Canada could prove the most challenging foreign visit yet for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as Sikh activist groups plan protests at the public events he is likely to attend.
For maximum visibility, they will focus on his community reception and visit to the Kanishka Memorial in Toronto, or visits to a gurdwara and temple in Vancouver. This has also resulted in possibly the tightest security for a foreign dignitary since Toronto hosted the G-20 summit in 2010.
The choice of the two Vancouver venues by the schedulers is indicative of a flagging in the strength of pro-Khalistan elements there. Modi is to visit the Ross Street gurdwara run by Khalsa Diwan Society in the British Columbian seaport city on Thursday.
He will also go to Laxminarayan Mandir in the suburb of Surrey for a joint event of the Hindu Sikh Forum of Canada and Vedic Hindu Cultural Society (VHCS). The two stops are being seen as a major outreach to Canada’s Sikh community. The gurdwara is the oldest in Canada, while the temple is in an area with one of the highest Sikh populations in the country.
Given the call for multiple protests, elaborate security measures – some of which are unusual for Canada – will be in place at the public events. VHCS general secretary Mahesh Gupta said: “The government has placed restrictions. All those coming will be scanned, like when you’re boarding an aircraft. We’re sending them information about all those attending. For two to three kilometres, the area will be sealed off.”
Perimeter security is expected to be deployed at other venues. Royal Canadian Mounted Police have done multiple reconnaissance of the Ross Street gurdwara and conducted background checks on all those registered to attend the community reception at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto.
However, Sikh groups have announced protests in both Vancouver and Toronto when Modi visits the Kanishka Memorial, and outside the downtown arena for the community reception. Former British Columbia premier Ujjal Dosanjh, only Indo-Canadian to have held such a position in Canada, said: “Khalistan is never going to die in North America. It’s not a problem for India, but a problem for Canada. It’s more of a nuisance, an unnecessary distraction. But it’s waning and the groups want to keep it alive (through such protests).”
As sympathy and support for the movement ebbs in Canada, Sikh groups are raising other issues during this high-profile visit. Sikhs for Justice has filed a complaint against Modi with Canadian attorney general Peter McKay “requesting criminal proceedings” for “offences of torture and genocide under Canadian law”. It refers to the 2002 Gujarat riots.