British Columbia

Aman Singh makes history as first turban-wearing Sikh elected to B.C. Legislature

Saturday evening was a historic night not just for the NDP, which won a majority government and its largest number of seats ever, but also for Aman Singh as he became the first turban-wearing Sikh ever elected to the B.C. legislature.

Singh says a young Aman would have been thrilled to see someone looking like him in the legislature

Aman Singh is the first turban wearing MLA elected to the B.C. Legislature. (B.C. NDP)

Aman Singh knows many titles: lawyer, husband, father, dog-dad and now NDP MLA-elect for the riding of Richmond-Queensborough.

Saturday evening was an historic night, not just for the NDP which won a majority government and its largest number of seats ever, but also for Singh as he became the first turban-wearing Sikh ever elected to the B.C. Legislature.

It was also a long road for Singh who first squared off in the 2017 provincial election against Liberal (and eventual winner) Jas Johal. Singh narrowly lost that election, but after Premier John Horgan called a snap election this year, it set up a rematch between the two candidates — one in which, this time, Singh emerged as victor.

"I'm filled with gratitude," said Singh, his voice raspy from a month of campaigning, door knocking and interviews.

An election sign for NDP MP-elect Aman Singh is pictured in his riding of Richmond-Queensborough in British Columbia on Monday, October 26, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

But he's also aware that it's taken far too long for a turbaned Sikh to reach the legislature, considering that Sikhs have been in B.C. for more than 120 years and there are more than 200,000 practising Sikhs in B.C., according to the 2011 census.

"My entire life, I've been discriminated against because I wear a turban. I've been beaten up, had racial insults thrown at me, been told that I'm the other," he said.

And while there have been other Sikhs in past legislatures, like Moe Sihota, who Singh remembers looking up to as a young man, none of them have ever worn a turban.

"I hope that my presence, and the presence of colleagues of diverse backgrounds in Victoria, will continue to be a beacon to young people who are having a hard time," he said, adding a young Aman would've been thrilled to see someone that looks like him in the legislature.

Visible minority representation

It's a sentiment echoed by other Sikhs around B.C. who agree that visible representation matters, not just in media, but also in politics and other professions.

Guntaas Kaur, British Columbia vice-president with the World Sikh Organization of Canada, says when young people can see examples of people who look like them in the professional community, it can light a spark.

"You start to see pathways created for yourself and the people around you," she said.

Aman Singh with his wife and two dogs. Singh hopes to bring a spirit of activism to the halls of the legislature. (Submitted by Aman Singh)

She says young, hopeful politicians will now have a visual example of someone to look up to in the provincial government.

And while she agrees it's taken too long to happen, she's opting to focus on the future.

"It's wonderful to see that this shift is occurring, that change for the positive is coming across the country and has now arrived in B.C.," said Kaur. "And we welcome it."

Activism in government

Heading to the legislature, Singh says he hopes to bring his history of community activism, both in his personal life and as a human and civil rights lawyer, to the chamber. Growing up in Hong Kong, he says his parents instilled in him the idea that a just society is one that takes care of everybody.

"If a society doesn't take care of its most vulnerable, it's a failed society," he said. "That's what I want to carry through, to be an advocate for people and to make sure that everybody benefits from society."

The results of the election aren't yet final, as more than 500,000 mail-in votes still need to be counted. Vote-by-mail packages are collected centrally and cannot be counted for at least 13 days after general voting day, as per the B.C. Election Act. 

In ridings won by a clear majority — like Richmond-Queensborough, it's unlikely the mail-in ballots will change the preliminary results released Saturday.

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