Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says a “modified version, perhaps” of Surrey’s annual Vaisakhi parade might be permitted to go ahead this year.
“The short answer is it’s a bit too early right now,” she told the Now-Leader on Thursday. “I have been in discussions with faith leaders and community leaders in this last week and this last couple of weeks about how we have a number of important celebrations coming up, and how can we, given where we are right now in this situation we have with this pandemic, how can we have faith remembrances or celebrations of these important events.
“So the parade, probably not or maybe in a very limited way outside but I know community leaders are looking at that,” she said. “But how can we have celebrations, and we see some great examples of that with Chinese New Years, with some of the celebrations that we’ve had safely in the last few months, and I expect that will be the same for Vaisakhi as well.”
Surrey’s South Asian community has held an annual Vaisakhi parade, which commemorates the founding of the Sikh religion in 1699, since 1998 and parades have been held in Vancouver since 1979.
Surrey’s Vaisakhi parade is considered to be the largest in North America and one of the biggest outside India, drawing up to 500,000 people to 128th Street in Newton among other streets. It’s usually held at the end of April. Last year, Vaisakhi was held virtually during the early days of the pandemic.
Given the magnitude of the event, does Henry see the parade being able to go ahead, as it has in years past, even next year?
“For this year, that’s a no. For next year, we’re going to be in a different world, so who knows? The way it was in the past, it cannot happen this year because that just puts too many people at risk.”
Laura Ballance, spokeswoman for the organizers of the parade, the executive of the Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar, says they “are reviewing their options as to moving forward and we anticipate having a formal statement early next week.”
Moninder Singh, spokesman for the B.C. Gurdwaras Council, said Thursday organizers are “looking into a cancellation announcement soon” for a large-gathering event. “It is kind of obvious that it is going to have to be cancelled, there’s no way we’re going to be able to do it,” he said. “Last year we have done programs around like a virtual Vaisakhi, it was being called. It’ll probably be very similar to that, like on-line type events.
Singh noted there are more pandemic-related restrictions now than there were this same time last year. “We had some smaller events of gathering of under 50 people in April last year that we were still able to hold under those restrictions but now we can’t even do that.”
He said they have a cancellation notice “on hold” but are “still giving it a lot of thought.
“We’re trying to look at what ‘modified’ would look like, with social distancing requirements, masking and everything like that,” Singh said. “If we make a call-out, just to be flat out honest, that this thing is going ahead, we can’t control it. In all honesty. I think we would be doing a disservice to the public health at this point. Once we make the call, how are we supposed to say ‘OK, you 500 can come, and you can’t.”
“The sheer amount of time and energy it’s going to take to try to keep people six feet apart,” he said, “it’s just not working, in our minds.”