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SFJ protests disrupt event attended by Indian envoy to Canada

Mar 02, 2024 11:53 AM IST

India’s High Commissioner to Ottawa Sanjay Kumar Verma held a meeting with a local trade board in British Columbia in tense circumstances on Friday evening, as the venue was surrounded by pro-Khalistan elements protesting the event.

India’s High Commissioner to Ottawa Sanjay Kumar Verma held a meeting with a local trade board in British Columbia in tense circumstances on Friday evening, as the venue was surrounded by pro-Khalistan elements protesting the event.

India’s High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma speaking at a function organised by the Surrey Board of Trade on Friday evening. (Official Photo)
India’s High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma speaking at a function organised by the Surrey Board of Trade on Friday evening. (Official Photo)

This was Verma’s first visit to Surrey since the murder of pro-Khalistan figure Hardeep Singh Nijjar in the British Columbia town on June 18 last year.

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The event was targeted as protestors attempted to stop it from proceeding but after it’s conclusion, Verma described the event as “successful.”

“Overall, a well organized and well attended event,” he added.

“Slogan shouting was on expected lines. I was the main target. Abuses hurled. Tiranga was disrespected,” he said of the protests outside.

The event titled, India and Canada: The Future of our Global Economy Together, was jointly organised by the Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT) and the South Asian Business Association (SABA).

The venue, the Sheraton Guildford Hotel, was locked down by local law enforcement with no one allowed to enter without an invitation and identification.

Half-an-hour before the scheduled starting time of 6pm, many protestors, numbering close to 500, gathered outside the hotel, surrounding it and blocking its entrances. Many were masked, as flyers circulated prior to the protest had warned them to do so to escape “Indian surveillance.” They carried Khalistan flags and raised separatist slogans.

Heavy police presence was maintained by the Surrey detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP, as the protestors tried to block the entrances. Police also prevented the protestors from entering the venue.

Verma met Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke earlier in the day and he said that interaction was “extremely positive.”

Amid the heightened threat perception, organisers removed all announcements related to it from social media like X and Instagram, where they were posted earlier.

The call for the protest had been given by the secessionist group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which threatened to target Verma. SFJ’s general counsel Gurpatwant Pannun described Surrey as a “war zone” and said “pro-Khalistan Sikhs will continue to target Verma.”

In fact, Khalistani groups are also organising a car rally on Saturday to “shut down” India’s Consulate in Vancouver. That rally will start from the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, which was headed by Nijjar till he was killed in its parking lot.

The HC’s previous visit to Surrey last year when, on March 19, he had to cancel an appearance at a reception organized by the Friends of India & Canada Foundation in the town as nearly 200 protestors, some wielding swords, gathered in front of the venue, the Taj Park Convention Centre and blocked the entrance. Referring to Friday’s event, Maninder Singh Gill, the Foundation’s president said, “Khalistanis have a right to protest but verbally assaulting attendees is unacceptable and I condemn this behaviour.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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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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