About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sikh Temple: The Drama Continues

Who would have guessed that the construction of a Sikh temple would have been the biggest thing to hit the development wars in Guelph since Wal-Mart? That's almost what it looks like from this end of the looking glass, especially since thoughts and opinions on the issue keep piling on.

Last Monday, at a jam-packed, standing room only council meeting, supporters and opponents voiced either their endorsement or resistance to the proposition of the temple being built on a lot on Claire Rd near Victoria in the southend. I had wrote a post previous where I broke down the objections to the temple I had heard previous and tried to debunk them from my own point of view. I attended the first hour or so of the meeting, hoping to gleam some deeper understanding of the opposition to this development. What I heard gave me nothing new to change my previous point of view.

However, what was made very clear from the four delegates that spoke against the construction of the temple is that they don't appreciate being called racist or being told that they're hate mongers, and they especially didn't like being identified with the site Stop The Temple, which was become infamous for a couple of highly offensive posts. Fair enough, and while perhaps we in the media have given unfair weight to the site in question, I think people were questioning the notion that race was at play in all the opposition talk prior to the advent of Stop The Temple. (Incidentally, Stop The Temple has since been pulled from the internet. Type in the dominion into your web browser and you're dropped off at the page below.)

Anyway, the "growing racial undertones" have apparently made some residents feel as if their genuine critiques of the temple and its construction are merely excuses after the fact, a plausible cover-up to hide their racism. As I've said before, I have no reason to doubt these people their sincerity when they say they oppose the temple on the grounds that it can't be supported by local infrastructure, and similar reasons. But I do hold reservations.

First is the ongoing assertion that the estimated floor-space of the temple, some 18,000 square feet, does not include the basement, and as such, the floor plan for the temple should be doubled on the proposal. This despite the fact that basements are never counted in total floor space calculations be it residential, commercial, industrial or other. To say that the architect or anyone else is hiding the true size of the temple by not claiming the basement in total floor space is either ignorant or dishonest. Further I ask, is it at all likely that the Sikh community would hold services for the first 400 parishioners through the door and then pack the basement with a spill-over crowd? That's leaving aside for the moment that the Guelph Sikh community currently numbers around 200 and the maximum capacity for the proposed temple sits at 400.

Secondly, there was a remark from one speaker saying that the construction of the temple would "sacrifice the safety of the children" in the community. She was referring to the increased traffic in the area, a previously stated concern by many in the Westminster Woods area. However, I wonder exactly how many kids play ball hockey in the middle of Claire Rd? The answer is probably none, because Claire is a major artery in the southend. This same speaker also wondered about large trucks coming through the community all hours of the night since members of the Sikh community have previously stated that the temple will be open "24/7". Well I'm no expert, but I think that for any man or woman, no matter their religious affiliation, the last thing on their mind when they're driving a big rig at three in the morning is looking for somewhere to stop and pray.

Third, a comment was made saying something to the effect of why would the Sikhs insist on building a temple somewhere the area residents are opposed to having it constructed. To me, this was, perhaps, the most overtly racist thing I heard. At least it could be interpreted that way. It seemed a roundabout way of saying we don't want your kind here. Perhaps that's a misread on my part, however the question can be taken legitimately. As Joanne Shuttleworth pointed out in her editorial in today's Mercury, is it in the Sikh community's best interest to move into an area that fought tooth and nail to prevent them from doing so?

But it begs the question though: where is a good place to build a Sikh temple? A strip mall? The nearly vacant industrial area? Somewhere on the outskirts of town where public transit barely reaches? The Guelph Sikh Society said that they've looked at a lot of areas, and this was the best fit for their plans. Admittedly, I would be curious to hear their criteria, but at the same time I think it's silly to say that a temple fits better amongst stores or factories than within a residential neighbourhood.

Next, in looking for images to run with this story, I came across this:

It's a picture of the Sikh temple in EspaƱola, New Mexico, which serves 350 Sikhs in the northwestern part of the state. I post this to comment on the debate over aesthetics and ask: is something like this really so galling? Granted, I've never seen a picture of the proposed finished look of the Guelph temple, but I'm willing to bet that the Taj Mahal it is not.

Finally, there was an article in the Mercury last week following up on an ad placed in the Etcetera, also published by the Mercury, that was alerting temple opponents to a meeting taking place March 11th at the Puslinch Community Centre. It was made explicitly clear that this is for opponents only - no supporters and no media. The ad said that meeting was being sponsored by the Westminster Woods Residents Association, the WWRA's chair told the Merc that this was not the case. Temple opponent Glenn Carducci was the man that rented the hall, but he says he has nothing to do with the WWRA and added that he rented the hall on behalf of a friend. So who's hosting the meeting, and why did they apparently invoke WWRA's name when they have nothing to do with the group?

Then there's the text from the ad: "This meeting is not for those who want to support this application to build a Sikh place of worship. If that is your goal, you will be denied entry and the opportunity to speak. You are invited to host your own meeting, which we will graciously avoid." Why? Why are supporters and media not allowed? Could it be that organizers realize that the words and opinions that are going to be expressed may not be received well outside the context of this meeting? In the dark, people can't see you. In an unknowable situation, without new information to guide you, you have to go on precedent, and the precedent for secret meetings of people against a particular ethnic group is not good. If those against the temple don't want to be labelled racist, then full disclosure, as well as open and honest debate, is best.

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