A month after he was nearly forced to leave the country, Merritt Sikh leader Harinder Singh has settled back into life in the Nicola Valley.
"Whatever happened, it was good for me, 'cause now everything is on the right track," Singh told the News in an interview Monday. "Now I'm not thinking all the time."
In March, a border agent issued Singh an exclusion order, which would have barred him from Canada for one year and gave him one week to go.
Leaving the country would have turned Singh's life upside-down and likely forced the closure of the Merritt Sikh Temple.
Singh is the temple's ragi and holds duties similar to a minister or pastor in other faiths.
Three days after he received the order, Singh's bags were packed and he had a ticket for a one-way flight to India, he recalls.
"I was thinking about India, like, 'What would I do there?'"
However, thanks to a strong show of support from the community and the swift intervention of local politicians, Singh's departure was avoided.
Merritt Sikh Society vice-president Peter Samra says that a petition to have Singh stay received about 500 signatures from Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike between the morning of March 10 and noon on March 11.
"I already knew that Merritt has a strong sense of community and this situation has brought us closer together."
Fraser-Nicola MLA and local Sikh Harry Lali, Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas, and Merritt Mayor Susan Roline pressed federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to review the case.
Several days later, Kenney granted a special permit for Singh to stay in Canada for another year.
Singh says he was thrilled to receive the permit so quickly and avoid leaving Canada altogether.
"Everyone got together to support me."
The Merritt Sikh Society and Singh officially thanked Albas, Lali, and Roline on Sunday in a ceremony that coincided with Baisakhi (or Vaisakhi), the Indian new year and a major Sikh festival. They also thanked Kenney, who did not attend the ceremony.
Singh says he was touched and surprised at everyone who lobbied for him to stay.
"It is like family.
"Thank you so much to the community."