Former Brampton mayor criticizes Guru Nanak street naming


Published November 1, 2019 at 8:08 pm

The proposal by Brampton councillor Gurpreet Dhillon to rename a section of Peter Robertson Boule

The proposal by Brampton councillor Gurpreet Dhillon to rename a section of Peter Robertson Boulevard after the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, has gotten a lot of tongues wagging, but mostly in disagreement with it.

“This renaming is conditional on approval from the Region of Peel Street Naming Committee and/or Region of Peel Council. The renaming does not go against the City’s Asset Naming policy,” city officials said when asked if there was a violation to the city or region’s street naming bylaws.

However, that has not quelled the storm of negative reaction to this idea, including from Peter Robertson himself.A former Brampton mayor from 1991 to 2000, Robertson (pictured above) went before council this past week to give his thoughts on Dhillon’s motion to rename part of the street named after him. 

“I live in this city and you made a very big decision without at least calling me first. Please do so next time so I wouldn’t be embarrassed and my family wouldn’t be hurt, as they were,” Robertson said during remarks at the Wednesday, October 30 Committee of Council.

“It’s problematic and dangerous; you might be upsetting quite a few people by naming streets after religious figures,” Robertson added, asking Councillor Doug Whillans if he would be upset if a part of Ken Whillans Drive was renamed for a church. Ken Whillans was another former mayor and Councillor Whillans’ father.

Robertson also raised concern that these street renamings may get ‘too political’, suggesting a more benign method would be hanging banners on lamp posts on said streets when recognizing cultural milestones. “There are other ways of celebrating our multicultural heritage besides changing a street name.” 

Dhillon took the opportunity to respond with some education about the significance of Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday and to point out the other streets around the city and region named after religious figures.“Guru Nanak’s birthday is the one time a year when you have two nuclear powers (India and Pakistan) unite together to celebrate. Guru Nanak stressed humanity and equality, regardless of gender or class which are universal values,” Dhillon said, reminiscing on the discrimination he experienced while living in Windsor and saying the renaming is simply a ‘small gesture’. 

“We’re not asking for ‘our kingdom’ back and this is only a small 500 metre stretch where the only municipal address is the Gurdwara.” Dhillon cited how there is a Sister O’Reilly Road near the St. Patrick’s Church on Gore Road, a Drive and Court named Nanak in Mississauga, a Khalsa Drive in Mississauga and Mecca Street in Wards 9 and 10. 

“I would name something after Jesus Christ if that proposal was brought forward and if it made sense,” Dhillon continued. Another councillor, Harkirat Singh, pointed out there is a Father Tobin Drive, also in the same ward.

“I’m a little disappointed that renaming certain streets after religious figures is only now controversial,” Singh said.

It’s not like they are renaming the entirety of Peter Robertson after the Sikh religion’s founder, only the section where the Guru Nanak Gurdwara resides, so the application was carefully targeted and selected. But unlike other streets when the namesake has likely passed onto the next life, Robertson is still alive and he should probably have been notified beforehand about the proposed changes.

That said, with all these other streets named after religious figures from Christian and Muslim faiths, is the uproar from some circles over this latest proposed street renaming justified? Many have said this sets a bad precedent, but hasn’t that precedent already been set? 

It will be an interesting debate going forward whether this is a uniter or divider in Brampton.

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