By Robert Frank
Concerned about recent media reports about violence at the Dollard des Ormeaux Sikh temple, the troubled congregation’s board invited The Suburban to a meeting April 22, with seven members of the temple’s directors and seven other parishioners.
Temple spokesman Mukhbir Singh screened a disturbing cellphone video recording of a donnybrook between congregation members, which allegedly took place in the basement dining hall of Gurdwara Sahib of Greater Montreal on the afternoon of March 11.
Later that day, temple priest Hardeep Singh Randhawa, who briefly appeared at the periphery of the handheld video and was not visibly involved in the mêlée, complained to police that immediately afterward, several members of the congregation entered his nearby basement quarters to which he had fled, blamed him for the brawl, beat him and expelled him from the temple.
Mukhbir Singh also screened a security video showing Giani Randhawa leaving the temple carrying two bags on his back. Mr. Singh added that all such videos have been turned over to police to assist their ongoing investigation.
Temple treasurer Hardip Singh Ghuman told The Suburban that Giani Randhawa was not a Sikh priest but was, in fact, a truck driver in India who was taken under the temple’s wing solely for compassionate reasons and was given a small stipend because he was an impoverished refugee claimant.
Mr. Ghuman added that Giani Randhawa had not trained as a Sikh priest and asserted that the congregation’s needs are adequately served by its head priest, Bhai Kora Singh (Bhai is a Punjabi term similar to Brother). The congregation also employs three clerics whose role, said former president Manjeet Singh, is similar to Jewish cantors.
Mr. Ghuman was adamant that the congregation had no need of a second priest and that Giani Randhawa never served in that capacity at Gurdwara Sahib of Greater Montreal.
However, The Suburban obtained from Giani Randhawa a copy of a letter dated 6 June 2006, signed by Kewal Singh, who was, at the time, congregation president.
The letter attests that Giani Randhawa was hired on Dec. 1, 2005. It states that from 1968 to 1975, Giani Randhawa was trained at a well-known “taksal” (an institution which trains Sikh priests) in India. It adds that Giani Randhawa previously helped four other Sikh temples and explains that growth at the Dollard temple had made the hiring of a second priest “very urgent” because the lone priest had “always demanded an assistant”.
The letter details a variety of time-consuming duties and stipulates that his “weekly salary” was $275.
Quebec government documents show that Hardeep Singh Rhandhawa registered a trucking company Dec. 16, 2005, two weeks before the DDO Sikh temple letter says that he was hired.
“Comments made by individuals suggesting that he was a truck driver or about his stipend are irrelevant to the fact that he was not assaulted and has fabricated this story to humiliate and play party to an opposing faction that wants to malign the community and its members,” Mukhbir Singh stated in an electronic mail message the following day.
According to Montreal’s Immigrant Worker Centre, broke and homeless Sikh priest Hardeep Singh Randhawa was paid $100 per week for the past seven years, before he was expelled March 11. On April 22, former president Manjeet Singh told The Suburban that the DDO Sikh temple has retained lawyer Julius Gray to handle its court battle with a faction competing for control of the congregation’s board of directors.