Tense confrontation at DDO Sikh congregation

By Robert Frank
www.thesuburban.com

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON JUNE 1, 2011

A week-long standoff at Gurudwara Sahib of Greater Montreal in Dollard des Ormeaux ended May 27, when the facility’s tall steel gates were unlocked to admit its Sikh parishioners for the 6 p.m. Friday evening service.

The Sikh place of worship—usually open 24 hours a day—was sealed and patrolled by private security guards after at least five police cruisers descended on the congregation to respond to a dispute May 21.

Rocks subsequently thrown from adjacent bushes smashed side windows and many unhappy members congregated in their cars immediately outside the entrance. Ordinary citizens complained to The Suburban about the guards’ overbearing conduct, ordering pedestrians off the sidewalk onto the pavement and traffic along Hyman Drive.

According to a neighbour who is well-acquainted with the congregation, various factions have been at odds since elections took place and the heightened security was implemented to attenuate the risk of violence.

“It’s normally a very peaceful place,” she said of the congregation, which opened its doors in 1989.

Interim chairman Harjeet Singh assured The Suburban that “the community centre is once again functioning and performing services as it normally does.”

Mr. Singh explained that a temporary committee is in charge to ensure that the Sikh community centre continues to serve the congregation normally. However he declined to discuss the reasons why it was barricaded for a week because “the matter is currently before the courts.”

However the heated battle for control of the congregation has been a lively topic among callers to Jasvir Sandhu’s popular local talk show on Radio Humsafar, including some parishioners who said that they had booked the facility for a funeral May 22, but were barred from entering.

The key protagonists are Narinder Singh Minhas who served as president of the Sikh community centre; and Gurdeep Singh Sohal, who was vice-president. According to Quebec government documents, both their terms of office ended May 8, 2011.

“Two groups claim that they are in charge and the dispute has been taken to court,” the talk show host explained. “People were disturbed when the doors were locked because many go every morning to pray in the temple and they were not allowed. They called the talk show to express their views and said that they were very disappointed.”

The problem originated decades ago when the congregation needed to find $600,000 to build the facility. Twenty-nine community members mortgaged their homes for amounts ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 each to guarantee a loan for the construction. In return, they received positions on the board of directors.

Other members of the congregation who are dissatisfied with their leadership have recently raised $300,000 from community members in order to relieve those guarantors from their remaining debt obligation so that they would no longer be entitled to a permanent seat on the board.

An interlocutory judgment was anticipated as The Suburban went to press May 31. In the meantime, the judge has prohibited both sides from speaking to news media about the dispute. 

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