The campaign in support of Laibar Singh, the paralyzed failed refugee claimant, has united warring factions of Lower Mainland Sikhs. Moderates and fundamentalists who have violently clashed in the past have buried their differences in order to try to prevent the deportation of Singh.
Last year, he was paralyzed due to an aneurysm, after which he was sent to a long-term-care facility. In July, he was ordered deported to India after the Immigration and Refugee Board denied his refugee claim. As the word went out, the community began asking for permanent residency for Singh on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Earlier this year, he took sanctuary at an Abbotsford gurdwara, which is managed by the orthodox Sikhs. He has since been shifted to a Sikh temple in Surrey that is managed by the moderates. Despite petitions and protests, the federal government remains adamant about its intention to remove him.
The final decision to deport Singh came on December 10, which is International Human Rights Day. The chosen date was an insult to many Indo-Canadians because it also coincided with the martyrdom day of Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth master of the Sikhs, who sacrificed his life for others.
About 2,000 protesters gathered at Vancouver International Airport and halted his deportation. Because the Abbotsford temple could not keep him under the conditions of a surety bond signed by his supporters, he was moved to the Surrey temple, where he awaits a fresh deportation order.
The mainstream media have tried to link the airport rally with terrorism; one headline claimed that the founder of a Sikh terror group was steering the campaign. This resulted in negative publicity for a cause that is supported by both moderates and fundamentalist Sikhs. (Former Sikh militant Harpal Singh Nagra leads one of the groups involved.)
Among those who attended earlier rallies in support of Laibar Singh are prominent moderate Sikh leaders who have been ostracized by the fundamentalists in the past. They include the Vancouver Sikh temple president, Kashmir Singh Dhaliwal, and the Surrey Sikh temple president, Balwant Singh Gill.
Why aren't the media emphasizing the fact that staunch secularists such as Surinder Sangha, the Indo-Canadian Workers' Association leader, East Indian Defence Committee national secretary Harbhajan Cheema, No One Is Illegal organizers Harjap Grewal and Harsha Walia, and some Hindu and Muslim leaders have also joined these protests? The unfair media bashing has contributed to a racist backlash, which included threatening letters directed at some of the leaders of the campaign.