Edmonton park honours two human rights advocates

“Life is like a park. There are always weeds of discrimination, hatred and inequality. We should be planting the seeds of love, help and community.” 

Gurcharan Singh Bhatia lives by those words. His late wife, Jiti, used to say them. Together, the two human rights advocates have planted the seeds of love, help and community in Edmonton over the past six decades. He was also a citizenship judge and one of the founders of Daughters Day in Edmonton. 

A small city park now bears the couple’s names. In August, the City of Edmonton unveiled the Jiti and Gurcharan Bhatia Park in Blue Quill Estates, just north of MacTaggart Sanctuary. The Bhatias moved to the southwest community in 1980. Jiti passed away in 2018, at the age of 80. 

“We enjoy the neighbourhood and we feel very honoured that the City has blessed us by naming the park after us,” said Gurcharan, 90. “It’s a park meant for walking and sitting in the sunshine. We’re very happy.”

The park, located at 28th Avenue and 125th Street, is ideal for sitting or strolling.

“What does a Canadian look like?”

Gurcharan struggled with the weeds of discrimination, hatred and inequality early on in his life.

Born in what is now the state of Punjab, he survived the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, which divided neighbours along religious lines and led to the deaths of as many as two million people, including his father and 66 relatives. 

In 1964, Gurcharan emigrated from India to Canada with Jiti, their daughter Priti and his mother. Winnipeg was their first destination. There, he experienced discrimination because of his turban. While trying to find work as a chartered accountant, a prospective employer said he couldn’t hire Gurcharan because he didn’t look like a Canadian. “What does a Canadian look like?,” replied Gurcharan.

Human rights advocate Gurcharan Bhatia.

He ended up getting a job with another company, but eventually dedicated his life to planting and growing those seeds of love, help and community with his wife. 

Human rights 

“We didn’t believe in revenge, we wanted to improve things for the next generation, so our children and grandchildren can live in peace,” said Gurcharan. “We were lucky that we found a country where these philosophies were sprouting. But these values don’t grow overnight, we have to work hard for them.”

He launched a multicultural magazine, Canadian Link, to connect with South Asian immigrants.  He was a member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Gurcharan was also the first visible minority to be appointed as a citizenship judge in Alberta, swearing in an estimated 40,000 new Canadians over his 10-year tenure. 

Gurcharan Bhatia in his role as a citizenship judge.

In 1998, he chaired a local conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, attended by notables such as Bishop Desmond Tutu and former Irish president Mary Robinson. 

Daughters Day

In 2012, Gurcharan along with his friends and late wife launched Daughters Day to recognize the lives and achievements of daughters. The annual celebration, which features an awards ceremony, usually takes place at City Hall, but due to COVID-19 protocols, it will be held virtually on Sept. 25. The livestream starts at 1 p.m. 

“Every woman is a daughter—whether one-day old or 100 years old,” said Gurcharan. “They have to be respected. They have to be given equal opportunities. Only then will we have peace in the world.”

His daughter, Priti Laderoute, is proud of her parents’ tireless efforts to make the world a better place for themselves and their communities.

 “They didn’t do it for the awards or recognition but for the passion and joy they had for the human spirit,” she said. “Hopefully people who go to the park use it as a place that unites people and brings them smiles, laughter and peace which is the best legacy possible.”  

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows the Jiti and Gurcharan Bhatia Park in Blue Quill Estates, on September 21, 2021.