A former B.C. premier and federal health minister calls allegations that India is behind the June killing of a prominent Sikh leader in Surrey, B.C., “incredible,” but not entirely out of the question.
Ujjal Dosanjh, who led the province as a New Democrat between 2000 and 2001, said India was a different place when he grew up there than it is under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been in power there since 2014.
“If you want to portray yourself as Macho Modi, as he has been doing across the world, then I believe that India could do it,” Dosanjh told Global News on Tuesday.
“I would never have believed that Mr. Nijjar was such a threat to India that India had to come across international borders to kill him, but if it did, that’s absolutely despicable.”
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stunned the Canadian public with news that national security authorities had “credible” intelligence suggesting “agents of the government of India” were involved in the June 18 shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara and a prominent supporter of Sikh separatism.
Within hours, India’s Ministry of External Affairs rejected the claim, calling it “absurd and motivated.”
Both Canada and India have now expelled select diplomats from each other’s nations, with trade talks cut off and a planned trade mission to India next month postponed. Trudeau has called for India’s co-operation in the investigation into Nijjar’s murder, stating that Canada will “remain calm.”
“We are not looking to provoke or escalate. We are simply laying out the facts as we understand them and we want to work with the government of India,” Trudeau said Tuesday.
Prior to his death, 45-year-old Nijjar had voiced concerns about threats made against him, reportedly connected to his political activism. The Khalistan movement supporting the creation of a separate state for Sikhs is outlawed in India, as are a number of groups associated with it, which are listed as “terrorist organisations” by the Indian state.
Nijjar’s son, Balraj Singh Nijjar, has said his father was meeting Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers “once or twice a week,” including one or two days before he was gunned down in the parking lot of his Surrey temple.
The Sikh community in Surrey, Sikhs For Justice and the World Sikh Organization of Canada are calling for swift justice in the case.
Dosanjh, who has been a very vocal critic of Khalistan for decades, echoed those calls.
“If Mr. Trudeau knows, at least, who prompted some people to kill this man, then they must know who pulled the trigger. Well, then if that’s the case, give us the goods,” he said.
“Charge the people, right? Then at least we can clearly say that India has done a rogue action.”
Dan Stanton, a former CSIS intelligence officer and director of national security at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute, called Monday’s disclosure from Trudeau “unprecedented,” particularly regarding a “country that’s believed to be an ally and a friend.”
“What in Canada, we view as people expressing criticism of a country and some homeland issues, (India) sees it as an actual threat to the integrity of their state,” Stanton said.
“What may have happened with Mr. Nijjar from India is very much what would happen in India. This is how they deal with their minorities, their minority religious groups — not just Sikh, Muslim, various other groups — they basically arrest them or take them out. We’ve been seeing this. Never before, though, did we think it would manifest in the West.”
A natural next step for Canada would be to get its allies — particularly among the Five Eyes — to weigh in and condemn India’s alleged actions, he added.
Trudeau has cited intelligence as the source of claims against India.
Stanton clarified that intelligence is not the same thing as evidence and is most often inadmissible in court. The source could also be third-party intelligence from an ally or elsewhere, he added.
“But knowing CSIS and having worked there for 32 years, they would be very thorough and rigorous in ensuring that this is reliable, quality intelligence that allows the government to make some decisions,” he told Global News.
Protests have already been promised at Indian consulate offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa next week.
On Tuesday, the Vancouver Police Department increased its presence outside the downtown Vancouver office, while the City of Vancouver has created a temporary no parking and no stopping zone
“While there’s no specific threat we’re responding to, we want to make sure we doing whatever we can to maintain calm and maintain a sense of safety for everyone in the city, ” Sgt. Steve Addison told Global News.
Gurkeerat Singh, a volunteer at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, said the community is welcoming Trudeau’s revelation, which backs their longstanding claims about Indian interference in Canada, but hopes action follows his “mere words.”
“India has a long history of human rights violations that is well documented, and anyone who ever spoke up against the human rights violations that India has committed — no matter what community they’re from … they all understand that India has always denied anything they’ve ever done,” he said.
“It was expected, they’re going to deny this, but it’s now the responsibility of the allies of Canada and Canada itself to hold India accountable.”
Calls from the World Sikh Organization of Canada to the federal government also include protection for Canadian Sikhs who may be at risk, a thorough review of Indian diplomats and consular officials in the country, and enhanced security measures that block anyone associated with India’s intelligence forces or alleged human rights abuses from entering the country.
The group is also calling for an immediate cease in intelligence-sharing between the two countries, Canada’s withdrawal from its Framework for Cooperation on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism with India, and for India to be definitively added to the list of countries investigated in Canada’s new public inquiry on foreign interference.
Dosanjh said it’s not likely Canada and India’s relationship will “recover anytime soon.”
“One has to look beyond the current regimes,” he added. “Hopefully, there might be peace.”
— with files from Aaron McArthur and The Canadian Press