A friend once asked me why so many Sikhs were named Singh and Kaur. I told him these names were mandatory for Amritdhari Sikhs and common for others, that they served to replace surnames that were caste markers with just two names that had royal associations, and that while there were many Sikhs who were Singhs, there were many Singhs who were not Sikhs.
He listened carefully and replied “Doesn’t that get confusing? I mean all those Singhs running around?”
I burst out laughing. You see my friend’s surname was Smith. And he wasn’t just any Smith, he was a John Smith, and actually a John Smith Jr. at that.
It was funny as a question from a good friend. It was offensive as long running Canadian Policy:
CBC News has obtained a copy of a letter sent from the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi to Singh’s family stating that “the names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada.”
Karen Shadd-Evelyn, a spokeswoman with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said the policy preventing people from immigrating to Canada with those last names has been in place for the last 10 years.
“I believe the thinking behind it in this case is because it is so common. [With] the sheer numbers of applicants that have those as their surnames, it’s just a matter for numbers and for processing in that visa office.” [Link]
p>This made absolutely no sense. If you’re processing files, you need to know the name the person had for most of their lives to distinguish them from others, and you can’t go back in time and change it retroactively. If they’re complaining that it’s hard to distinguish the files of one “Ennis Singh” from another once they’ve applied, that’s absurd. You use file numbers not actual names. Lastly, this was a policy solely directed against Singhs and Kaurs, not any other name:
Citizenship and Immigration Canada says there is no such policy against other common last names. [Link]
The most common Canadian surnames are:
5. Brown [Link]
If the Canadian government can handle all the Browns without confusion, then immigration should have had no problem handling my brown brethren as well.
At first, the government defended their policy which caused even more outrage. Then they back pedaled, claiming that it was all a misunderstanding:
In no way did CIC intend to ask applicants to change their names. The letter that was previously used to communicate with clients was poorly worded. We are making changes to ensure there will be no misunderstandings in the future.
CIC recognizes that previous communications with clients may not have been clear on this issue and regrets any inconvenience this may have caused.
Asking applicants to provide a surname in addition to Singh or Kaur has been an administrative practice used by our visa office in New Delhi as a way to improve client service and reduce incidents of mistaken identity. This was not a mandatory requirement.There is no policy or practice whereby people with these surnames are asked to change their names. [Link]
Riiiiight. Because clients love it when you tell them “You’re cleared for immigration, but just one small thing – you have to change your name.” And of course, it’s simply not true that the name change was optional (see the image below, for example):
When asked if he believes the immigration department’s claim that the policy was just a misunderstanding and that people with the surnames Singh or Kaur were actually allowed to apply, Gahir said, “They were told, unequivocally, `You can’t apply with the surname Singh or Kaur.‘”… [Link]
p>Feh. At least the Canadian government was shamed into changing their policy. They may not be truly multicultural at heart, but at least they were willing to admit when they were wrong before the issue became an even bigger political liability.