Stung by the Indian government’s recent initiatives to erode support for Khalistan in Canada, the hardline activist group Sikhs for Justice has complained of “intimidation” to the Canadian minister of foreign affairs.
The letter, sent last week, is based on a report in the Hindustan Times about visits by India’s Consul General in Toronto Dinesh Bhatia to gurdwaras in the Greater Toronto Area, which were once considered pro-Khalistan.
“Under the cover of ‘community outreach’, the Indian diplomats are creating an atmosphere of intimidation among the Canadian Sikhs who have taken refuge in this country from India's constant persecution,” SFJ’s legal advisor Gurpatwant Pannun alleged in the letter to Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.
However, that complaint appears to have been ignored so far and there has been no communication in that regard between the minister’s office and the Indian mission. Global Affairs Canada also did not respond to queries from Hindustan Times on this subject.
“Approaching the foreign minister is an initial step towards blocking Indian diplomats from attending events in Canadian gurdwaras,” Pannun said in a statement.
The presence of Indian representatives at public events at such gurdwaras is a recent trend, and is indicative of a softening of stance at even those shrines once considered hardcore bastions of the Khalistan movement.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, Pannun criticised these visits to what he termed “hotbeds of Sikh self-determination.”
Another recent gesture by the Indian government has also drawn SFJ’s ire. Indian missions in Canada, particularly in Vancouver, have started issuing visas to those who had come to the country as refugees. This measure is gradually being rolled out and those with refugee status will be allowed visas of up to 10 years for themselves and their dependents. This is part of a larger effort to wean away support for Khalistan.
Pannun, meanwhile, accused the Indian government of asking those seeking such visas to sign a document disavowing support for Khalistan and argued that ran counter to Canada’s policy of freedom of expression. He said he had collected affidavits from individuals who were asked for action before their visa request was processed. That matter will be raised by SFJ with Global Affairs Canada, he said.
However, Consul General Bhatia, in an emailed response, stated: “The documentation required for an Indian visa is listed lucidly at the Consulate General’s website, cgitoronto.ca. The question of asking any other document than those at the website, does not arise.”