Punjabi is set to become the fourth largest spoken language in Canada by 2011 after English, French and Chinese, according to Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
The minister made the announcement Friday night after inaugurating the seventh Spinning Wheel Film Festival at the Royal Ontario Museum here that will feature films by or about Sikhs.
More than two dozen films from around the world will be screened at the two-day festival.
Before opening the event, the minister unveiled two huge portraits of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his son Duleep Singh. These portraits will now be permanently displayed at the museum.
Lauding the contribution made by Sikhs to the Canadian society, the minister said they have thrived after their initial struggles and made a place for themselves in Canada.
The 2006 census showed that Punjabi is the sixth largest spoken language after English, French, Chinese, Italian and German in Canada. But it is projected to surpass German and Italian by 2011.
Referring to the 1914 incident when more than 350 passengers from India – Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus – were not allowed to disembark from the Komagata Maru ship and sent back to Kolkata, the minister said Canada has recognized its racist past and apologized for it.
Toronto-based philanthropist and physician Birinder Singh Ahluwalia, the brain behind the festival, said the aim was to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Sikhs.
The Amritsar-born doctor, among most successful 25 Canadian immigrants, said the organisers received more than 120 film entries from around the world.
“But we are showing only the 27 best films chosen by the screening committee,” said Ahluwalia, who announced that $50,000 will be given every year to filmmakers wishing to make films with Sikh themes.
A huge exhibition of Sikh paintings has also been mounted at the museum. Some rare paintings depict the struggle of Sikhs in the two World Wars in which many of them won the highest military honour of Victoria Cross.
“A Prisoner’s Song” featuring a rare audio recording of a Sikh prisoner of war in Germany in World War I opened the film festival.