Religious Identity Politics Shrouds Brampton City Council - New Canadian Media
Brampton City Councillor Martin Medeiros (left) called the creation of religious heritage months political pandering, pictured with the city's mayor Patrick Brown. Photo credit: Surjit Singh Flora

Religious Identity Politics Shrouds Brampton City Council

Brampton City Council just voted unanimously to make December Christian Heritage Month. Even councillors feel their efforts could have been used on more pressing matters, such as addressing emerging ethnic tensions in the city.

The City of Brampton Council unanimously voted on Nov. 20 to declare the month of December a “Christian Heritage Month.” The action made some councillors voice concern that the City’s municipal government has its priorities either completely or partly wrong.

Church representatives demanded from Brampton Council that December should be celebrated as the Christian Heritage Month. December is arguably the most important month of Christianity because of Christmas, particularly in the West.

One of the reasons behind this demand is that some Christian groups felt left out of heritage month festivities. Brampton celebrates April as Sikh Heritage Month (announced 2013) and November as Hindu Heritage Month. The latter was just announced last month in 2019. The groups felt that equal representation mandated a Christian heritage month.

“Political pandering”

The motion was presented by city Councillor Charmaine Williams of Wards 7-8 and supported by several delegations from churches around the city.

Brampton Council unanimously approved the proposal. However, City Councillor Martin Medeiros from Ward 3 and 4, said that it was important to consider how long the Council would focus its attention on wrong priorities. He named those wrong priorities as being cultural support or recognition for various groups.

Councillor Medeiros said, “I think we have to be very cautious of the encroachment and the way that we’re really blurring the lines. Ultimately, constitutionally, we are a democratic system with a separation between state and religion. As much as we respect all religions, that’s not our function, and right now, I think we’re blurring the lines. The time and effort on all these sorts of religious and cultural things, to a certain degree, is political pandering.”

Simultaneously, one delegate, former City Council hopeful Sam Kunjicka, held the current lack of recognition for Christianity responsible for such societal ills as crime, lack of education, and “economic and moral decline.”

A city of heritage months, and also tensions

Adding to the fire, multiple community and the religious issues have been spreading already in Brampton. Racial tensions have ignited over everything from permit battles for a temple to fireworks regulations for Diwali.

Brampton has developed a history of these kinds of tensions. In 2014, an anti-Sikh flyer was distributed by an immigration reform group called Immigration Watch, entitled “The Changing Face of Brampton.” It asked residents, “Is this (referring to increasing Sikh and Punjabi populations) really what you want?’ and sparked outrage among the Sikh community groups. Another flyer was distributed in 2015 that warned of the city’s dwindling ‘European’ population, implying the decline was a result of “white genocide.”

Who works for the people?

Councillor Medeiros said that spending time on such issues meant that the City Council’s primary tasks were diverted from providing basic services in the city. He noted that if the Council was involved in religious festivals, road naming, and so on, who would do the work of the public?

When a road in Brampton was given Guru Nanak’s (one of Sikhism’s saints) name, both Martin Medeiros and Councillor Pat Fortini from Ward 7 and 8 raised the issue in the City Council. Ultimately, a section of Peter Robertson Boulevard was named after Guru Nanak Dev. Along with these two councillors, former Mayor Peter Robertson (after whom the road was originally named) objected as well. Robertson called the road’s naming a “dreadful and dangerous” trend.

The issue of religion is a serious one that Councillor Medeiros has argued about in a statement. However, instead of proposing a solution, he stayed silent after raising the objection. This silence eventually led to him voting in favour of December as Christian Heritage Month. The councillor said that he did not want to favour one community over another. For him, he said, everyone was the same, i.e. Bramptonians.

City Council’s final resolution read:

“Whereas Christian faith groups in Brampton embody the beautiful and diverse threads that mirror the Canadian social fabric, and therefore be it resolved in recognition of the valuable contribution of Christians to the spiritual, philanthropic, cultural and economic well-being the City of Brampton, that the Mayor and Brampton City Council endorse the proclamation of December in 2019 and beyond as Christian Heritage Month.”

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Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. He is a popular media commentator on current affairs and member of the NCM collective.

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