Sikh ex­trem­ism claim pro­vokes back­lash

Ot­tawa ac­cused of ‘ca­pit­u­lat­ing to In­dian de­mands’

Calgary Herald - - CANADA - DOU­GLAS QUAN

Sev­eral groups within Canada’s Sikh com­mu­nity de­manded Wednes­day that the fed­eral govern­ment pro­vide ev­i­dence to sup­port a claim made in a re­cent ter­ror as­sess­ment re­port that “Sikh ex­trem­ism” was a cur­rent threat to the coun­try.

The groups ac­cused Ot­tawa of ca­pit­u­lat­ing to the In­dian govern­ment, which has re­peat­edly pushed a nar­ra­tive that Canada is har­bour­ing Sikh ex­trem­ists, and sug­gested the re­port seemed more driven by pol­i­tics than in­tel­li­gence.

“Rather than de­fend­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of Cana­dian Sikhs and deny­ing these base­less al­le­ga­tions, it ap­pears that the Cana­dian govern­ment is con­tent to ca­pit­u­late to In­dian de­mands to crack down on the Sikh ac­tivists,” said a state­ment from the On­tario Khalsa Dar­bar, one of Canada’s largest gur­d­waras based in Mis­sis­sauga.

The doc­u­ment draw­ing scru­tiny is Pub­lic Safety Canada’s an­nual re­port on the ter­ror­ism threat to the coun­try. A sec­tion on cur­rent threats lists “Sunni Is­lamist ex­trem­ism” and “right-wing ex­trem­ism” fol­lowed by “Sikh (Khal­is­tani) ex­trem­ism.” There had been no men­tion of Sikh ex­trem­ism in pre­vi­ous years.

The 2018 re­port notes that while vi­o­lent ac­tiv­i­ties in sup­port of an in­de­pen­dent Sikh home­land (Khal­is­tan) in In­dia have fallen since the 1980s when ter­ror­ists car­ried out the bomb­ing of an Air In­dia flight, killing 331 peo­ple, “sup­port for the ex­treme ide­olo­gies of such groups re­mains. For ex­am­ple, in Canada, two key Sikh or­ga­ni­za­tions, Bab­bar Khalsa In­ter­na­tional and the In­ter­na­tional Sikh Youth Fed­er­a­tion, have been iden­ti­fied as be­ing as­so­ci­ated with ter­ror­ism and re­main listed ter­ror­ist en­ti­ties un­der the Crim­i­nal Code.”

But sev­eral Sikh or­ga­ni­za­tions, rep­re­sent­ing some of the half-mil­lion Sikhs liv­ing in Canada, said pro-Khal­is­tan ac­tivism is be­ing falsely equated with ex­trem­ism and won­dered why Pub­lic Safety Canada was pub­li­ciz­ing the threat now when the re­port makes ref­er­ence to only his­tor­i­cal acts of vi­o­lence.

“We see ac­tivism on the ground here in Canada with re­spect to dif­fer­ent is­sues, but there’s noth­ing to sug­gest vi­o­lence of any sort,” said Bal­preet Singh, le­gal coun­sel for the World Sikh Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Canada. “It dam­ages our rep­u­ta­tion.”

In a joint state­ment, the B.C. Sikh Gur­d­waras Coun­cil and the On­tario Gur­d­waras Com­mit­tee, a coali­tion rep­re­sent­ing 30 places of wor­ship, said the Sikh com­mu­nity had been ma­ligned by the govern­ment’s “gen­er­al­ized” ac­cu­sa­tions, which were “ir­re­spon­si­ble and could have wide stand­ing ef­fects on Sikhs through­out Canada.”

“We have to go back at least three decades to find any­thing. … What’s hap­pened in the last year for the Sikh com­mu­nity to be in­cluded? What con­text can they give us? Why now?” Monin­der Singh, the B.C. coun­cil’s spokesman, said in an in­ter­view.

“Were a highly vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity in this coun­try, but we’re still sub­ject to hate crimes. We’re lumped up with a lot of Is­lam­o­pho­bia.”

Asked Wednes­day why Sikh ex­trem­ism was sud­denly in­cluded in the an­nual threat re­port, a govern­ment of­fi­cial cited a line in the re­port that re­ferred to on­go­ing sup­port by some Cana­di­ans for Shia and Sikh ex­trem­ist groups, “in­clud­ing through fi­nanc­ing.” The of­fi­cial wouldn’t elab­o­rate.

In an emailed state­ment, the of­fice of Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale added: “Our govern­ment would never equate any one com­mu­nity with ex­trem­ism. The an­nual Pub­lic Re­port on the Ter­ror­ist Threat to Canada is pre­pared by of­fi­cials to de­scribe the cur­rent ter­ror­ist threat en­vi­ron­ment. The re­port noted that the Na­tional Ter­ror­ism Threat Level re­mains un­changed.”

The re­sponse is un­likely to sat­isfy Sikh or­ga­ni­za­tions that re­leased state­ments Wednes­day say­ing they’re con­vinced Canada is try­ing to as­suage the In­dian govern­ment, whose prime min­is­ter, Naren­dra Modi, gave Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau a frosty re­cep­tion dur­ing a visit ear­lier this year.

Un­flat­ter­ing ar­ti­cles in In­dia’s me­dia at the time por­trayed mem­bers of Trudeau’s cab­i­net of be­ing Khal­is­tani “sym­pa­thiz­ers.” One cover story in an In­dian mag­a­zine was ti­tled: “Khal­is­tan II: Made in Canada.”

DAVE ABEL / POST­MEDIA NEWS

“It ap­pears that the Cana­dian govern­ment is con­tent to ca­pit­u­late to In­dian de­mands to crack down on the Sikh ac­tivists,” said a state­ment from the On­tario Khalsa Dar­bar, above, in Mis­sis­sauga.

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