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July 6, 2000

Good Samaritans
The Arts

Sitting down for their rights?

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Eugene Correia in Toronto

Five senior Sikhs who have filed a case against the Malton gurdwara management committee for allegedly assaulting them will now have to wait till January for the matter to be heard at the Brampton court.

On June 30, the court adjourned the case after the five defendants, who face charges of assault against the Sikh seniors, were refused entry into the court because they were carrying kirpans, the ceremonial daggers.

According to sources, both parties were originally to sign a peace bond and settle the matter.

The five seniors, Harbhajan Singh Grewal, Ram Singh, Surjan Singh, Gurnan Singh Gill and Gurbas Singh, had filed a case against management board members Jagtran Singh Sekhon, Balwinder Singh, Jaswinder Gill, Satbir Singh and Dhanwant Singh for allegedly making death threats and causing them bodily harm.

The seniors said the defendants shoved them around during an argument over the availability of rooms in the gurdwara premises.

On June 27, three of the defendants came into the courtroom while the other two remained outside the court building because they had refused to remove the kirpan. Lawyer for the defendants John Hill and lawyer for the plaintiffs Marcy Segal requested judge Nancy Kastner to adjourn the case to June 30 as both parties have agreed to sign a peace bond.

The Sikh seniors wondered that if they could keep their kirpans in the car or at home, why couldn't the defendants do the same? They felt the defendants were playing for time.

Earlier, on October 25 and December 8, the case had been adjourned because of problems in identifying one of the defendants. The police had served notice to one Baljinder Singh, who appeared in court on October 25 and 27. The Sikh seniors pointed out that the defendant they had named was Balwinder Singh, but Baljinder Singh again turned up on December 8.

After a break in the proceedings, the named defendant Balwinder Singh was presented in court but by then, Dhawant Singh was absent. Police said they were unable to serve notice on him. Judge Henry then ordered the case to be put off to January 7.

The Sikh seniors and their supporters also accused official court interpreter Ravinder Dhir of "wrongful interpretation". Dhir said he tried his best to translate into English what the Sikh seniors were saying and that he never had been accused about his interpretation before.

The seniors alleged that they were forcibly removed from the room in the gurdwara premises and told to use one outside. The management committee said they needed the room for more useful activities and that the seniors could chat outside in a room used as a classroom for the Khalsa School, which forms part of the gurdwara complex.

The management committee said the seniors were stubborn and wanted to create trouble; the seniors say they were also enforcing their right to have their own room on the gurdwara premises. They said that when the gurdwara was built, it was agreed to have a permanent room for use by the seniors. They alleged that the management committee had been shunting them from one room to another for the past few years.

The issue came to a head on August 22 when they were pushed out of the room by some management committee members. The seniors alleged that they were abused and some of them had their turbans tossed out. Police arrived on the scene, but no arrests were made.

The management committee later issued eviction notices to the seniors. Soon a group of 40 to 50 seniors began a sit-down strike outside the gurdwara. When winter came, they rented an apartment in the residential building near the gurdwara. Now that it is summer and very hot, they have again stopped the sit-down strike.

They have launched a vigorous membership drive though, and hope to increase their number to at least 100 in the Malton area, known as Little Punjab. The seniors also have a civil case against the management, wherein they allege misappropriation of funds. They have also questioned a mortgage of $ 2.8 million on the gurdwara and are demanding elections to the management committee.

The civil suit hasn't come up because the management committee has sought time to have their lawyer changed. The management committee hasn't yet arranged for a new lawyer for the civil suit; John Hill represents them in the criminal litigation.

Lawyer Karan Singh Grewal, who was handling both the criminal and civil cases earlier, has been replaced. He had allegedly thrown some papers at the leader of the seniors' group, Harbhajan Singh Grewal, outside the courtroom.

The same lawyer had also acted for the gurdwara in slapping a $ 43-million libel suit against Harbhajan Singh Grewal and Irvinderpal Singh Babra, editor of the English-language newspaper, Sikh Press.

The gurdwara, run by the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Canada, has been in the forefront of the movement for Khalistan. A few families control the shrine. The seniors say there has been no election for the past 11 years and this group rotates the management posts within itself. The seniors also say no accounts have been furnished.

According to management sources, the gurdwara constitution calls for "selecting" a committee instead of "electing" it. As for accountability, the gurdwara management committee says it has been filing income tax returns every year.

Committee spokesman Satbir Singh reportedly said $ 2.8 million in mortgage was taken in 1990 to expand the temple. He said the fraud bureau of the police had investigated the case and found no evidence of financial irregularity.

Even Gurbax Singh Malhi, the member of Parliament representing the area, and Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion failed to resolve the dispute between the two factions. It is now left to the court to decide.

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