Indira Gandhi assassination tableau ‘not hate crime’: Canadian agencies

Jun 11, 2023 07:25 AM IST

A tableau depicting the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was displayed during a procession in Brampton city

Canadian law enforcement has ruled out any “hate crime” in the display of a tableau depicting the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during a procession in Brampton city, days after the Indian government expressed displeasure over space being given to people who “advocate violence” in the country.

The controversial tableau
The controversial tableau

Also read: Jaishankar's strong response to Indira Gandhi's killing celebration: 'Not good for Canada'

The controversial tableau was put on display during a parade on June 4 to mark the 39th anniversary of Operation Bluestar, when Indian forces stormed into the Golden Temple in Amritsar to oust separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his supporters. Videos of the event showed that other tableaux featured banners referring to the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

The event triggered outrage, with external affairs minister S Jaishankar saying that “it is not good for relationships” between the two countries, while the high commissioner for Canada in India Cameron MacKay said “there is no place in Canada for hate or for the glorification of violence”.

Taking note of the matter, Brampton mayor Patrick Brown issued a statement: “Police have looked at the video and it’s their determination it does not constitute a hate crime.”

The statement also pointed out that Canadians are “guaranteed freedom of thought, belief and expression” under Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Any decision to change Section 2 would be at the federal level. Police enforce laws. They don’t write them,” it added.

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada (GAC), the country’s foreign ministry, said it “has nothing further to add to the tweet from Canada’s High Commissioner to India Cameron McKay on June 5th”.

That tweet, the only official reaction from a Canadian official on the matter, so far, said: “I am appalled by reports of an event in Canada that celebrated the assassination of late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. There is no place in Canada for hate or for the glorification of violence. I categorically condemn these activities.”

There was no immediate response from Indian officials on the matter on Saturday.

A senior Indian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the occurrence as “not acceptable”. “You cannot exceed freedom of expression like this, glorifying the assassination of the leader of a democratic nation,” he said.

Indo-Canadian organisations have also expressed their outrage over the float.

Also read: 'Celebration' of Indira Gandhi's killing: What really happened at Canada event?

Satish Thakkar, chair of the Canada India Foundation, said the parade “celebrated an act of terrorism against the democratically elected leader of a country that has been the place of origin for nearly two million law-abiding Indo-Canadians”.

Indira Gandhi served as the first and only woman Prime Minister of India from January 1966 to March 1977 and again from January 1980 until her assassination in October 1984. She was shot dead by two of her own bodyguards at her official residence on October 31, 1984. The assassination was followed by anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and elsewhere in the country, in which thousands of Sikhs were killed and businesses looted.

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    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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