan. They said they had raised $20,000 for the #TorontoStrong Movement.
Doug Ford was a popular marcher, who later tweeted: “Sat Sri Akal, what a crowd at the Khalsa Day Parade! #nagarkirtans #HappyVaisakhi! Vaisakhi di lakh lakh vadhai!