TORONTO: Given the demographic dominance of Sikhs and Punjabis in Canada, Conservative MPs have called upon the country’s flag carrier to establish direct flights between their country and Punjab state. In a letter addressed to Air Canada, MPs Tim Uppal, Jasraj Singh Hallan, Bradley Vis and Mark Strahl called for direct flights between Canada and Amritsar to bolster tourism and empower families to stay connected.
“As Canadian MPs representing vast and diverse communities, we write to highlight the significant economic and social value in establishing direct flights between Canada and the state of Punjab,” the MPs wrote last week. According to estimates, as many as five lakh passengers travel annually from India to Toronto alone, the majority of them Punjabis.
The MPs stated that “direct flights between Canada and Amritsar would symbiotically bolster tourism, trade and empower families to stay connected”. There are currently no direct flights between Canada to Amritsar, India, requiring travellers to make multiple stops along, making the journey “lengthy and arduous”. Canada recently announced an expanded air transport deal with India, allowing designated airlines to operate an unlimited number of flights between the two countries.
But the pact gives Canadian airlines access to Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai, excluding Amritsar, despite demands from passengers from both sides. There are approximately 950,000 Punjabis in Canada, accounting for roughly 2.6 per cent of the country’s population, as per the 2021 census.
Many of these families have direct ties to family, friends and businesses in Punjab. India is Canada’s fourth-largest international airport market, and hundreds of thousands of Punjabis travel to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Over 14,000 Canadian citizens and permanent residents joined an official parliamentary petition this year calling for the creation of a direct flight from Canada to Amritsar, the letter noted.
The MPs said that the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the significant need for flights from Amritsar directly to Canada. At the time of initial pandemic lockdowns, when 30,000 Canadians were in India, border closures and flight cancellations forced the federal government to instate 37 repatriation flights — many directly out of Amritsar’s Sri Guru Ram Das Ji International Airport to Pearson International Airport in Toronto.
“The pandemic has shown us that direct flights from Amritsar to Canada is both feasible for airlines and met by a high demand for travellers,” the letter read.
“So many of my constituents and Canadians have been asking our office for flights like these for years. This will help our seniors, those most in need and parents of small children with access to direct flights,” MP Hallan, one of the signatories of the letter, wrote on Twitter.
According to media reports, Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has raised the issue with Indian counterparts. In India, MP Vikramjit Singh Sahney has also written a letter to Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia requesting him to commence direct flights from Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to Amritsar and Mohali airports.