National Post

Sikh-hindu tensions flare in Canada

‘This has shocked me, to tell you the truth’

- TOM BLACKWELL

The unrest sparked by massive farmer protests in India appears to be spilling over into Canada and its southasian community, with a close relative of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh at the centre of one recent confrontat­ion.

A widely viewed video appears to show Singh’s brotherin-law pushing a pro-india demonstrat­or to the ground at an Ontario rally, an incident now under police investigat­ion.

A separate encounter at the same event has already led to an assault charge against another man.

The drama occurred amid competing demonstrat­ions, angry online rhetoric and accusation­s of intimidati­on, much of it related to the protests that have roiled India for months.

While many Sikh-canadian activists have come out in support of the farmers and decried the controvers­ial strong-arm tactics New Delhi has used against them, other Indian Canadians, many of them Hindu, have made a point of voicing support recently for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Indian high commission in Ottawa lodged a protest about the most recent altercatio­n, warning such incidents could harm the “warm and friendly relations” between the two countries.

“I have been here for 35 years and I’ve never seen anything like this in Canada,” said rally participan­t Azad Kaushik, president of the National Alliance of Indo-canadians. “This has shocked me, to tell you the truth.”

But a spokesman for a major Sikh group blamed tensions on the pro-modi media and demonstrat­ions themselves. He called the rallies an attempt to divert attention from an oppressive government, while creating the false narrative of religious strife in Canada.

“It’s not a Hindu-vs-sikh issue, it really isn’t,” said Jaskaran Sandhu of the World Sikh Organizati­on. “This is an attempt to kind of provoke the (Sikh) community. It’s a very nefarious attempt to change the issue and make it a communal issue.”

Motives aside, the opposing factions clashed just over a week ago on the streets of Brampton, Ont., west of Toronto, when Sikh counter-protesters met a pro-india car rally.

In an incident captured on video, a man resembling Jodhveer Singh Dhaliwal, who’s married to the sister of the New Democrat leader’s wife, strides toward an India supporter, shoving the man in the chest and sending him toppling backward onto the pavement.

The victim got up almost immediatel­y and did not appear injured.

The shoving is under investigat­ion by Peel Region Police, a spokeswoma­n said Tuesday, though no charges had been laid.

Lawyer Harval Bassi, a criminal-law specialist representi­ng Dhaliwal, said his client had no comment on the affair.

The NDP leader’s office would not address the episode directly, but said Jagmeet Singh and the party have been clear that “everyone, everywhere should have the right to protest peacefully.”

“No one should be confronted by violence for expressing their point of view,” said a party statement.

The statement also pointed to the accusation­s of human-rights abuses by India in handling the protests there.

Tens of thousands of farmers — many of them Sikhs from the agricultur­e-rich Punjab — have demonstrat­ed in and around New Delhi since November over three laws that dismantle a system providing guaranteed minimum prices and stability to farmers. The government says the reforms will let them sell their products more freely, but many farmers fear they’ll wind up at the mercy of large corporatio­ns.

New Delhi claims the demonstrat­ions have been hijacked by Sikh separatist­s — supporters of an independen­t state called Khalistan. On India’s Republic Day, Jan. 26, farmers broke through barricades, clashed with police and briefly occupied the historic Red Fort.

Human-rights groups like Amnesty Internatio­nal and Human Rights Watch, however, charge that the government has responded with repressive tactics, including jailing several journalist­s and activists on sedition charges, undue police force and censoring of social media.

The government must “stop threatenin­g, demonizing and arresting peaceful protesters,” said an Amnesty official last month.

There have been multiple demonstrat­ions by Canadian Sikhs in recent weeks to show solidarity with the farmers in India. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also chimed in, calling New Delhi’s response “concerning” and urging dialogue.

Meanwhile, demonstrat­ors rallied in support of Modi’s administra­tion in Vancouver last month, and later protested outside Jagmeet Singh’s constituen­cy office in Burnaby, B.C., complainin­g that Canadian Hindus were being harassed and threatened by Sikh Khalistani activists.

Sandhu said many Hindu Canadians support the India farmers, but suggested the events in Vancouver and Brampton were the product of Modi’s Hindu-nationalis­t loyalists here. The term used to describe them — “Tiranga” rallies — refers to India’s tricolour flag, but was coined by the prime minister himself for nationalis­tic marches held in his country to bolster the government, he said.

Kaushik, a university immunology professor, said the Feb. 28 Brampton rally was meant to celebrate India’s agreement to supply two million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Canada. Scores of cars streamed through the city waving Indian and Canadian flags.

They were confronted by Sikh activists, who Kaushik said yelled abuse at the pro-india crowd and seized some of the Indian flags. He said a counter-protester took the flag from his own car, as a Peel police officer watched but took no action.

Last week, though, the force charged an unidentifi­ed 27-year-old man with assaulting a 40-year-old female participan­t in the car rally.

Police said another demonstrat­ion is planned and warned that “there will be no tolerance for violence or criminalit­y.”

In a letter to Global Affairs Canada last week, the Indian high commission raised concern about “disturbing videos of persons of Indian origin and Indian nationals being assaulted by extremist elements.”

The mission urged the government to instruct authoritie­s to investigat­e the incidents.

 ??  ?? In an incident captured on video, a man resembling Jodhveer Singh Dhaliwal shoves
a man in the chest, sending him toppling backward onto the pavement.
In an incident captured on video, a man resembling Jodhveer Singh Dhaliwal shoves a man in the chest, sending him toppling backward onto the pavement.

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