Meet Jagmeet Singh: Sikh lawyer, martial artist and new NDP leader

Jagmeet Singh, the first turban-wearing Sikh to sit in Ontario's legislature, will now lead a federal political party with his victory in the NDP leadership race on Sunday.

Singh says his fashion sense helps disarm stereotypes about Sikhs with turbans and long beards

New NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is fluent in English, French and Punjabi. The Ontario MPP is also a trained martial artist and is a criminal defence lawyer who grew up in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Jagmeet Singh, the first turban-wearing Sikh to sit in Ontario's legislature, will now lead a federal political party with his victory in the NDP leadership race on Sunday.

Singh, 38, won on the first ballot Sunday, taking 53 per cent of the vote to top MPs Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton and Guy Caron.

Singh has represented the riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton at Queen's Park since 2011. The unmarried MPP served as the Ontario NDP's critic for justice and consumer services before party leader Andrea Horwath named him her deputy in 2015.

A criminal defence lawyer who speaks fluent French and Punjabi, Singh was born in Scarborough, Ont., in 1979.

Singh was raised in Newfoundland and Labrador while his father, who trained as a psychiatrist in India, attended medical school there and worked as a security guard before he could practise in Canada. 

His family moved to Windsor, Ont., when he was seven years old.

Learning to fight 

Singh says he was bullied as a youngster and took up martial arts to defend himself, going on to captain his high school wrestling team and winning the Toronto championships in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

He got a law degree from Osgoode Hall in Toronto and practised as a criminal defence lawyer. His brother, Gurratan Singh, now runs their firm. 

Singh's passion for fashion caught the attention of GQ magazine earlier this year, which described him as "the incredibly well-dressed rising star in Canadian politics." In the magazine's profile of him, Singh said his personal style is an extension of his political platform.

Jagmeet Singh calls for unity after winning NDP leadership on 1st ballot

6 years ago
Duration 21:02
An emotional Jagmeet Singh promises to fight for Canadians facing unstable work and to oppose the 'politics of division' after winning the federal NDP leadership in Toronto

Singh explained at the time that his style shows his confidence which can help disarm stereotypes about people wearing turbans and long beards.

Among the issues Singh has worked on at Queen's Park is the controversial police practice of carding — stopping people on the street and demanding identification. Singh, who said he's been carded 10 times, pushed for a ban. The Ontario government outlawed arbitrary street checks last year.

He also advocated for limits on fees to transfer money overseas and for a religious exemption for Sikhs from motorcycle helmet laws

Entering the federal fray

When he launched his campaign for the federal leadership at the same banquet hall in Brampton, west of Toronto, where he celebrated his first election victory in 2011, Singh told the crowd that his party and the country are hungry for new leadership.

"Leadership that will bring people together, to build a Canada that is truly inclusive and where everyone can realize their dreams," Singh said at the time.

Singh has said that he would not immediately seek a seat in the House of Commons until he had time to help increase his profile outside of the House. 

During his acceptance speech Singh also tapped into his family's past financial struggles drawing attention to a pledge he made while campaigning — to end job insecurity and precarious work. 

Olivia Chow addresses federal NDP members

6 years ago
Duration 11:26
Former NDP MP and Toronto city councillor Olivia Chow speaks prior to the announcement of Jagmeet Singh as the new federal NDP leader

"While I was in university, my father became very ill and my father was unable to work. We needed to pay the bills, so in my 20s I became the sole income earner in my family," he said. 

Singh explained that he was forced to take care of his younger brother — making his meals, buying his clothes, sending him to school and even showing up for parent-teacher interviews — until his father was well enough to return to work. 

"We were lucky to find a way out of this precarious situation, but many people don't. Many people face far more difficult struggles," he said. 

"I caught just a little glimpse of the pressure they feel, the weight of living paycheque to paycheque knowing the consequences of falling short, letting your family down and losing the basics like shelter, food and education."

With files from Meagan Fitzpatrick, Mike Crawley and The Canadian Press