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T Sher Singh Appointed as Member of the Order of Canada


By Suresh Jaura


T. Sher Singh, C.M.
Guelph, Ont.
Member of the Order of Canada

He has demonstrated through his vast record of public service how a vibrant multicultural landscape serves to enrich our nation. A prominent member of the Sikh-Canadian community, he is an advocate for the importance of positive race relations and interactive dialogue among members of different religions. A columnist with The Toronto Star, he is an articulate spokesperson who has appeared frequently as a panel member on Vision TV. He has become a symbol of the importance of mediation, listening and understanding as tools to bridge different segments of our society. - From Governor-General's citation announcing the appointment


Mr T Sher Singh was “honoured and thrilled” when he was informed about his appointment as a Member of the Order of Canada for “voluntary service, for his vast record in public service,  particularly,  in relation to multiculturalism”.


Singh feels privileged to be honoured, “as there are a number of people from all communities who have been doing community and voluntary service. I am standing on the shoulders of many people”, he told South Asian Outlook. He is not sure why his name came forward. He feels others have donated considerably more time to volunteerism.


"There's more volunteer work done in this country than paid work," he said. "I think it makes this country different than the rest of the world. It's community-building done by volunteers, not by paid people, not by government workers."


Born (1949) and brought up in Patna, India, T Sher Singh had completed Bachelors degree in English, when he moved to Canada in 1971, with his parents and siblings.


In Ontario, Singh found that despite his undergraduate degree and graduate training, he could only claim Grade 12 status. Jobs were hard to come by in those first years in Canada.


“It was a hard struggle for six years or so to get a job. With training and skills not recognised, I ended up doing odd jobs,” says Mr Singh.


He worked at odd jobs such as a newspaper carrier, security guard, labourer, and later, trouble shooter at a Toronto brokerage house.


Feeling that his skills and potential were being wasted, he decided to pursue law, something his father had suggested many years before. Mr Singh recalls when he went to the Law School to get an application, “I wasn’t given one… was told ‘you will not qualify with your Indian qualifications, so don’t waste any time’ that didn’t stop me from persisting and getting admission” to the University of Western Ontario.


"As a mature student, I didn’t want to study day and night," he says. "I wanted to soak in the atmosphere and learning and I wanted to have fun. I got into all sorts of things."


While maintaining a high average, Singh started the law school yearbook, was elected Legal Society president and served as business manager for The Western Law Review.


Singh was also frequently seen playing squash on the courts across from the law building. One Christmas he organized the holiday celebration which coincidentally was the convergence of Christmas, Chanukah, and Gurpurab, a Sikh high holiday.


Singh settled in Guelph and has been practising as a litigation lawyer. He describes himself as an old-style advocate, both in his personal life, and in his public life. "I gravitate towards the underdog. I like the excitement of litigation, the excitement of the chase; it’s like a chess game. And then, there’s the theatre."


Singh burst into national prominence in 1990 when he launched a court challenge against then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for appointing former Nova Scotia premier John Buchanan to the Senate (Buchanan was under investigation by the RCMP for corruption at the time). He also challenged what he referred to as Mulroney' s "stacking" of the Senate by appointing eight new senators for the express purpose of pushing through controversial legislation to establish the Goods and Services Tax.


Looking back, Singh says it wasn’t surprising he didn’t win that one. "While it was correct legally, there was no chance to win it," he told a local newspaper then. "The judge wasn’t likely to rule against the government. But I accomplished my mission to draw attention to the issue."


During his time at the Police Services Board, as a Commissioner, Singh feels, for the first time in 50 years, there was a major change in the concept of policing. There were some changes that were recommended and accepted, including raising of minimum educational standards for joining police force from Grade 10 to Grade 12. ‘Lateral hiring’ was also introduced enabling people with education and skills to join at a senior level. Women and minorities were also given increased opportunity to join the police force.


Singh was amongst 200 people of different faiths from all over the world invited to Rome to 

commemorate the commencement of the Third Millennium of Christian Faith in October 1999. He helped unveil a bronze sculpture, a gift from Canadian Sikhs to the Vatican.  He also served as a delegate to the Inter-religious Assembly, part of the Great Jubilee celebrations in Vatican City, and met Pope John Paul II.


Recalling his stay at the Vatican, Singh told South Asian Outlook that, “it was evident that all faiths face the same struggle, their problems are the same… while faith, religion and spirituality join us, these also create conflicts in the world, which, as the recent events have shown, do not seem to be coming to an end”.


"I do a lot of public speaking on various issues, law, cultural issues, faith issues, interfaith issues. I speak coast to coast, at schools and universities, “ he says.


Singh is fond of writing also. Interestingly, the first newspaper that asked him to write weekly column was the Italian-Canadian paper Corriere Canadese, which started an English section sometime back.


Singh has “scaled down” his writing commitments recently. He was a regular columnist on current issues for The Toronto Star, published from Toronto and The Guelph Mercury. He still writes a weekly travel column for The Kitchener-Waterloo Record.


Singh believes that over the last 30 years things have changed a lot in Canada. “It has become a world-class country and the credit goes to the immigrants, who have worked hard with their sweat and blood to make Canada what it is today,” he says.


His message to the readers of South Asian Outlook and, at large, to  South Asians in Canada is: “Get more involved, participate in the public and civic affairs, stand up and take your share of power. You can aspire to do anything. There will be difficulties, but if you try hard enough, you can achieve anything. There are no barriers, no walls that can’t be torn down”.


Singh has a piece of advice to those who are still caught up in petty differences and the rivalries of their country of origin. “Canada is your country. For the sake of your children and grand-children, make it better… so much needs to be done, do not sit back and wait for opportunities to come to you. Get up and be counted”, he says.