December 11, 2023

Hundreds protest in several cities after allegations that Indian agents were involved in the Sikh separatist leader’s killing.

Canadian Sikhs have staged protests outside India’s diplomatic missions, a week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there may be a link between New Delhi and the killing of a Sikh separatist advocate in British Columbia.

Trudeau a week ago stood in parliament to say that domestic intelligence agencies were actively pursuing credible allegations tying New Delhi’s agents to the shooting of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, in June.

About 100 protesters in Toronto on Monday burned an Indian flag and struck a cardboard cut-out of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a shoe. About 200 protesters also gathered outside the Vancouver consulate.

“We are not safe back home in Punjab. We are not safe in Canada,” said Joe Hotha, a member of the Sikh community in Toronto.

“The Indians, they are terrorists. They killed our brother in Vancouver, so that’s why we are protesting here,” another Sikh protester, Harpar Gosal, said outside the Indian consulate in Toronto.

In Ottawa, fewer than 100 people gathered in front of the Indian high commissioner’s office and waved yellow flags marked with the world “Khalistan”, a reference to their support for making an independent state for Sikhs in India’s Punjab region, a cause Nijjar campaigned for.

“We are really thankful to Justin Trudeau. … We want no stone left unturned to get to the bottom of this cowardly act,” protester Reshma Singh Bolinas said in Ottawa. Canada should put pressure on India to “stop the killing of innocent people in future”, she said.

Demonstrators protest outside India’s consulate in Vancouver, Canada [Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters]

Canada is home to about 770,000 Sikhs, the highest population of Sikhs outside their home state of Punjab, and in recent years, many demonstrations there have irked India.

India labelled Trudeau’s allegations “absurd” and warned travellers last week there were growing “anti-India activities” in Canada, urging “utmost caution”.

The allegations have put a spotlight on Canada’s Sikh community. Sikhs make up 2 percent of India’s 1.4 billion population, but they are a majority in Punjab, a state of 30 million people where their religion was born 500 years ago.

“The Indian government used dirty tactics and compromised the sovereignty of Canada,” said Kuljeet Sing, a protester in Toronto and a member of the group Sikhs for Justice.

Canada’s accusations have sparked tit-for-tat retaliation with each nation expelling diplomats and New Delhi suspending visas for Canadians.

Some of the protesters in both Toronto and Ottawa called for the expulsion of the Indian high commissioner, its ambassador, to Canada, Sanjay Kumar Verma, who earlier said authorities have been informed of the protests and were providing security.

Nijjar, who worked as a plumber, left the north Indian state of Punjab a quarter-century ago and became a Canadian citizen. India designated him a “terrorist” in 2020.

The Canadian government says it has amassed both human and signals intelligence in a months-long investigation into the Sikh separatist leader, CBC News reported last week, citing unidentified sources.

The United States worked closely with Canada on the intelligence pointing towards the possible involvement of Indian agents in the killing of the Canadian citizen in June, a senior Canadian government source told the Reuters news agency.

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