New Delhi: Whether on the 2020 farmers’ protests, the arrest of Khalistani preacher Amritpal Singh, or the recent diplomatic row over Khalistan backer Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing, many prominent Sikh politicians in Canada have been at the forefront, raising voices against Indian actions.
What is noteworthy is their conspicuous silence and action on the anti-India graffiti on Hindu temples and installations, posters threatening Indian diplomats and missions, and hailing perpetrators of the 1985 Air-India bombing as heroes.
Terry Milewski in his book, ‘Blood for Blood: Fifty Years of the Global Khalistan Project’, writes that the “meek Canadian response to the Khalistani challenge was a frequent target of Indian politicians as far back as 1982.”
The reason for this is not far to seek, as the Khalistanis reportedly wield a huge clout in the federal as well as provincial political parties despite the extremists constituting a miniscule part of the 7.7 lakh-strong Sikh diaspora in Canada.
According to terrorism experts, their deep influence on the Canadian political set-up allows them to indulge in radical activism, which includes getting their supporters and kin placed in political parties, getting them elected as MPs, MLAs and even as Cabinet Ministers.
“Politicians want votes and donations and Khalistanis deliver votes and notes in abundance. That’s how the Khalistanis have formed a deep nexus with politicians and mayors in Canada,” veteran Punjabi journalist Balraj Deol told IANS earlier.
The Sikhs reportedly hold majority influence in more than five parliamentary seats besides having substantial presence in over 10 other seats, which play a vital role in tipping the scales in favour of any party.
“Trudeau’s domestic political compulsions have forced him to pander to some of the most toxic elements of Canadian public life — the supporters of the Khalistan movement, many of whom are members of Trudeau’s party, even his Cabinet,” according to New Delhi-based think-tank, Observer Research Foundation.
As of 2023, Canada is faced with a government whose very survival depends on the New Democratic Party (NDP), led by ardent Khalistan supporter, Jagmeet Singh Dhaliwal — the most influential political leader among the 17 Indian-origin MPs in Canada.
The 44-year-old Sikh lawyer was elected the leader of New Democratic Party (NDP) in 2017, becoming the first non-white politician to head a major political party in Canada — a development hailed by the Indian media then.
Later, as per local media reports, he was denied permission to visit India in 2013 for his anti-India activities and links to extremists.
According to Canadian daily ‘Globe’ and ‘Mail’, videos of a 2015 event showed Jagmeet, then a member of the Ontario Legislature, walking in a march behind a truck with signs reading, “India out of Sikh Homeland,” and “1984 Sikh Genocide Independence”.
Speaking on stage, with a poster of Khalistani militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale behind him, Jagmeet accused India of committing ‘genocide’ against Sikhs, the paper reported.
After Trudeau’s accusations against the Indian government, Jagmeet vowed to seek justice for Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was gunned down outside a Surrey Sikh temple in June this year.
“Today we learned of allegations that agents of the Indian Government murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar — a Canadian killed on Canadian soil,” Singh wrote on social media platform X.
“To all Canadians, this is my vow. I will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice, including holding Narendra Modi accountable,” he said.
Previously, Jagmeet made noises over the crackdown in Punjab against ‘Waris Punjab De’ chief and Khalistan sympathiser Amritpal Singh.
Speaking of civil liberties in Punjab, the Canadian politician had said: “These draconian measures are unsettling for many, given their historical use to execute extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances during the 1984 Sikh genocide.”
Pierre Trudeau, who was the Prime Minister of Canada when the Air-India flight exploded mid-air in 1985 killing 329 people, sided with the Khalistanis when he refused to extradite alleged mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar to India.
Apart from Jagmeet, Canada’s Minister of Emergency preparedness Harjit Singh Sajjan has been accused by politicians in New Delhi of links with the Khalistanis.
Captain Amarinder Singh, who was the Chief Minister of Punjab in 2017, refused to meet Sajjan, accusing the former Defence Minister of associating with separatists.
Without naming them, Amarinder had mentioned that there were five other Ministers in Canada who stood with radical Sikh elements.
Along with Sajjan, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi was also accused of being a Khalistan extremist by prosecutors in India, but no formal charges were laid against him and the case against Sohi was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Sangrur-born Sohi was released from a Bihar jail after 21 months. He was arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), and immigrated to Canada in 1981.
In a statement to the Canadian Press in 2018, both Sajjan and Sohi said that they “neither sympathise with nor espouse the Sikh nationalist movement, which is bent on creating a separate country called Khalistan in India’s Punjab region.”
Needles of suspicion have also been pointed at Conservative Sikh MPs Tim S Uppal and Jasraj Hallan after they expressed their “concerns” regarding the suspension of internet services across Punjab as the police launched an operation to arrest Amritpal.
In 2018, Liberal MP and present Parliamentary Secretary, Randeep S Sarai invited pro-Khalistani terrorist Jaspal Atwal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s reception dinner in New Delhi.
Atwal was convicted of the attempted murder of Punjab Minister, Malkiat Singh Sidhu, on Vancouver Island in 1986.
Further in 2020, Sarai wrote a Facebook post saying that the treatment of farmers in Punjab is “deplorable”.
In 2021, six Canadian MPs — Uppal, Todd Doherty, Garnett Genuis, Jagdeep Sahota, Hallan and Brad Vis — wrote a letter to the then Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau, urging him to speak to his Indian counterpart over the farmers’ protests in India.