Before they migrated to Canada, several members of Capt. Jagdeep Singh's family had been active members in the Indian Army. So no one from his family was really surprised when he expressed a desire to join the Canadian Forces.
"I had a lot of support from my parents when I joined and since then I've had a lot of support from the Canadian Forces," he said.
On Saturday, June 26, as more than 1,000 Squamish Sikhs celebrated their faith in downtown Squamish, Capt. Singh hoped the community would show its support for the Canadian Forces by joining it.
"I joined the Canadian Forces because I have passion for my country and I believe in what I'm doing. This is a very honourable thing to do," he said.
Honour, righteousness and belief in equality are not alien values for Sikhs. In fact this is exactly what they celebrate every June as they remember the martyrdom of their fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev, in 1606 at the hands of the ruthless Mughal emperor, Jahangir.
Since the Sikhs have historically been faced religious oppression, they had to train themselves in military craft. Centuries of incessant fighting against religious and political oppression made the Sikhs trusted warriors; like the Scottish Highlanders, they came to be known as the martial race. They fought alongside the British in the First and the Second World Wars and for years, they have joined the Indian army in large numbers.
Given that history, Capt. Singh, along with officers and air cadets from Squamish, was hoping to promote the Canadian Forces as a viable career choice among young Sikhs.
"We are hoping to enlist the support of the Indo-Canadian community to join the air cadet program and the Canadian Forces. All races and ethnicities are welcome in the forces," Singh said.
The data on the number of Sikhs working in the Canadian Forces is not available, but Singh said the number is below 30. According to a 2008 Statistics Canada report, visible minorities make up only six per cent of the military compared to 17 per cent of the civilian working population. This is strikingly lower than the US rate, which is 33 per cent. The Canadian Forces hope to bring the number to at least nine per cent in the next few years.
One roadblock for new immigrants joining the forces might be the requirement for Canadian citizenship. It takes three years for immigrants to become Canadian citizens, and by that time many of them have found other careers.
A 2006 study published in the Canadian Military Journal by Captain Hans Jung suggests that education, family and ethnic identity, a relatively low ranking of military service as a career, and the lack of role models in senior military positions are some of the reasons for the under-representation of visible minorities in the Canadian Forces.
Sikandar Singh Fauji, a retired Captain from the Indian Army who now has a housekeeping job in Whistler, said he wouldn't think twice about joining the Canadian Army.
"Even at this age (60s), I'll be happy to join the Canadian Army. I meet a lot of educated Sikhs working at hotels in Whistler and I always say, why not join the army and live with honour?" he said.
Makhan Singh Sangera, the organizer of Squamish's Sikh parade, said Sikhs believe in unity, brotherhood and fighting injustice. He said he was optimistic that the new generation of Indo-Canadian Sikhs would be keen to serve Canada by joining the Armed Forces.