Gurpreet Singh: Jaspal Atwal episode reveals why Canadian political establishment should look hard at itself

The controversy stirred by the presence in the legislature of Jaspal Atwal—convicted in the attempted murder of a visiting foreign dignitary—during the budget speech is not shocking. It's part of the continued appeasement of extremist groups within the Sikh community by the Canadian politicians.

Atwal is a former activist of the now-banned terrorist group, the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF). The organization is believed to be in an armed struggle for the establishment of a separate Sikh homeland.

Atwal was convicted for the attempted murder of Malkiat Singh Sidhu in 1986. Sidhu, a moderate Sikh politician belonging to the Akali Dal, a mainstream political party in Punjab, was visiting B.C. when he was shot.

Though he survived the attack, Sidhu was later murdered in India. Ironically, Atwal, who has already served time for the crime, is now a supporter of the Akali Dal.

His presence in the legislature as a guest invitee caused embarrassment to the B.C. Liberal government and a complaint was made to the speaker. As a result Tariq Ghuman, a Liberal official, resigned, taking moral responsibility for the goof-up.

Finding her government under attack for the mistake, Premier Christy Clark claimed that she did not know Atwal's background. It is a separate matter that Atwal backed her leadership race and was among prominent Indo-Canadian supporters who accorded her a welcome in Surrey in 2011.

The reaction of Clark is similar to that of Canada’s ruling Conservative party after its candidate in Vancouver South, Wai Young, reportedly received help in the last federal election from Ripudaman Singh Malik, who was acquitted in the Air India bombing.

The party claimed that Young was not aware of Malik’s background, even though he had been charged in connection with a plane bomb that killed all 329 people aboard in 1985.

Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have tried to distance themselves from these two men despite the fact that one has already served his time and the other one was acquitted. So does that mean that these parties still treat them as criminals? If the answer is yes, then why were these men roped in for support in the first place?

The parties' explanation that they were not aware of their backgrounds is ridiculous as both men were associated with high-profile cases and their names and pictures had appeared in the press a number of times.

Besides, the two parties also have supporters among moderate Sikhs, who have issues with these controversial individuals. It is reasonable to believe that they might have raised red flags, but these parties may not have bothered paying attention. The political leadership should either be honest about accepting help from these men or should strictly keep people with suspicious pasts away.

Instead two-faced parties have tried to put the entire blame on these individuals or found scapegoats like Ghumman as a part of a damage-control exercise.

Atwal or Malik have every right to move around in the society—Atwal has served his sentence and Malik was acquitted. It is for the political parties to decide if they want to maintain a distance from those formerly or currently associated with controversial groups.

Past experiences show that most political parties in Canada have relied on separatist groups for support, especially in ridings with large Sikh populations. Even a vocal critic of extremism, former Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, once tried to help Atwal in getting visa for India, even though Atwal was acquitted in the notorious Dosanjh beating case in the mid-1980s. Dosanjh was physically assaulted at the time for his moderate views.

Dosanjh’s former party, the NDP, which is now in opposition in B.C., has not shown much excitement about cornering Clark over Atwal's visit to the legislature. It is not surprising that the NDP did not raise a question in the house, given the association of some of its MLAs with fundamentalist groups over the years.

Political parties can get away with this by saying that they cannot annoy a particular segment of the voting public. Meanwhile, police and the Canadian Armed Forces have also sent conflicting signals at different times by participating in a Sikh parade in Surrey, where pictures of the separatist militants are displayed.

The Canadian armed forces officials attended Remembrance Day prayers at the Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara in Surrey, whose management openly support separate Sikh state and glorifies militants who died during the armed conflict in Punjab.

Political parties should know that these groups and the individuals associated with them do not represent the entire Sikh community. By rubbing shoulders with such elements, politicians are actually taking the support of the moderate Sikhs for granted and making them weaker.

The Atwal episode is just a small incident and another reminder of the political opportunism that contributed to the growth of Sikh fundamentalism in Canada.

Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.

Comments (17) Add New Comment
jodhas
Gurpreet is at it again trying to serve his paymasters and criticize Sikhs who believe in freedom, human rights and justice. Atwal's problems or his past associations should not be used to criticize the reverence Sikhs have for their martyrs. it is rather strange that Gurpreet has NEVER called Indian politicians who murdered tens of thousands of innocent Sikhs as terrorists, but continues his silly and motivated Jihad against imaginary so called Sikh extremists.
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Arshy Mann
The floats at the Surrey Vasaikhi parade that celebrate Bhindrawale and his ilk tend to be few and far between, and are not representative of the beliefs of most of the attendees. Both the Surrey and Vancouver Vasaikhi parades are the largest gatherings of Sikhs in BC and many of the people who attend do not agree with the messages of these floats. So I think it's acceptable for politicians to show up to these events without being accused of condoning those specific floats.
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David L.
You know what ? I wish you people would forget the bull#**t you came from and adopt even a modicum of the Canadian lifestyle.
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Manjit Singh
Sikhs do have to realize that mistakes were made on both sides in 1984. Fortification of Harmandir Sahib should not have been done. The sheep nation of India and their so called democratic Government is continuing to make mistakes by being arrogant and not delivering justice to 1984 victims, discriminating against Sikhs since 1947 and breaking every single promise, and allowing deterioration of Punjab in the name of disturbed state. This will haunt India for a long time to come.
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Bikaramjit Singh
I think people that disagree with the floats are bunch of hypocrites. Jarnail Singh just followed the rules of the panth and people like you have become so moderate. That you are self-forgetting about your cultural values. You can not use the label "Singh" if you don't follow the views. India is full of corruption, you people are lucky that you are in a great country right now and small things as Christy Clark not knowing the past is not very significant. The significant thing is that you have forget cultural pluralism and have adopted universal culturalism. Thus, leads to you being hypocrites.
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Harappa/Mohenjodaro
Those of us who lost family members who died while in police custody would like to see justice, but all-inclusive justice—not divisive tribalistic warfare.

Sikhism is a religion, not an ethnic identity. People in Northern India are the descendents of many immigrants and invaders: Bactrians, Scythians, Huns, Mongolians, Persians, Turks, Afghanis, Ethiopian slaves, and of course, indigenous foremothers carried off as war prizes, etc.

The Indian elite who claim to be the “pure” descendents of mythological Aryan tribes—and sneer down at those of us with “mongrel” blood—are really annoying and scary, but Punjabi mouth-breathers who pose for pictures with Stephen Harper should read up on their Tacitus and Machiavelli.
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e.a.f.
When people move to Canada, it should be with the intent of becoming Canadian. This entails leaving your political strife behind you. If people felt so strongly about a "sikh" homeland, they should have returned to the Punjabi and fought for it, not conducted the war in Canada.

To live in Canada is to adapt to a Canadian way of life. This is not to mean people should forget their religion, language, customs, etc. but to continue to fight a battle which is the business of another country, not on. Like get over it. You live in Canada. As to Canadian politicians who continue to cater to extremists, get over it, develop some "balls" and do what is right.
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Prentice
The so called moderate Sikhs is an term 'invented' by the likes of the author of this article. They are the ones who are afraid to speak out against injustice or sellouts to Hindus. I call them Anti-Sikh.
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Amrit Kaur
I would hope that Gurpreet Singh would add the great terrorist Bhagat Singh in the same lineup who killed an innocent British officer in India. I wonder if Canadians realize that the Communist Sikhs in Canada celebrate such people. Oh wait, Bhagat Singh was a Arya Samaji liked by the Indian gov't, hence, people like Gurpreet Singh have received permission to hail him as a martyr.

As for Arshy Mann's comment, all I have to say is, most people who attend the parades have not read a single page of Guru Granth Sahib Ji as well. Should we get Guru sahib out of the parade too? I bet most Punjabis would not agree with many parts of gurbani too. Like the pointless rituals they do like wearing taveets and sacred threads. We all know that most Punjabis do not even do vichaar on gurbaani and just do matha tek and perform blind rituals.

The event is just a gathering spot for many. Just because most Punjabis are ignorant of their history doesn't make the martyrs irrelevant.

How many Punjabis know about the Punjabi suba movement? I have many relatives that live in Punjab that are clueless about basic facts about Punjab. So please, if there are only a handful of people who are aware of their history and current situation, don't mock them. People who are aware are always in a minority.

God Bless.
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JKL
Absolutely, we should take a hardline against terrorists. But I'd like to see the media actually go after ALL terrorists instead of picking and choosing to suit their agenda.

For example, when Wai Young allegedly went to Khalsa school and Malik was there, there was a huge uproar. Maybe it's because she's a Conservative and we know how much the media loathes them. Hmm... but let's see. Gregor Robertson and a bunch of local politicians also went to that school with Malik present -- and not a squeak from the media!

Now that both provincial and federal Liberals allegedly have "ties" to Atwal, the news has barely been trickling in on this issue. Another sad double standard. That's why no one can take the media seriously anymore.
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GOT
you know, there's a point where you guys have to stop this squabbling and recognize that you're in Canada now, not back in India. This reminds me of the old Protestant versus Catholic nonsense that poisoned Canadian politics for a century or more. When we were young, we said 'Fuck that!' and turned our backs on the churches and everyone associated with them. We changed the country and what it meant to be truly Canadian. Freedom of religion means just that, freedom to be Canadian and believe in whatever god(s) you want, NOT freedom to beat up on anyone who's not in YOUR religion! To real Canadians, these Sikh versus Hindu arguments sound silly at best, so 1950's at worst. Grow up and start acting like Canadians. As for the politicians, you know them by the company they keep, which is usually pretty slimy at the best of times.
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KiDDAA Magazine
The usual white guys say forget the bull and do as we do here in Canada. Assuming that these same white guys magically appeared here from no where and the Aboriginals dont exist.
Bottom line is even the ultra right, ultra white Conservatives pander to the Punjabi community in Canada because like it or not we have votes.
That being said when 10,000 are more people are murdered in a genocide in Dehli and elsewhere, the guilty need to go to court.
People dont forget things like this. As for you are now in Canada true, follow the rules, the Sikh community does.
The Sikh community has served in the RCMP, countless Canadian wars, some stupid others not.
Dont trying tell Indo Canadians are not Canadian because we don't worship Jesus, or eat potatoes.
This community has done as much as any for Canada and the lost British empire.
I really don't like this writer but he has the right to his beliefs. One could argue he is pandering to white people.
That being said Punjabis in Canada continue to demonstrate hard work and incentive.
Silly is a religion that continues to abuse little boys on a massive scale. Silly is any religion that states people are not equal. Silly is hating people because of colour or race.
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KiDDAA Magazine
Start acting like Canadians. Just want to know how does a Canadian act?
Code language for you are brown you are not Canadian.
Hmm born in Canada, have a Canadian passport, pay Canadian taxes, been to Canadian schools, respect Canadian law. I guess Indo Canadians are not Canadian because of what? Too much facial hair, too many samose, like hockey in Canada in Punjabi.
Hmm so the definition of Canadian lose your culture?
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GOT
@KiDDAA Magazine...what makes you think I'm white? And what difference would that make? Except to a racist, of course. For all you know, I could be a First Nations member who's getting fed up with 500 years of immigrants dragging their problems over here and proceeding to make life a drag for the rest of us with their violence and hatreds.

..."That being said when 10,000 are more people are murdered in a genocide in Dehli and elsewhere, the guilty need to go to court. People dont forget things like this. As for you are now in Canada true, follow the rules, the Sikh community does."...

What we 'don't forget' in Canada is the Air India bombing, and the fact that that horrific, mindless and pointless mass murder of innocents was almost certainly planned and executed by 'Canadian' Sikhs. But I do agree: the guilty need to go to court. I encourage the Sikh community to help get them there.

Finally, if you want to criticize what I write, then address what I write, not what you imagine you read, or what your own biases would like to attribute to me. Better yet, read what I write first before you just start shooting from the lip because you assume I'm a 'usual white guy'. I don't give a damn what colour people are, but I DO give a damn if they use religion as an excuse for committing evil, especially committing evil against other Canadians, regardless of where they came from originally. And to get back to Gurpreet's article, I agree with him: I wish our politicians would start to give a damn, too.
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Amrit Kaur
Gurpreet Singh,

Newsflash! Just like you claim that nobody back in PUnjab even supports these things..well guess what..barely anyone supports your Punjabi Communist buddies either!

2012 Punjab polling results courtesy of Hindustan Times:

"...the Left parties - CPI and CPI (M) - have got the worst hitting as the vote share of both the parties fell drastically this time.

While CPI's vote share fell from 3.31% to 0.82%, the CPI (M) dropped from 2.25% in 2007 to 0.16% in 2012 polls.

The vote percentage of CPI and CPI (M) fell by 2.49 and 2.09% respectively."

Message to all readers, know the facts.

God Bless.

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Sikh@Heart
This article is just another pathetic example of Mr.Gurpreet's attempt at defaming the Sikh population in Canada. His misleading articles have done nothing but, try to divide the Sikh/Punjabi Canadians. He affixes the Sikh surname Singh to his identity, yet he misrepresents Sikhism amongst Canadians. According to him there are two types of Sikhs, "moderate & fundamentalist". He is affiliated with a disgruntled minority within the Sikh community, that hasn't been able to lead a new generation of Canadian Sikhs. Instead him and his supporters stir up quarrels and try to undermine the achievements made by the Sikh majority. A new generation of Canadian Sikhs is a threat to these soon to be forgotten dinosaurs. The Arab spring is a clear example.
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dilraj
i really hate when people use the phrase "youre in Canada now, so do as the Canadians", well actually canada is famously known internationally as the 'mosaic'' being that there are many ethinicities and religions with all their own traditions, but they dont mix and they all add up to the canadian lifestyle. this isnt America, who are known as the mixing pot. us? were unique and although we converge, we all keep our own colours. think of a tile or photo mosaic, like i said. as for the terms moderates and fundamentalists, theres really only one type of Sikh. A Sikh. our holy scripture doesnt have any confusing, contradicting, or misinterperetable lessons in it. Its not possible for us to become something like normal muslims and then the al-Queda. if u inhere to the faith, then u behave a certain way and a uniform way for that matter. The people that commited attacks against the foreign politician and the people that were involved in the Air India bombing were doing that on their own account, not because they thought Gurbani allowed them to. to give u an example, when the Sikhs had to defend themselves against the Moguls, they didnt go around killing their enemies wives and children, infact we showed great hospitality towards them, and we even nursed some of their wounded warriors. the attack on the airplanes was not something from our religion, and it should never be interpreted as something like that. now to think that we (all canadians) should forget about their mother countries problems is complete bullshit. have you ever heard of something called politics? international affairs? ambassadors? c'mon lets not get blind. the Sikh community would not be asking this of either the Canadian, American, British or Indian government if they knew that nothing could be done. when you are a minority in your own country (and not the most loved in all the land) then theres not a lot that you can do by yourself.
anyways bottom line
-dont forget that we arent completey canadian because theirs no such thing.
-no such thing as moderate/fundmentls. in sikhism
-the actions of one person dont reflect the entire population
and
-most sikhs want justice for things that happened almost 30 years ago and havent been dealt with fairly, so theyre coming to a responsible goverrnment because they cant get anything done in indias system

if u want to complain the only thing u can complain about is the terrorists, indias government and ur own ignorance to canadas cultural/ethnic makeup. this is directed towards everyone, not just these so called 'white' people.
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