February 21, 2018 2:01 pm
Updated: February 21, 2018 2:33 pm

Justin Trudeau’s visit to the Sikh holy site is a necessary political move — here’s why

WATCH ABOVE: Justin Trudeau is joined by his family and his ministers during tour of the holiest site in the Sikh faith.

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Donned in a traditional Indian dress and head wrapped in orange cloth, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the holiest site of the Sikh faith in Amritsar, India, on Wednesday.

Not only is the Golden Temple the holiest religious site for Sikhs, experts say it is also an important shrine for Canadian prime ministers to pay their respects to.

READ MORE: Trudeau, Sajjan assure Indian officials there are no Sikh separatists in Canadian cabinet

In fact, experts say it could be more important than visiting New Delhi, India’s capital.

“The Golden Temple is Sikh’s equivalent to the Vatican for Catholics,” Japinder Singh Grewal, the director with Sikhs for Justice, said. “This is where our highest leader of religion is located.”

WATCH: Was Trudeau’s trip to India just a photo-op?

And because Canada has a large Sikh population, it is also an important site for Canadian politicians.

After Trudeau visited the site, he wrote his thoughts in the visitor book at the shrine, which he visited with his wife and children, according to the Times of India.


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Trudeau isn’t the only prime minister to pay respects at the holy site. In 2009, former prime minister Stephen Harper visited the Golden Temple, as did Jean Chrietien in 2003.

READ MORE: Photo-ops, big business and a nod to Indo-Canadian community during Harper trip

‘It’s about the voters back home’

In terms of population percentage, the Sikh community in Canada is almost as large as it is in India.

The community represents around 1.4 per cent of Canada’s population, according to Statistics Canada. In India, Sikhs make up around 1.72 per cent of the country’s population.

READ MORE: Sikh nationalism will overshadow Justin Trudeau’s trip to India, expert says

Canada also has four Sikh members of his cabinet: Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains, Minister of Small Business and Tourism Bardish Chagger and Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi.

In contrast, there are two Sikh cabinet ministers in the Indian government, according to the Times of India.

WATCH: Justin Trudeau presented with ceremonial sword on behalf of Sikh Canadian community

“There’s a very large Sikh community in Canada and they are a politically important block,” said Vivek Dehejia, an economics professor at Carleton University. “Half a million may not sound like much but they are heavily concentrated in Toronto and the Greater Vancouver area and they tend to vote as a block.”

He said this makes the Canadian Sikh community electorally important.

READ MORE: What was the Komagata Maru incident and why does it matter?

“That explains why every Canadian prime minister has visited the Golden Temple,” he said. “Quite frankly, … this is a great photo op for Canadian Sikhs. It’s about the voters back home.”

So when Trudeau, Harper, Chretien and other Canadian politicians take photos in front of the temple, Dehejia said it signals to the Canadian Sikh community that the leaders care.

Historically the community has also largely voted Liberal — which may be the reason why the visit is especially important to Trudeau, he said.

“This is about Mr. Trudeau posing for the gallery back home,” he said. “The Liberals are more dependent on Sikh vote than Harper was.”

And because a Sikh leader, Jagmeet Singh, is now leader of Canada’s NDP, this may be another crucial reason for Trudeau to visit Amritsar, Dehejia said.

“It would be a major faux pas if he didn’t go.”

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