Sikhs and Khalistan
Sikhs and Khalistan

Canada's counter-terrorism record weak: Expert

ANI | Updated: May 05, 2018 07:24 IST

Toronto [Canada], May 5 (ANI): Canada's record in dealing with terrorism cases over the years has, by and large, been weak in response, according to a former Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) journalist

In article written for Quillette, a platform for free thought, former CBC senior correspondent Terry Milewski focuses on the impact of Khalistan, a movement aimed at creating a separate homeland or state for Sikhs out of the existing north Indian state of Punjab, and the many incidents of terror it has been associated with from the 1980s.

Milewski suggests in his article that there currently exists a dichotomy within the Sikh community, especially in Canada. On the one hand, he says that a vast bulk of "Canada's 450,000 Sikhs seeks no return to the bloody 1980s and 1990s, when the battle for Khalistan took some 20,000 lives in India, most of them Sikh", while on the other hand, "Khalistani fervour is (still) alive on social media" and Sikh hardliners "are a well-organised political force, still raising the cry of "Khalistan Zindabad!"-long live Khalistan-in some Canadian gurdwaras where "martyred" Sikh assassins are memorialised as models for the young."

To back his claim, he refers to a 2018 tweet from a person going by the name "George" (@PCPO_Brampton) in which he declares: "Indira's (former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi) assassins are HEROES. Sikhs should glorify them."

"The endurance of such attitudes in Canada reflects the weak record of its justice system in deterring violence. For years, it seemed, Canadian courts were where terrorism cases went to die," Milewski claims in the article appearing in the Quillette.

Giving a historical perspective to his conclusions that Khalistan is an on again-off again movement, Milewski, in his article, takes us back in time to July 1984, when New York City allowed Canada-based sawmill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri, then widely regarded as number-two in the Babbar Khalsa International, a terrorist group engaged in an armed struggle to win that state to be called Khalistan or Land of the Pure, to address a huge angry gathering in Madison Square Garden on the occasion of the founding convention of the World Sikh Organisation (WSO).

"Bagri's leader was Talwinder Singh Parmar, also a resident of British Columbia. He was wanted for murder in India, and therefore, was barred from the United States. So in New York, Bagri spoke on Parmar's behalf," says Milewski, adding that Canada did not also bar either man (Parmar or Bagri) from being granted Canadian citizenship much earlier.

In 1982, the government of then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau refused to extradite Parmar to India. So, he was spared the need to stand trial for the killing of two Indian policemen, and was free to collect donations from Sikh gurdwaras, or temples, across Canada. He was eventually eliminated in an encounter with Punjab Police in 1992

The New York event took place less than two months after the Indian Army's assault on the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar to weed out Sikh extremists led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the militant leader of the Sikh-dominant Damdami Taksal.

Who was to know that more than three months later, India's then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi would be assassinated by two of her own Sikh bodyguards inside her official residential complex?

Today, in 2018, according to Milewski, Sikh hardliners are a well-organised political force, still raising cries of "Khalistan Zindabad!"-long live Khalistan-in some Canadian gurdwaras where "martyred" Sikh assassins are memorialised as models for the young. These include the two bodyguards who machine-gunned Indira Gandhi.

Canada's inaction against votaries of terrorism, he points out, surfaces again in 1985, when Canadian Sikh moderate Ujjal Dosanjh, who publicly condemned Indira Gandhi's murder, was severely thrashed in Vancouver by a Khalistani thug with an iron bar.

"No one was convicted," Milewski says.

"The same year, Balraj Deol, another vocal moderate, was beaten by a group of Sikh militants in Ontario. Again, no-one was convicted," he adds.

The destruction of Air India Flight 182, from Toronto to New Delhi via London over Irish air space by a bomb, killing 329 passengers and crew on June 23, 1985, is another example of Canadian government inaction. A Canadian commission of Inquiry concluded that the mastermind of that incident was none other than Talwinder Singh Parmar.

All the other eight accused of that crime have been either absolved, died naturally and or released.

Today, the parents who lost their children are old, the orphaned children have their own children and the Sikh struggle for independence is moribund in India. Last year, in fact, Sikh voters overwhelmingly supported a united India and were key to the election of the Congress Party-the party of Indira Gandhi-to govern the Sikh homeland of Punjab," says Milewski.

Critics, he says, claim that he has failed to grasp the "cultural" reasons for the veneration of Parmar, and argued that he was a victim of "persecution" whose "confession to the Air India bombing came under torture" by the Indian police.

Today, Sikh hardliners are a political force in Canadian politics. An example of this is 39-year-old Jagmeet Singh, an Ontario resident, who has successfully captured the leadership of Canada's left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP).

Jagmeet has appeared at Khalistani events in North America, been denied a visa to visit India, and has campaigned for clemency for a confessed Babbar Khalsa terrorist involved in the 1995 assassination of Punjab's Chief Minister, Beant Singh. He has also taken part in a successful drive to have the Ontario legislature declare the 1984 massacre of Sikhs as a "genocide." Now, he hopes to achieve the same in parliament.

He has only now acknowledged Parmar's guilt as the mastermind behind the 1985 terror air crash and condemns the posters honouring him, this, after years of denial and refusing to name him as the main conspirator.

Milewski says Jagmeet Singh's defenders have denounced his interview with him in several angry tweets.

He recalls, "Some declared flatly that the Indians were behind the bombing. Others condemned the CBC and me for asking about the Parmar posters "just because Singh is Sikh."

He adds that, "Jaskaran Sandhu, a WSO board member, called me 'racist and bigoted'."

Harjit Sajjan, another Sikh with alleged connections to Khalistan, is Canada's Minister of National Defence.

"Although there's no evidence that Sajjan has done anything to promote Sikh separatism, he has long been viewed with suspicion by Sikh moderates," despite him being a decorated Afghan war veteran and a former copy, says Milewski in the article.

Their preferred candidate was secular moderate Barj Dhahan.

Milewski quotes Kashmir Dhaliwal, former head of the Khalsa Diwan, Canada's oldest Sikh society, as saying "the Liberal Party, especially Justin (Prime Minister Trudeau), is in bed with extremist and fundamental groups. That's why I decided to leave the Liberal Party."

The incident of Jaspal Atwal convicted for the attempted murder of a Punjab cabinet minister on Vancouver Island in 1986 being invited to attend a reception in Delhi for Prime Minister Trudeau in February 2018 is still too fresh to forget, even though the Canadian delegation rushed to contain the damage by rescinding the invitation.

Trudeau's team nevertheless found a way to make it worse by "trotting out a dubious theory that unnamed "rogue elements" within the Indian government had somehow conspired to manufacture the Atwal affair in order to sabotage the trip. This Indian Plot theory did not sell well-certainly not with the Modi government, which called it "baseless and unacceptable."

According to Milewski, the opposition Conservatives are always eager to paint the Liberal government as being soft on terror, but has often had to succumb to the pressure of the WSO and other hard line Sikh affiliates. (ANI)

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