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Wilmot mayor and councillor call out local Facebook group

By Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Wilmot Mayor Natasha Salonen and Coun. Harvir Sidhu are growing increasingly frustrated with an online group in light of a critical Facebook post.

Citizens for a Democratic Wilmot called out the mayor and Canada Day volunteer Abbi Stevenson in the since-removed post which said, “From farmland expropriation to cultural appropriation of a symbol of faith – Wilmot’s Mayor/Region of Waterloo councillor and … Canada Day Task Force members.”

Salonen and Stevenson took part in the Turban Up booth, an opportunity for people to learn more about the Sikh culture and religion, and also dawn a turban at the same time.

“We wanted to show the diversity of Wilmot by inviting members of all communities and backgrounds who belong here. That includes the Sikh Gadara,” said Salonen.

The Sikh group was invited along with an Ethiopian Church and all places of worship in Wilmot. Salonen said when the University of Waterloo and Laurier students asked her if she would wear a turban, she didn’t hesitate. Over 50 were tied on people of all ages who participated.

“It led to great conversations connecting and building relationships. The photo was of myself and a volunteer with a turban tied. She posted a photo on her Instagram and we were criticized for it,” Salonen said.

She explained her first concern was the post would prevent the Sikh community from continuing to do events such as Turban Up and educate people. She also hopes it doesn’t dissuade people from volunteering and suggested the group should have done some research before making the post.

“This group that touts Wilmot as a non-inclusive place is making it non-inclusive by not bothering to do their homework and figure out what the event was and why non-Sikhs were wearing turbans,” Salonen said.

She is also concerned about the effect these types of groups could have on the democratic process in terms of people wanting to run for office.

“Running for council, you will be scrutinized and the media will have questions. People will call and be upset with you. You can’t make everyone happy, but I have had people tell me they would never run for council because of this group. That is not okay. It’s not encouraging democracy and not engaging political discussion.”

Sidhu, a Sikh himself, said he was disappointed and dismayed when he read the post. He added the group took a multicultural event to be celebrated and used it as a cheap shot against the mayor.

“To be so personal and make those accusations about people is a dangerous game,” he said. “People participating were encouraged to take pictures and share them on social media. Turban Up has been held at Dundas Square in Toronto and Times Square in New York where they had 9,000 people wear turbans. The event happens across the world.”

Sidhu is also inviting whoever is behind the group to meet him for a civil discussion.

“What’s the issue? Is it just that you don’t like us? Everything the group is saying or sticking up for is doing the opposite. You say you are championing diversity and inclusion, yet you are calling out the first female mayor of Wilmot, discrediting the Sikh community and the first Sikh councillor in the township. Give your head a shake.”

Sidhu believes the person or people behind the group live in Wilmot and added making accusations with no repercussions is a serious game.

“I have heard from many residents who have reported the group to Facebook. It is a slippery slope between freedom of speech and defaming people. I do think they have crossed the line a couple of times.”

The Gazette reached out to Citizens for a Democratic Wilmot for comment and was provided with a written statement. It said the page has consistently advocated for greater awareness of the needs of underrepresented groups in the community in alignment with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“No disparaging remarks were made about the Sikh community or faith, and never have. It is acknowledged the objective of this endeavour was to present a modern approach to educating the public about Sikhism and to foster interfaith dialogue and understanding.”

The group went on to say the term, “religious borrowing,” would have been more precise than cultural appropriation when describing the adoption of religious practices, and it regrets the error.

The group added their primary concern was the respectful use and display of a sacred article of faith without fully embracing associated doctrines, ethical values attributed to a revered article of spiritual significance and lifelong adherence to teachings as typically expected when converting to a specific faith.

“It was a relief to learn the local Sikh community felt that the individuals in the photo, especially the mayor, demonstrated an appropriate level of respect, dignity and reverence during their experience and in the photo.”

Sidhu’s parents have lived in Canada for 42 years and in Oxford and Wilmot for 35 of those. They were at the Canada Day event and thoroughly enjoyed their culture being enjoyed by so many.

“My mom went around and took pictures of the people in turbans because she was so excited to see it,” he said. “If my parents and the people tying the turbans and the other Sikhs there weren’t offended, why does this group take issue with it? Why are they trying to add further divide? Stop being offended for us. Let us be offended ourselves if we have to be.”

The Gazette asked the group if they regretted the original post, if they were prepared to release the name or names of the people behind it and if anyone was a Sikh. No response was received by press time.

Wilmot Township’s Canada Day event kicked off with an Indigenous Sunrise Ceremony, the Legion Colour Parade and the New Hamburg Concert Band along with entertainment throughout the day including different community groups and organizations.


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