A man of many talents and an advocate of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982, the life of this Mississauga Sikh resident has been shaped by his many roles: athlete, director, historian and public speaker. Meeting up with Pardeep at the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada where he is the Executive Director, this champion of multiple causes explained the principles of his Sikh beliefs and the values they entail. Born in the Punjab in 1970, Pardeep had a modest upbringing in Malton, Mississauga, where he discovered his love of sports and remarkable athletic abilities at an early age. Professional hockey player and Ontario native Paul Coffey was one of his idols. As with most elite athletes, a teenage Pardeep set ambitious goals for himself when it came to soccer, track and boxing. Guided by a sense of serving his community, he still wanted to pursue university studies, completing his Bachelor of Economics and Industrial Relations at the University of Toronto from 1989 to 1993.
Pardeep Nagra’s life as an athlete and boxer was portrayed on the big screen in the 2018 movie Tiger. The film chronicles his fight to gain respect for his Sikh identity. It is based on his experience at the 1999 Canadian Amateur Boxing Championship in Campbell River, British Columbia. Victory at the championship would have qualified Pardeep for the Summer Olympics in Sydney. However, the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association prohibited him from competing because of his beard. He, therefore, urged his coach and lawyer to help fight the ban and, in 2000, the courts reversed the decision. Pardeep uses this same drive to overcome obstacles in his commitments as a Sikh, which include helping those less fortunate, fighting for social justice, promoting equality between men and women and between people from all social classes. As he explains, the fight for human rights and a better society are also part of the teachings of Sikh gurus.
Pardeep’s achievements are shared with community youth through various publications and public events. He is viewed as a champion of human rights and an exemplary athlete. And that is precisely the example he sets for his 12-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter, both sports enthusiasts. In addition to his athletic accomplishments, such as his participation in the Boston Marathon and the Toronto Polar Bear Dip, Pardeep has worked for the Peel Regional Police and as a manager for the Toronto District School Board. His vision for the Canada of tomorrow is inspiring: it involves the full acceptance of all the country’s cultural identities, the obligation to stand up when democracy is abused and the shared responsibility of helping one another. These efforts for a better society must above all else include reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, and, of course, the interdependence between humans, the planet and the environment.