Windsor

Legal battle resolves conflict in Sikh community, access to Gurdwara

A legal battle over obtaining membership at a Sikh place of worship has been resolved after 10 years before the courts.

Gurdwara Khalsa Prakash in Windsor had been limiting membership to maintain control

Manjinder Kooner, left, and Gurdial Dhami, right, stand outside the Gurdwara in Windsor after an Ontario superior court justice ruled on a case that limited membership. (Jason Viau/CBC)

A legal battle over obtaining membership at a Sikh place of worship has been resolved after 10 years before the courts.

The executive committee of the Gurdwara Khalsa Prakash in Windsor had been limiting membership to maintain control of the Gurdwara, court documents say.

"It really made me feel bad because there was a time when I could not even come to the Gurdwara," said Manjinder Kooner.

At times, he had a no trespassing order for the property on County Road 42. Kooner was a member until 2012. He said that's when it was unfairly terminated.

A legal battle over limiting membership to the Gurdwara Khalsa Prakash in Windsor has concluded. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Following a recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision, Kooner said he and hundreds of others will get their memberships back. And many applicants who were also turned away can re-apply.

For Kooner, the main reason he wanted to maintain his membership was to have a vote at the Gurdwara.

"If there's any serious decisions that you [have to make], you were part of it," Kooner said. "That privilege was taken away and for me that was the main reason."

He was still able to attend religious functions, but even that became increasingly difficult during the divisive legal battle.

"When there's a person standing there that is not being fair to the public then nothing goes into your brain. That was the biggest problem," said Kooner.

At times, court documents say tensions "erupted into violence," although Kooner said he never heard or witnessed any of that.

In his ruling, Justice Christopher Bondy said the Gurdwara's constituion was not being honoured.

"It appears that the spirit of the constitution, which is inclusive as oppose to restrictive, has not been a principal that has been honoured by successive executive committees and indeed, by many members," he said.

Gurdial Dhami applied to be a member, and was denied. He was one of nearly 300 people involved in the latest lawsuit. Dhami estimates it cost the group between $300,000 to $400,000 in legal fees over the years.

Now, he said it's time for people on both sides of the controversial issue to move forward.

"We will bring our community together and eventually the healing process will start because we've had turmoil in the last seven or eight years," said Dhami.

CBC News spoke with members of the committee at the Gurdwara on Tuesday night. None of them wanted to speak publicly.

About the Author

Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at jason.viau@cbc.ca

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