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Jungfateh Singh: Canada Stands Idly By As Sikhs Are Targeted On Its Soil
"Despite acknowledging India's past and ongoing infractions and interference in Canada, this government has made barely any efforts to hold it accountable."
June 23, 2023 | 5 min. read | Opinion
It was with great sadness that I, like many of you, heard the news of Bhai Hardeep Singh Nijjer's assassination in the Surrey Sikh Gurdwara's parking lot.
Not everyone was as surprised as I was by the killing, however.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had been warning him for some time that there were threats to his life. In fact, they have warned up to a dozen additional Sikhs in Canada as well. While the agency is not overtly making the connection between the Indian state and these threats explicitly, it is clear that they are all connected.
Our current material status as displaced Sikhs within the Canadian state is best understood via the questions that the Sikh community has been contemplating, mobilizing around, and pushing the Canadian government on for many years.
I will start by saying that writing this is difficult because so many of us personally knew Bhai Hardeep Singh Nijjer.
His voice and personality guided the space if you were active in panthic or Khalistani politics. I frequently ran into him at Sikh events in various cities throughout the years, and he always had a witty joke to say about my nomadic lifestyle.
With a big grin on his face, he would always give me a hug.
People who knew him well testify to his ardent defense of the Sikh quam. They also remember him as a genuine and compassionate man who deeply cared about his people. It is hard to think of a protest, rally, or other events in the lower mainland that did not feature Bhai Hardeep Singh Nijjer.
A charismatic Sikh of this caliber is rare.
We can be grateful that he guided our quam and helped us deal with the harsh reality of our existence when we were in his sangat. We must keep this image in mind as the Indian government will no doubt keep falsely portraying our shaheeds and Sikh activists as evil, violent, and murderous.
There are a plethora of narratives floating about that attempt to explain away his murder, with even the term "assassination" being called into question. The killing of Bhai Hardeep Singh Nijjer will be wrongly casted as little more than an intra-community battle by some, especially by the more conservative reporters on these matters.
In light of the lawsuit launched by Ripudan Singh Malik's sons over a printing press, media relics like Kim Bolan have emerged to offer highly narrow, bankrupt, and stretched analyses.
Reporters like Bolan, who have exhibited a general apathy for a critical analysis of the Indian state's genocidal actions and foreign interference, are unwilling to honestly consider the possibility that India is behind these assassinations.
This, along with the barrage of propaganda pieces published by Indian media outlets only minutes following Bhai Hardeep Singh Nijjer's murder, is an attempt to confuse the public and, more crucially, to sow discord within the Sikh community. India is ranked 161 in RSF's press freedom index, somewhere between Afghanistan and Russia.
It would be grossly irresponsible of us not to include the murder of Ripudaman Singh Malik, who was similarly killed on July 14, 2022, while sitting in his car in a parking lot, into an accurate analysis of what is actually happening.
His death caused widespread outrage in the Sikh community because it was the first such killing in Canada.
Two young men, Tanner Fox, 21, and Jose Lopez, 23, have been arrested and charged in his murder, adding fuel to the speculation that his killing was orchestrated by the Indian government. These young men weren't "Indians'' or anti-Sikh extremists; they were very obviously recruited to kill an elderly man.
The fact that CSIS knows that gangs are being paid to carry out these assassinations and had alerted Hardeep Singh and others of this potential is even more relevant.
The morning after Hardeep Singh's assassination, Baaz reported on Twitter that, “sources share that CSIS is aware that India is targeting Sikh Canadian activists. CSIS has a list of Sikhs facing threats of assassination. It is believed gangs are being hired to make hits.”
Sikhs should not be surprised by this; in fact, the vast majority of Sikhs are capable of realizing that the root of the problem is the Indian state.
The Canadian government, however, despite knowing full well that Indians have meddled in our domestic affairs, a "top actor" for foreign interference as declared by Prime Minister Trudeau's security advisor just a few weeks ago, has resorted to standing idly by as their own citizens have been assassinated.
The British Columbia Gurdwaras Council (BCGC) and the Ontario Gurdwaras Committee (OGC) published a comprehensive report on foreign interference in March 2023 and met with government officials to discuss the report. However, little has been done to alleviate the Sikh community's deep concerns of the Indian states meddling.
The report concludes that “there is clear evidence on the record that Indian intelligence agencies are actively engaging in conduct to manipulate public narratives in the media, intervene in electoral processes, and ultimately influence government decision-making in order to criminalize and prosecute Sikh political advocacy in Canada under the guise of ‘countering extremism’.”
In 2020, the World Sikh Organization (WSO) had also “expressed concerns about Indian interference and espionage within the Sikh community in Canada,”
None of this is breaking news; the Canadian government has been aware of India's illegal interference in Canadian politics for quite some time.
From the same WSO article, we read, “in 1986-87 several Indian diplomats were asked by Canadian authorities to leave Canada because of their espionage activities in the Sikh community. One of these diplomats was Maloy Krishna Dhar, a former Joint Director and a 29-year veteran of the Indian Intelligence Bureau was in Ottawa on a diplomatic posting from 1983-87. Dhar wrote in his memoir ‘Open Secrets’ that his mission was to ‘penetrate select Gurdwaras,’ create assets in the Sikh community and also to generate ‘a few friends amongst the Canadian Members of Parliament.’”
But India has done more than merely meddle in Sikh issues; during the past few years, it has openly mocked the Liberal government, putting them in extremely awkward positions.
The report from BCGC and OGC highlights the 2018 trip to India by the Liberal government:
“On February 20, 2018, images surfaced of Jaspal Atwal and members of the Trudeau family at an official reception at the Canadian High Commission in Delhi. The story soared to international headlines to allegedly illustrate that the Trudeau government was not only soft on ‘Sikh extremism,’ but actively endorsed ‘extremists’. In an unprecedented move however, National Security & Intelligence Advisor (NSIA) David Jean, offered a confidential briefing to Canadian journalists in response. Jean’s comments indicated that the story was actually manipulated by Indian intelligence in order to discredit the Trudeau government for its perceived soft approach to alleged ‘Sikh extremists’ in Canada.”
Despite acknowledging India's past and ongoing infractions and interference in Canada, this government has made barely any efforts to hold it accountable.
A 2018 report by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) “came to the conclusion that there was a very high probability of an orchestrated disinformation campaign to tarnish Canada.”
India has been trying Canada's tolerance for decades, poking and prodding to see how much they can get away with. The fact that India's 2018 worldwide humiliation of Canada resulted in zero repercussions encouraged India to push itself further.
Now, via the assassinations on July 14, 2022, and a year later, on June 18, 2023, they humiliated the Canadian government and inflicted another blow to the Sikh community.
For many in the Sikh community, Bhai Hardeep Singh Nijjer's assassination has been the final straw.
We are not safe here, and our government has neither the ability nor the will to hold India accountable or even to stop India from interfering in its domestic affairs.
In fact, Canada is willing to be humiliated by India on an international stage “because India holds an important position in the Commonwealth.”
Now is the time for Sikhs in Canada to begin the long and tough process of accepting these realities and developing the safeguards we will need to survive, since it is becoming increasingly clear that the Canadian government will not take any action to protect us.
Jungfateh Singh is an organizer, writer and producer, and has worked on Sikh issues across the globe for over 15 years.
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