Baltej Singh Dhillon
Date of Birth:
Baltej Singh Dhillon was an RCMP Officer for almost 30 years and is currently (as of 2020) a Program Manager for the Crime, Guns and Intelligence Group with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU) of BC.
Born in Malaysia in 1966, when his father sadly passed away in 1982, Baltej Singh and his family had to move to Canada where his older brother was established. His family felt it would be best for them to immigrate to Canada so that the family could be together and support each other financially as well as emotionally.
Baltej Singh is very thankful for this country for allowing him and his family to come to Canada on a compassionate basis with the loss of his father. During this difficult time in his life, Baltej Singh was only 16 years old when he moved to Canada and landed in Vancouver in the month of October in 1983. It was his first time on a plane and being far away from home. Baltej Singh remembers when he first arrived to Canada with his family, the immigration officer asking him if he had any money coming from elsewhere because they only had $400 USD at the time. The immigration officer paused and said good luck. Baltej Singh didn’t know what to make of that – he wasn’t sure whether this was a good thing or bad thing and that created some nervousness for him.
Once he arrived in Vancouver he was very happy to see familiar faces but he wasn’t expecting the fall weather. Coming from Malaysia, a tropical country where there is sun all year round, his body felt shocked because the sun was shining outside but it was really cold. He describes it as akin to being in a refrigerator. Baltej Singh was used to seeing ethnically diverse populations such as Chinese, South Indians, Punjabis and Malays in Malaysia. In Canada he felt it was the opposite, which was a significant adjustment as well.
Soon after his arrival to Canada, Baltej Singh’s extended family in Canada asked him whether he was going to cut his hair before school started as he kept unshorn hair and wore a turban. He refused to do so because he had made a promise to his father who had passed away and thus it was something he was going to maintain and hold onto. Baltej Singh understands that back then young men and adults were forced to cut their hair because if you did not change what you looked like you would face significant challenges in your life, such as hate crimes and difficulty in finding employment.
Baltej Singh faced a lot of discrimination when he moved into his new house. For example, people would name call, throw eggs at his house and at times draw graffiti. The racism got to a point that his brother had to get a dog for their security and protection. During high school as well, because Baltej Singh was the only one who wore a turban, this brought a lot of challenges for him. With time, relationship building and socializing, he and his family were able to overcome many challenges.
Another issue Baltej Singh faced was when he was placed into an English class for those who had English as a second language. The school just assumed that simply because Baltej Singh was from Malaysia he wouldn’t have a strong command of the English language and as a result he had to waste a year. After passing tests however, he became a teacher’s assistant and a tutor in the class. When he reflects back, he thinks that there should have been some assessment done at the front end initially to determine his level of competency in English.
At that time Vancouver had a large community of Punjabis compared to Surrey. Since the 1980’s, things have changed and many Punjabis have moved to Surrey. All celebrations like Diwali and Vaisakhi would be celebrated at the gurdwaras which really served as community centres back then. Baltej Singh recalls most socializing and communications used to happen at the Gurdwara then because there were no movie theatres playing Indian movies or any Indian restaurants or Indian grocery stores. Baltej Singh took part in the Vaisakhi parades the community used to have on Ross Street in Vancouver every year. He took part in the floats, did kirtan and also served as a sewadaar (volunteer).
Baltej Singh didn’t have the means to visit Malaysia since he initially moved to Canada in 1983, but he went back to Malaysia in 2000 to visit his family. Communication wasn’t easy as it is today so he couldn’t speak to them every day as it used to cost a lot of money. Baltej Singh’s family in Malaysia had to go to someone’s house who had a telephone to make a call and also time difference had a huge impact. Baltej Singh and his family used to exchange letters but in those days they took a while to be received, and because of this he missed important events.
After receiving his RCMP badge (which in itself is a long and famous Canadian struggle which most are aware of), he felt like all communities are now equal partners and truly Canadian citizens. Baltej Singh is very grateful for all the sacrifices and efforts his ancestors made. He feels his own hardships can’t compare with the history of Komagatu Maru, and the hardships early members of the community went through, working in the mills and farming industry.