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Canadian Sikh groups push back against alleged smearing over Khalistan

Community groups like WSO and SFJ allege smearing of Sikhs following attention paid to the issue of Khalistan thanks to the controversies surrounding Justin Trudeau's visit to India and videos showing Jagmeet Singh at a couple of separatist events

india Updated: Apr 01, 2018 23:01 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
canada sikh,wso,sfj
Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) and his wife Sophie Gregoire (left) and son Xavier (centre) visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar on February 21.(AFP File)

Sikh groups are pushing back against the perceived demonisation of the community in Canada in the wake of controversies surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India in February and criticism of New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh’s appearances in which he appeared to endorse separatism.

Disturbed by the negative portrayal, the World Sikh Organisation (WSO) launched a social media campaign #AskCanadianSikhs. The advocacy group said: “Over the past month, the Canadian news media reports have lacked nuance and context and as a result, have smeared the Sikh community as radical and extremist.”

A spokesperson for WSO did not respond to requests from the Hindustan Times for comment on the campaign.

Activist groups have previously organised to prevent the opposition Conservative Party from tabling a motion in the House of Commons slamming Khalistani terrorism while lauding the contribution of Canadian Sikhs to the nation.

The hardline group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) held a conference recently near Toronto about its proposed Punjab Independence Referendum 2020, but addressed the issues arising out of Trudeau’s trip.

“What happened during Trudeau’s visit when he went to India? All the heat he got that there are Canadians who are funding terrorist activities and they are provoking the Sikh community in Punjab for violence. We wanted to let the world, the Canadian members of Parliament, we want to let the Prime Minister know for sure there is a campaign for self-determination but it does not have any room for violence. There isn’t any terrorist activity that is being funded by the Canadian Sikhs.” SFJ’s legal advisor Gurpatwant Pannun said.

SFJ also sent invitations to Trudeau and all Canadian MPs to attend the event or send their representatives, but none of them turned up. In a letter to Trudeau, Pannun wrote: “You must be aware that it is a well-established fact that Khalistan is merely a political opinion and Canadian Sikhs who believe in and advocate for it cannot be charged with violence or terrorism for expressing a political opinion, no matter how unpleasant that opinion may be for India or Canada.”

SFJ also engaged a public relations firm to reach out to Canadian commentators who had been particularly harsh on the matter of Khalistan.

“While the Indian government may try to frame a conference like this one as being led by extremists, or worse, terrorists, it’s actually being led by the human rights advocacy groupSikhs for Justice. Many members of parliament have attended their events in the past and invitations have been sent this year too,” the message sent out to journalists read.

While the Indian government and the administration in Punjab have often raised concerns over Canadian extremists trying to re-establish the violent Khalistan movement to the state, Pannun said their project was “peaceful, non-violent and within international law.”

First Published: Apr 01, 2018 18:19 IST