Liberal backbencher accuses his own government of ‘pandering’ to Sikh separatists

By way on context, Brampton Centre has the lowest percentage of Canadian Sikhs of the five Brampton ridings (7.8 percent), with the other ridings ranging from 13 to 33.8 percent). Other significant religious groups include Muslims and Hindus (8.5 and 9.6 percent respectively, all figures from the 2011 NHS:

MP Ramesh Sangha seemed to place the blame on Sikh Canadian cabinet ministers and other MPs, noting that Trudeau supports the status quo in India

South Asia-related politics is again causing turbulence for the Liberal government, as one of its own MPs charges that his party has been “pandering” to Sikh separatists, threatening Canada’s relations with India in the process.

Ramesh Sangha, who represents Ontario’s Brampton Centre riding, delivered the surprising critique of his caucus colleagues during a recent Punjabi-language television interview. His comments revive an issue that has been an irritant for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for more than two years, flaring up during his ill-fated tour of India last year.

Indian officials have previously accused the Liberals of trying to win favour with Canadians pushing for an independent Sikh homeland — known as Khalistan — in the Punjab region of India. Punjab’s state governor even charged that Trudeau’s four Sikh cabinet ministers are Khalistanis. They have strenuously denied the accusation.

It is less expected to hear such complaints from a member of the government itself — two months before a federal election.

“There is no doubt, there cannot be two opinions that the Liberal party is pandering (to) Khalistan supporters,” Sangha said in the interview on 5AAB, a Punjabi-language channel based in Mississauga, Ont. “One thing is for sure, when we raise this issue, it will raise an anti-India slogan or demand the division of India on some ground. In that, ultimately our relations, the Canada-India relationship will certainly develop cracks.”

The interviewer asked if he thought the party had a “soft corner” for Khalistanis. “It does,” he responded.

But Sangha seemed to place the blame on those Sikh Canadian cabinet ministers and other MPs, noting that Trudeau himself has made clear he supports the status quo in India.

“(The prime minister) said in strong words that we don’t want a divided India, we want a united India and we will work for that,” said the MP. “Sikh ministers, MPs of our Sikh brotherhood, these brothers of mine, they have their own … These are their own views and as long as they demand it, it is viewed that they are separatists. When this view surfaces, India also voices its hard view.”

He said his observations were not based on being friends with Capt. Amarinder Singh, the Punjab state governor, but stemmed from his role with a Canada-India parliamentary association.

“I have observed this issue very closely,” Sangha said.

The MP, a lawyer serving his first term in Parliament, could not be reached for further comment Monday.

A statement from Trudeau’s office did not address Sangha’s remarks directly, but firmly denied the government was sympathetic to the Khalistani movement.

“Canada’s position on a united India is unwavering and we are unanimous as a government on this issue,” said the statement. “Canadians have the right to freedom of expression and speech and they have the right to peacefully express their views.”

Sikh-Indian tensions have played an over-sized role in Canadian politics in recent years, thanks in part to the large concentrations of electorally active Sikh-Canadians in several swing ridings in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta. Almost all those constituencies voted Liberal in the 2015 election.

The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has voiced concern previously about Trudeau and other Liberals appearing at Sikh-community gatherings that also featured tributes to alleged terrorists, and objected to a 2017 resolution passed by the then Liberal-dominated Ontario legislature that declared a 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India a “genocide.”

Singh, the governor of Punjab, fanned the flames further when he alleged the same year that the four Sikh-Canadian cabinet members were Khalistanis, and refused to meet with one of them, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Singh did sit down with Sajjan and Trudeau on the prime minister’s state visit to India in February 2018, voicing satisfaction at their strong rejection of the separatist movement.

But the issue caused the Liberals more trouble on that trip when it came to light that a convicted Sikh terrorist, Jaspal Atwal, had been invited to two official functions, including one where he was photographed with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the prime minister’s wife.

And yet, government attempts to get tough on alleged Sikh extremists have also proven politically tricky for the Liberals.

The latest edition of an annual Public Safety Canada report on terrorism released in December 2018 mentioned Sikh extremism for the first time, sparking outrage among community leaders who felt the citation tarred the religion as a whole. The report’s wording was later changed to talk about unspecified separatist movements in India.

Punjab governor Singh, in turn, criticized that change, and later accused Canada of “covertly and overtly” supporting Sikh extremists, suggesting India might need to pursue sanctions against this country.

Source: Liberal backbencher accuses his own government of ‘pandering’ to Sikh separatists

History catches up with Komagata Maru villain — and it’s good riddance

In general, oppose taking down statues and monuments, and prefer interpretative plaques and panels that educate and inform:

In recent years, various Canadian government bodies and institutions have “unerected” monuments and renamed buildings commemorating historical figures who contributed to the cultural genocide of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.

John A. Macdonald, Hector-Louis Langevin, Edward Cornwallis, Joseph Trutch and Matthew Begbie — men who were proponents of odious anti-Indigenous institutions such as the residential school system — have all had their names scrubbed off plaques or statues mothballed into permanent storage.

Clearly these “complex” individuals, or “men of their times,” merited a historical reputational downgrade and/or some form of legacy asterisking. Whether they deserve further amendment, or even censure, however, is problematic.

But if there is any Canadian figure who merits historical erasure — as nearly impossible as that is to defend, thanks to George Orwell — it’s the latest and fully deserving figure to be added to the list above: H.H. Stevens.

Sikh-Canadian activists put on no-fly list after Trudeau’s India visit; critics say aim was to appease Indian government

Court cases to watch:

At least three Sikh-Canadian activists have been added to the Canadian no-fly list in recent months, more evidence the federal government may have changed its approach to advocates of Punjabi independence after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s controversial India trip.

Under the Secure Air Travel Act, the three have been told there are reasonable grounds to suspect they might “threaten transportation security,” or travel by air to commit terrorist acts.

Two of the three have filed court challenges to the decisions, saying the system for barring people from air travel is unfair and violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

One had flown from Ontario to Vancouver, only to be told when he attempted to board his return flight he was on the list, requiring him to drive back across the country.

Critics say they suspect the no-fly additions were made to appease New Delhi after Trudeau’s visit in February 2018, which brought to the surface the Indian government’s growing concerns about alleged Sikh extremism.

Moninder Singh, president of a major B.C. gurdwara, or Sikh temple, and an outspoken community leader, said the three activists who contacted him all received notice of their no-fly designation last year — in the wake of the prime minister’s ill-fated tour.

“They are activists, all of them in the Sikh community, quite vocal, against India in many ways,” Singh said. “Maybe these are key people they’re focusing in on, trying to silence, and this is one of the ways to do it. Stop them from being able to move around, make them feel they are being cornered.”

Singh linked the apparent trend to the latest, controversial edition of an annual Public Safety Canada report on terrorist threats, which included alleged Sikh extremism for the first time. That reference sparked outrage among community leaders, prompting the government earlier this month to remove the specific mention of Sikhs or Khalistanis — those who advocate for an independent Sikh homeland in Punjab state. The report now cites those pushing for the separation of part of India.

Tim Warmington, a spokesman for Public Safety Canada, said security reasons prevent the department from commenting on who is added to the “passenger protect” list or how many people are on it.

“Individuals can only be added if they meet the legal threshold under the act,” he said.

The two men who appealed their targeting both related similar experiences in court applications.

Bhagat Singh Brar was given written notice at the Vancouver airport on April 24, 2018. He appealed to the government’s Passenger Protect Inquiries Office, which provided an unclassified summary of the information used in his case, and indicated Public Safety Canada had other, classified material, as well.

A department official upheld the original decision on Dec. 21.

Parvkar Singh Dulai received notice at Vancouver airport last May 17, with Public Safety Canada eventually confirming the decision this Jan. 30, his court filing says.

Moninder Singh said a third Sikh-Canadian man found out in December he was on the list.

Richard Fowler, Brar’s Vancouver-based lawyer, would offer little comment as the case is before the courts, but claimed the evidence the government showed his client to back up its decision was “unbelievably thin,” including clippings from Indian media outlets that are often overtly pro-government.

The challenge of the legislation itself is based on the “almost impregnable” decision-making process behind the no-fly list, Fowler said. Blocked passengers are barred from seeing any information used against them if the government believes doing so would endanger national security or individual people.

Fowler suspects the recent inclusion of Sikhs is a response to the strained Canadian-Indian relationship. “It’s not a coincidence that people were added after the prime minister returned from what was widely described as a calamitous trip to India,” he said.

Trudeau’s tour was marred by a series of widely mocked photo opportunities, and the attendance at an event of Jaspal Atwal, convicted of attempting to murder a visiting Indian cabinet minister in B.C. in 1986.

Before the trip, Canadian officials held several meetings with their Indian counterparts to “address more effectively India’s growing concerns regarding the rise of extremism,” a parliamentary committee said in its report on the episode.

There were also charges of meddling by New Delhi. In a background briefing with Canadian media, the prime minister’s national-security advisor suggested the Indian government may have been behind the spread of the Atwal story.

The parliamentary committee’s findings on allegations of “foreign interference,” however, were censored from the public version of its report.

Source: Sikh-Canadian activists put on no-fly list after Trudeau’s India visit; critics say aim was to appease Indian government

Why hard-fought election at North America’s largest Sikh temple could be bad news for Liberals in next federal vote

We will know in October, but of course other factors will also be at play. And the sensitivity regarding the mention of Sikh extremism in a Public Safety report is also noteworthy:

When North America’s largest Sikh temple elects a new board of directors, it doesn’t fool around.

Candidates have campaign managers, cold-call voters and go door-knocking in the race for leadership of the Ontario Khalsa Darbar (OKD), a Toronto-area institution that functions as a place of worship, a community centre — and a nexus of political influence.

The Liberals have long been linked to the OKD, and arguably benefited from its status among the province’s Sikhs. But the election that wrapped up there early Monday morning may not bode well for the party.

A Grit-associated slate promoted by the fathers of Navdeep Bains, a star in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, and MP Ruby Sahota was roundly defeated, and a controversial government report that suggested Sikh terrorism still poses a threat here may have played a role, say observers and campaign organizers.

That could have ramifications for Liberal support in several swing seats in and around Brampton, Ont., most of which flipped to the party from the Conservatives in the 2015 election.

“These local ridings will be affected by it,” said Balraj Deol, a Punjabi-language journalist in the area. “That is an advantage for Conservatives, and the NDP also. It’s a loss for the Liberals and it will be a gain for the other two.”

“This may be a sign,” said Jaspal Bal, campaign manager for the victorious side.

Even Trudeau was dragged into the race, with the winning group alleging his visit to the area last week was designed to bolster support for the other side.

But not everyone sees broader implications in the temple vote, no matter how intense the campaign became. Avtar Badyal, the losing presidential candidate, said Trudeau’s visit and Liberal policies had nothing to do with his team’s loss. The election was simply about which group voters believed could best manage an important spiritual institution, he said.

“This is not a political thing, it’s a religious thing,” said Badyal. “I don’t know why they are making this into something that it’s not.”

Another local journalist said he also doubts that broader politics played a role in the temple election, or will be affected by its outcome.

“Not at all,” said Yudhvir Jaswal, who hosts popular radio and TV shows on the local Y-Channel. “I think they are oversimplifying things.”

Regardless, when the ballots were all counted at about 3:30 a.m. Monday, the entire “Panthak Alliance” slate backed by the fathers of MPs Bains and Sahota had been defeated, every one of their 11 opponents elected by healthy margins.

To the winners goes control of a temple — or gurdwara — that boasts 3,700 members and a sprawling, 70-acre site near Toronto’s Pearson airport.

Underscoring the high stakes in such elections, a court battle between directors that began in 2006 forced a nine-year delay in voting and reportedly generated $5 million in legal bills.

Sikh temples are community focal points as well as religious institutions, and OKD includes 15 halls that are booked solid with weddings.

It also provides a potential platform for politicians eager to reach the region’s powerful Sikh voting bloc, said Deol, hosting gatherings that can attract tens of thousands of people.

“That gurdwara is the prime hub for everything,” said an organizer on the winning side, who asked not to be named. “It’s very influential.”

Liberals like Bains, the economic development minister, used to have ready access to the OKD stage, the person said. “That’s not going to happen any more, so that’s a big blow to them.”

Bains was among several Liberals of Sikh background who captured Brampton and Mississauga ridings in 2015, a key part of the Greater Toronto Area battleground that is itself crucial to winning federal elections.

But the community’s support for the party took a serious hit with the release in December of a Public Safety Canada report on terrorism that suggested “Sikh (Khalistani) extremism” remained a threat.

Sikh groups reacted with outrage, saying that using violence to support Punjabi independence was rejected long ago in Canada. The so-called Khalistani movement is entirely peaceful today, they argue.

Local MPs are expected to face a grilling this Sunday at a town-hall meeting about the report.

Many of the temple members who voted for the winning slate in Sunday’s gurdwara election did so to express their opposition to the terrorism statement, equating the other slate with the government, said Bal.

In fact, when a candidate on the opposing side promised to honour the four Sikh-Canadian ministers in the Trudeau cabinet at the gurdwara, the eventual winning slate gained more support, he said.

“People put aside their bickering and differences and said this is one of the issues that is uniting us to support these 11,” said Bal. “Because they have said they will not sit idle and wait with a garland to welcome the leaders who have declared us a terrorist threat.”

Source: Why hard-fought election at North America’s largest Sikh temple could be bad news for Liberals in next federal vote

Ontario to exempt Sikh motorcyclists from helmet law

Sigh. Religious accommodation to ride a motorcycle? Would a government grant an exemption for wearing seatbelts? In line with other provinces, however, even if the justification is flimsy.

“The wearing of the turban is an essential part of the Sikh faith and identity,” stated the Brampton South MPP.

Wrong on two counts: not all Sikhs wear turbans and riding a motorcycle is not an essential part of Sikh faith and identity:

Sikhs with turbans will be exempt from wearing motorcycle helmets starting next Thursday, Premier Doug Ford says, revving up concerns over higher medical and insurance costs.

Highway Traffic Act regulations are being changed to fulfil Ford’s election promise of a helmet reprieve on religious grounds, which the previous Liberal government refused to do for safety reasons despite years of lobbying from the Canadian Sikh Association.

“Soon we will have a right to ride with our pride,” the Sikh Motorcycle Club of Ontario posted on its Facebook page Wednesday.

British Columbia, Manitoba and Alberta already have helmet exemptions for Sikh motorcyclists, as does the United Kingdom. Helmets often do not fit over turbans, which take time to put on and take off.

“The safety of our roads will always remain a priority,” Ford said in a statement Wednesday. “But our government also believes that individuals have personal accountability and responsibility with respect to their own well-being.”

So contentious is the issue that the premier held a news event in Brampton mainly for the local Punjabi media, excluding the Queen’s Park press corps.

Ford’s office defended the unusual move to bypass the mainstream media.

Safety experts said it’s more dangerous to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, with the non-profit Canada Safety Council noting they reduce fatalities by 37 per cent and head injuries by 67 per cent.

“You’re certainly taking on more risk,” said Raynald Marchand of the Ottawa-based group and a rider since 1974, who encouraged Sikh motorcyclists to use eye-protecting goggles at a minimum.

“It’s always better to wear a helmet,” added Brian Patterson of the Ontario Safety League.

The helmet exception for Sikhs exploded on social media, with commentators questioning whether riders should have to sign waivers so taxpayers won’t be on the hook for any head injury treatment costs.

But the safety experts downplayed the likelihood of much impact on the health-care system, given that Sikh riders are a small fraction of the motorcycling population.

“I don’t think the numbers are significant,” Marchand told the Star.

It’s unclear, however, what could happen to overall motorcycle insurance rates, given that companies can’t single out Sikh riders for higher premiums under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Given the size, it may not be significant enough. Insurance companies will look at premiums based on data,” said Pete Karageorgos of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Ford’s announcement followed last week’s introduction of a private member’s bill on a helmet exemption by Brampton South MPP Prabmeet Sarkaria.

“The wearing of the turban is an essential part of the Sikh faith and identity,” Sarkaria said in a statement.

Source: Ontario to exempt Sikh motorcyclists from helmet law

Jagmeet Singh should ask, ‘What would Thomas D’Arcy McGee do?’ –

Good piece by Geddes:

I asked University of Toronto history professor David Wilson, author of a landmark two-volume Thomas D’Arcy McGee biography, what the story of the most famous Irish Catholic in Canadian politics in the mid-19th century might tell us about the challenges facing a Sikh in Canadian politics today. In fact, Wilson had already alluded to the parallel in his writing. He told me McGee would differ with Singh on major points—starting with McGee’s insistence, in the House that day in 1867, that no respectable politician should show up at a meeting where violent radicals are lionized on banners and portraits.

Wilson says McGee would scoff at Singh’s stance that it can be productive to share stages with those who advocate violence. “McGee’s position was unequivocally that you should have no truck or trade with such people,” Wilson says. “In fact, any kind of ambivalence, any sense that they were motivated by good intentions, had to be really beaten down. You had to draw a clear line. He was quite happy to polarize the [Irish Catholic] group, because he believed that polarization would isolate and marginalize the revolutionaries.”

Still, McGee’s perspective wouldn’t be congenial to hard-liners today who insist immigrants should somehow stop worrying about what’s going on in their home countries and just be Canadian. On the last day of his life, Wilson says, McGee wrote letters about Irish poetry, and about how Canada’s way of accomodating ethic and religious differences might serve as a model for Ireland. “So, yes, he cared deeply deeply and passionately about Ireland,” Wilson says.

On how immigrants should become Canadian, McGee’s views seem to have been far ahead of his time. Wilson says he didn’t think there was any definitive Canadian identity newcomers needed to take on. “He thought it was completely unrealistic to have an a priori definition of what it was to be Canadian,” Wilson says. “Instead, he saw it as a continuous work in progress, in which different ethnic groups—of course, he’s talking about Irish and Scots and French and English—will bring what he hopes will be the best of their cultures.”

And leave behind the worst. For McGee, the worst of Ireland was embodied by the Fenians. His outspoken opposition to them came, of course, at the ultimate cost: he was assassinated by a shot to the back of the head on April 7, 1868, in Ottawa. A Fenian sympathizer was later convicted of the murder and hanged. In the opening chapter of his engrossing McGee biography, Wilson mentions just two other victims of assassination in Canadian history: Pierre Laporte, murdered by the FLQ in 1970’s October Crisis, and Tara Singh Hayer, a Surrey, B.C., newspaper publisher killed in 1998, after years of speaking out against Sikh separatist violence.

via Jagmeet Singh should ask, ‘What would Thomas D’Arcy McGee do?’ –

And by Arshy Mann:

His initial unwillingness to call out Talwinder Singh Parmar, the founder of a Sikh extremist organization, as the architect of the Air India bombing has now morphed into a lawyerly response: he accepts the findings of the Air India inquiry, which found that Parmar—who was killed by Punjab police in 1992, and continues to be the subject of conspiracy theories that claim he was in fact an Indian agent—was behind the attack. And when asked whether violence is justified in the name of Sikh liberation, Singh equivocates, stating that these sorts of questions are complex when a religious minority is being systematically murdered by the state.

He’s right—these are complicated issues that can’t be adequately answered in a sound bite. But if Singh wants to be able to go back to talking about pharmacare and taxes and pipelines, he’s going to have to find a way to articulate the pain of the victims of violence perpetrated by Sikhs—or risk his leadership being overrun by the politics of the 1980s.

In some ways, it’s not fair to put the burden of decades of bloody history upon Singh’s shoulders. It’s not his responsibility to condemn every Sikh who has committed an atrocity in the name of the faith. But along with being the leader of the federal NDP, Singh is also the highest-profile Sikh politician outside of India. That, combined with his history of activism on Sikh issues, means these are not questions he has the privilege of dodging.

When he talks about the violence that Sikhs have had perpetrated against them with such passion, and then becomes elusive and defensive when Khalistani violence is raised, it makes it appear that he only cares about the former.

That might be acceptable for a Sikh activist trying to bring greater attention to some of the atrocities that have been done to Sikhs. But a federal leader who is looking to represent the whole country has to do more.

Many Sikhs, including myself, are thankful that he talks about the painful history so many families have endured. Those stories are too rarely told.

But the trauma of those years extends beyond just the Sikh community. It’s time for Singh to talk about them too.

Source: Opinion Jagmeet Singh’s Khalistan problem: The NDP leader talks passionately about anti-Sikh violence—but becomes elusive on the topic of Khalistani violence.

Martin Collacott: Sikh political power in Canada under scrutiny

Yet another column on Sikh Canadians and their political influence. Their over-representation represents a mix of their geographic concentration in a number of ridings as well as their greater tendency to participate in politics compared to other groups such as Chinese Canadians, who also are concentrated in a number of ridings. Black Canadians are too dispersed to have the same electoral impact despite their size.

As to his recommendation that political party membership should be contingent on Canadian citizenship, while not without merit, would be unlikely to change the overall dynamics much:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to India made clear just how intertwined Sikh politics are with the political scene in Canada, as well as the complications this creates in our relations with India.

The visit reflected the huge influence Sikhs have on Canadian politics while constituting only one per cent of the population. We currently have four Sikh federal cabinet ministers, compared to none from the much larger Chinese community. Another example of this highly skewed level of representation is that in the parliament of India, Sikhs hold only two senior cabinet posts even though they comprise more than 20 million of that country’s population [given India’s population of 1.34 billion, 20 million is 1.5 percent, two out of the 27 cabinet ministers is 7.4 percent compared about half that of Canadian Sikh representation].

Not only are Sikhs heavily over-represented in the cabinet, but Trudeau appears to have made a distinct effort to find people likely to be supported by members of the community sympathetic to the creation of an independent Khalistan, a Sikh state to be carved out of India. This became apparent back in December 2014 when Trudeau as the then-leader of the Liberal party parachuted in Harjat Singh Sajjan as the candidate in Vancouver South to replace Barj Dhahan, who had already been chosen by local Liberal constituency members.

Whereas Sajjan enjoys the backing of the World Sikh Organization (WSO), which supports an independent Khalistan, Dhahan is a moderate and ally of former B.C. premier and federal cabinet minister Ujjal Dosanjh, one of the most respected politicians of Sikh background in Canada and no friend of Khalistani separatism.

One senior Sikh official summed the situation up by stating that he thought the Liberal party had been “hijacked by the WSO” and that the party, “especially Justin, (was) in bed with extremist and fundamental groups.”

The problem, therefore, is not only that Sikhs are heavily over-represented in federal politics, but that the Liberal party has chosen to concentrate on getting the support of Khalistani separatists and extremists as the easiest way of strengthening its support base in that community. It would not be surprising in the circumstances if other ethnic and religious groups started employing the same tactics in an effort to promote policies that benefit their particular community rather than Canadians in general — a development that would deepen ethnic divisions within our society.

Correcting this situation will involve not only the adoption of more responsible policies by the Liberals, but changes to internal party voting rules.

Back in 2003 and 2004, I and three associates published a series of articles exposing the potential damage done by political parties that recruit blocks of supporters from specific ethnic communities in the expectation that this support would be translated at some point into policies favouring the communities in question. We pointed out that such practices could lead to increasing divisions in Canadian society as more and more ethnic and religious groups gave their political support to those who would primarily serve their community’s interests rather than on policies that would benefit Canadians in general.

One recommendation we made was that full membership of a political party should be restricted to people eligible to vote in a federal election — which includes Canadian citizenship. At present, members of political parties can vote for delegates to a leadership convention as well as the selection of a candidate for election in a constituency, and as such are able to influence policy, without having to be a citizen.

Non-citizens could still be encouraged to take an interest in politics (perhaps as associate members of parties), but should not have full voting rights and the capacity to influence policy until they become Canadians.

In the meantime, political parties continue to recruit people who are often not Canadians, know little about Canada and yet are used by political factions to influence our policies. While the Liberals and NDP are the chief culprits in terms of allowing such abuse of the system, all parties should review their internal membership voting rules to ensure that the kind of distortion of Canadian democracy we are now seeing is brought to an end.

Source: Martin Collacott: Sikh political power in Canada under scrutiny

Douglas Todd: Why Sikhs are so powerful in Canadian politics

Another interesting piece by Todd. Their political impact is greatly helped by their concentration in a number of ridings in the Lower Mainland and the 905. All parties tend to run Canadian Sikh candidates in these ridings:

The Sikh connection had been working well for Justin Trudeau, as it did for Jean Chretien. Punjabi Canadians, most of whom are Sikh, gave Trudeau a big leg up in nabbing the leadership of the federal Liberal party, which soon led him to the commanding heights of the prime minister’s office.

But Punjabi/Sikh support has come back to haunt Trudeau’s popularity. It ignited controversy in his January visit to India, where he appeared linked to backers tied to Sikh militants, some wanting to carve out a theocratic homeland in India called Khalistan.

How did it get to this? Why do Canadian Sikhs punch so much above their weight? How, to the envy of other minority groups, are they so adept at turning grassroots activism into serious political clout?

After all, the country only has 500,000 Sikhs, accounting for a little more than one per cent of all Canadians.

But more than 12 per cent of federal Liberal cabinet ministers are Sikhs, including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. There are 14 Liberal Sikh MPs, says Kwantlen Polytechnic University political scientist Shinder Purewal. Liberals hold all nine federal ridings in which Punjabi Sikhs predominate, says Purewal, plus 11 more in which the South Asian population is significant.

Sikhs also profoundly shape the New Democratic Party. They played a huge role in the elevation of Jagmeet Singh to leadership of the federal NDP.

This is not to mention their over-sized clout in provincial politics in Ontario and also in B.C., where Sikhs were early supporters of former NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh and recent Liberal premier Christy Clark. Purewal counts six current B.C. MLAs who are Sikh (five NDP and one Liberal).

Most of the time Sikhs’ impressive ability to shape Canadian politics stays below the public’s radar. But it came to an embarrassing head for Trudeau in India – in part because of the shady figure of Jaspal Atwal, a one-time Sikh terrorist convicted decades ago of shooting an Indian politician who was visiting Vancouver Island.

Neither Trudeau nor any Liberal can explain how Atwal was invited to high-level Trudeau functions in India. The Atwal affair, which sparked outraged headlines across India, has many people in India worried that Trudeau and other Liberal MPs are too closely tied to Sikh separatists, some of whom appear to glorify the man who masterminded the bombing of an Air India flight in 1985, which killed 329 innocents.

And such incendiary connections are not confined to Trudeau’s Liberals, since similar suspicions have been levelled at the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, whom India refuses to give a visa, in part because he has a history as a lawyer of defending militants fighting for a separate Sikh homeland and because he lobbied for a 1984 pogrom against Sikhs in India to be labelled a “genocide” by the government of Ontario.

Here’s a short primer on how Sikh politics often works in Canada.

The grassroots process typically begins with board elections at hundreds of Canadian gurdwaras; especially in Vancouver suburbs such as Surrey, in neighbourhoods of Calgary and in Toronto suburbs such as Mississauga and especially Brampton (where Singh is centred).

The competition to run a gurdwara, which acts like a community centre even for non-religious Punjabis, often pits so-called moderate Sikhs against fundamentalists, a minority of whom want to create a separate Sikh homeland. The faction that ends up controlling a gurdwara, Purewal says, “gains the upper hand.”

The 10 to 20 individuals (almost always men) who run the gurdwara not only gain access to pools of money (typically religious donations made in cash), Purewal says, they’re also able to influence a circle of 40 to 50 extended families. The group that operates a gurdwara, Purewal says, can effectively obtain funds and temple volunteers on behalf of their partisan favourite. They often man a table in the temple on behalf of their politician, “particularly on weekends when devotees come by the hundreds.”

Another little-understood factor that enhances the effectiveness of many Sikh leaders is their traditional caste, says Purewal. “The dominant caste among Punjabi Canadians is Jatt, which is a landowning warrior caste,” he says. The high status of a Jatt leader “makes it easier for certain politicians of Sikh faith to mobilize their relatives, extended families and friends.”

The NDP’s Singh, despite playing down his family’s upper-caste origins, has proved adept at gurdwara politics, particularly at winning the “backing of Sikh temples with (Khalistan) secessionist tendencies,” Purewal says. “As they say, ‘money is the mother’s milk of political campaigns,’ and temples have a lot of it, in cash.” Before winning the leadership of the NDP, Singh signed up an astonishing 10,000 party members in B.C. alone.

Barj Dhahan, a noted Punjabi philanthropist, also has first-hand experience of how temple politics works among Canadians Sikhs, since he competed in 2014 for the federal Liberal candidacy in the riding of Vancouver South.

“Punjabi Sikh voters are very much into their politics,” Dhahan confirms. At one level, Dhahan admires the grassroots activism. At another level he’s concerned many can be manipulated by it.

Sikh-Canadians’ political power is greatest at the local party level, Dhahan says — at determining who is nominated to represent ridings, and in gathering bulk members to vote for a candidate to become a provincial or national leader of a party.

Despite Dhahan’s high profile and good standing in the party, Dhahan says the federal Liberals in 2015 pressured him not to run for a seat in the riding of Vancouver South, which has a large Punjabi Canadian population. Instead, Dhahan said Liberal officials manoeuvred for the only declared candidate to be Sajjan, whom Trudeau appointed minister of defence.

Punjabi Canadians, Dhahan said, “mostly punch above their weight at nomination battles and for political party leadership. They can attract new members very effectively. This is where they put their energy. This is where they can do mass recruitments. And this is where they can deliver.”

Looking into the future of Sikh-Canadian politics, however, Dhahan suggested it is Sikhs above age 55 who are most “driven by personalities.” They’re the most inclined to vote for a political candidate based on little more than the recommendation of a strong Sikh leader, mostly because of family, ethnic, caste or religious loyalties.

The younger generation of Sikhs are more willing, Dhahan said, to quiz candidates on their actual principles. Like most Canadians, Dhahan says, younger Punjabi Sikhs “are more likely to ask, ‘What do you stand for?’ They’re less likely to join a political party because their father tells them to do so.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Why Sikhs are so powerful in Canadian politics

It’s the Atwal effect — and nobody’s immune: Terry Milewski

Good reminder that all parties are playing this game:

The tsunami is spreading far from the epicentre of the Jaspal Atwal earthquake. And it doesn’t discriminate between political parties.

The Liberals, of course, have been the ones swept farthest out to sea. A week after Atwal — a former wannabe hitman for the Sikh separatist cause — was summoned to dine with Justin Trudeau in India, the prime minister and his national security adviser were neck-deep and clinging to a conspiracy theory.

It was an Indian plot, they said, meant to make us look soft on separatism. So far, the theory isn’t selling well.

But are the Conservatives and the NDP still high and dry? Not exactly. Take the case of the Conservatives first.

The motion that did not move

Hoping to paint the Liberals as soft on terror, the Tories drafted a parliamentary motion this week that states that the party “values the contributions of Canadian Sikhs” but condemns “all forms of terrorism, including Khalistani extremism and the glorification of any individuals who have committed acts of violence.”

It was a trap, of course. Had the Liberals voted yes to the motion, they would have been repudiating some of their Khalistani allies. If they’d voted no, they’d have been caught in bed with them.

The word “glorification,” of course, takes aim at a painful topic for families of the victims of the Air India Flight 182 bombing: the re-branding of the man who planned the terrorist act as a saintly hero.

Parmar poster

A martyr poster of Air India bombing architect Talwinder Singh Parmar is seen fixed to the exterior of the Dashmesh Darbar Temple in Surrey, B.C. on Oct. 3, 2017. (CBC)

He is Canada’s deadliest mass-murderer by far: Talwinder Singh Parmar, the architect of the 1985 bombing, whose portrait adorns Sikh temples in Surrey, B.C. and Malton, Ont. Children are being taught that the man who blew 329 innocents out of the sky was a model citizen and a persecuted martyr. (Parmar’s role in planning the attack, which was accepted as fact by both the Air India inquiry and the judicial inquiry, was confirmed by the testimony of the man, who admitted to making the bomb.)

So the Conservative motion had a sharp point on it. But there was a problem: as soon as they got wind of it, the separatist lobby, led by the World Sikh Organization, peppered Ottawa with complaints that this was an attack on all Sikhs, not just the violent ones.

A flurry of text messages went out. “They are targe[t]ing the Sikh community and tarnishing us as extremists,” one of the messages said. “Canadians are starting to see us as terrorists when we are not … Everyone please leave voicemails at the offices of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer … Please communicate to them that if the Conservatives carry through and bring this motion forward then we will not welcome them in our Gurdwaras and we will absolutely not support them in the future.”

It was a familiar tactic: claiming that a critique of extremists is an assault on all Sikhs. But by morning, the blitz of messages seemed to have worked — or so the World Sikh Organization claimed.

So, the Conservatives reconsidered — and not for the first time.

​The veneration of Talwinder Parmar became an issue in 2007 at the annual Vaisakhi parade run by the Dashmesh Darbar temple in Surrey, B.C. Then-prime minister Stephen Harper sent two MPs on his behalf: Jim Abbott and Nina Grewal. The Liberals sent Sukh Dhaliwal — an MP again today — and the NDP sent then-MP Penny Priddy.

Along with then-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, they all took the stage alongside Parmar’s son and such other separatist luminaries as Satinderpal Gill of the banned International Sikh Youth Federation. The politicians all smiled and waved as the floats rolled by with tinselled portraits honouring Parmar and other martyrs.

Afterwards, all of them insisted it was no big deal — although Campbell changed his mind the next day and said he would not have attended if he’d known about the martyr posters.

Abbott also changed his mind — in the other direction. First, he said he was “flabbergasted” to realize that the Air India bomber was being lionized in this way. But after consulting with the Conservative Party, he reversed himself and praised the parade unreservedly.

In later years, the temple management responded by fixing a large portrait of Parmar to the outside wall.

India Canada

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, centre, and Punjab state Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, right, gesture along with an unidentified person at the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest site, in Amritsar, India, in November, 2009. (Prabhjot Gill/The Associated Press)

Still, there was not a word about it from Stephen Harper — who, like Justin Trudeau, endured his share of lectures on this topic from his Indian counterparts.

Like Trudeau, Harper emphasized that separatists have freedom of speech in Canada. Neither Harper nor Trudeau thought to mention that Canadian politicians also have freedom of speech — and have rarely used it to denounce the celebration of Parmar.

Or so it was until — oddly enough — the very day the Jaspal Atwal story broke.

The news we all forgot

Nobody remembers it now, but moments before the Atwal wave crashed into his Indian tour last week, Prime Minister Trudeau made some news of his own. In fact, it might have been the story of the day — on any other day.

Trudeau was facing constant demands to clearly repudiate Sikh extremists back home. Pressed in New Delhi by the CBC’s David Cochrane, Trudeau at first ducked a question about the Parmar “martyr” posters. He merely condemned violence and extremism in general.

So Cochrane asked him again: What about those Parmar posters? This time, Trudeau said what so many Canadian politicians have refused to say: “I do not think we should ever be glorifying mass-murderers, and I’m happy to condemn that.”

That was a first. No Canadian leader had said it before. Every Vaisakhi parade, after all, is a vote-rich environment. Condemning violence in broad terms is easy. Condemning voters who revere a specific martyr is harder.

Too hard, apparently, for a politician who has long identified with Sikh grievances against the Indian government. That would be Canada’s first Sikh party leader, Jagmeet Singh, who was asked the same question about the Parmar posters after winning the leadership of the NDP last fall.

In an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics, Singh repeatedly declined to say whether the Parmar posters were appropriate. The following week, when asked again if they should be taken down, he ducked the question (again), saying, “I’m not here to tell what a community should or shouldn’t do.”

via It’s the Atwal effect — and nobody’s immune – Politics – CBC News

How the Liberals’ alleged support of Sikh separatists is fuelling Canada-India tensions

More diaspora politics and the impact on foreign policies.

All political parties court the Sikh Canadian vote given their concentration in a number of ridings (Surrey, Brampton) and their political activism:

When Prime Minister Trudeau headed to the stage at the Sikh-Canadian community’s annual Khalsa Day celebration last month, he was thronged by a cheering, photo-seeking crowd.

It was little surprise, given the Liberal leader is not only a staunch supporter of multiculturalism but also has four MPs of Sikh origin in his cabinet.

Thousands of kilometres away in New Delhi, however, Trudeau’s appearance struck a decidedly more sour note.

The appearance was the latest irritation for an Indian government reportedly worried that the Liberals are too cozy with a peaceful but “growing” Sikh-separatist movement in Canada.

It came three weeks after the Ontario legislature passed a private-member’s motion — introduced by a Liberal MPP — that called the 1984 Sikh massacre in India an act of genocide, a politically explosive label.

India’s Foreign Ministry has issued separate protests to the Trudeau government about each episode, as the Liberals’ traditional politicking among a vote-rich community, combined with the sub-continent’s fraught history, throws a wrench into the two countries’ burgeoning friendship.

“All of those things add up (and) present a picture that isn’t particularly pretty when India is looking at it,” said Anirudh Bhattacharya, Canadian correspondent for the Hindustan Times newspaper. “There was always a concern (in New Delhi) that this particular government would be somewhat beholden to the gatekeepers to the Sikh community, to some of the more radical groups.”

Tossed into the mix have been unsubstantiated allegations by Amarinder Singh, Punjab state’s newly elected “chief minister,” that Trudeau’s Sikh ministers are themselves separatists; and a thwarted terrorist cell in Punjab with alleged Canadian links.

Indian media reports suggest New Delhi was livid about Trudeau’s appearance at the Khalsa Day event April 30, though the public language was more circumspect. “We have taken it up with Canada in the past and the practice has not been discontinued,” said Vishwa Nath Goel of India’s high commission in Ottawa.

Balraj Deol

Balraj DeolFloat in Khalsa Day parade touting Ontario legislative motion on 1984 Sikh “genocide”

Quoting a Foreign Ministry statement, he was more blunt about the Ontario legislature’s Sikh genocide resolution on April 6.

“We reject this misguided motion which is based on a limited understanding of India, its constitution, society, ethos, rule of law and the judicial process,” said Goel.

But a spokesman for the group that organized the event Trudeau attended — and which backs the Ontario motion — said it’s only natural for the prime minister to appear at such functions, regardless of the religion.

Source: How the Liberals’ alleged support of Sikh separatists is fuelling Canada-India tensions | National Post