There has been a hullabaloo over the endorsement of Wai Young, a Conservative candidate in Vancouver South, by Ripudaman Singh Malik, a Sikh millionaire who was acquitted in the high-profile Air India trial.
This controversy is narrowly focused on just a few individuals, whereas the Canadian establishment needs to look hard at itself for systematically pandering to Sikh separatists active in the country since early 1980s.
Ever since the federal election was announced, candidates of all major political parties in Canada—Conservatives, Liberals, and New Democrats—have tried to reach out one way or another to Sikh separatists.
Malik’s endorsement of Young, in particular, has generated lot of heat because there is an ongoing criminal investigation into the 1985 Air India bombings that left 331 people dead.
The crime was blamed on Sikh extremists who were seeking revenge for the ugly events of 1984—the Indian Army storming the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar, to flush out religious fundamentalists, as well as the anti-Sikh pogrom that followed the assassination of then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards.
Malik was charged along with Ajaib Singh Bagri and Inderjit Singh Reyat in the Air India conspiracy. Both Malik and Bagri were acquitted in B.C. Supreme Court in 2005, but Reyat was convicted of manslaughter. He is the only person found guilty in the Air India case.
Malik confirmed to me that his group had decided to endorse Young in Vancouver South against the Liberal incumbent, Ujjal Dosanjh, who is a vocal critic of Sikh extremists. A meeting was held at the Khalsa School that is run by the Satnam Education Trust founded by Malik, where it was resolved to support Young. Dosanjh's campaign filed a complaint with Election Canada alleging a violation of rules.
Malik also told me that his group has resolved to support Sukh Dhaliwal, a Liberal candidate in Newton-North Delta. On being asked about the political inconsistency in supporting a Conservative in one riding and a Liberal in another, he said that parents of the students at his school were not happy with Dosanjh, who many feel is creating divisions among the Sikhs.
Notably, Dhaliwal was honoured last year by supporters of Khalistan, an imaginary Sikh homeland, at the Vaisakhi parade in Surrey. That's because he raised the issue of the 1984 anti-Sikh violence in Parliament.
Dhaliwal went to accept the honour despite the fact that one of the organizers of parade was alleged to have uttered veiled threats against Dosanjh. As a result of this controversy, most politicians stayed away from the organizers' main dais of the parade.
Yet Dhaliwal went to the podium to accept the honour. It is for this reason that some moderates that earlier supported Dhaliwal are now supporting Jinny Sims, his NDP opponent in Newton-North Delta.Malik, who did not speak to the English-language media, told me that he is being subjected to "unfair media trial" by the mainstream press, despite being acquitted.
But Young and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have never acknowledged that Malik is now a free bird. Rather, they tried to distance themselves from Malik and maintain that Young was not aware of his background.
This sounds implausible. The Conservatives, who ordered a full Air India public inquiry, cannot be so ignorant about characters like Malik. Even though he has been acquitted, perceptions about his alleged involvement in the Air India plot refuse to die. Air India victims’ families are particularly annoyed.
However, judging by other related developments, it would be unreasonable to target only Malik and Young. Dosanjh’s own party leader, Michael Ignatieff, gave an interview to Sukhminder Singh Hansra, a Sikh journalist in Toronto, who had once allegedly tried to justify a 1985 physical attack on Dosanjh by fundamentalists.
Dosanjh himself visited the Dashmesh Darbar Sikh temple in Surrey that openly supports Khalistan after becoming the premier of B.C. in 2000.
This is the same temple that organizes annual Vaisakhi parade in Surrey, where pictures of the slain Khalistani militants are displayed.
Not to be left behind, even Sims, the NDP candidate in Newton-North Delta, also visited Dashmesh Darbar. The moderates who are supporting her had no clear answer as to why she also seeks support from separatists—and in which way she is different from Dhaliwal.
Indo-Canadian politicians need to know that supporters of Khalistan—who were seeking a theocratic state—assassinated Darshan Singh Canadian, a communist leader, in 1986.
He was in the forefront of the struggle for right to vote when he lived in Canada before moving back to Punjab. It was people like him who helped get Indians the vote in Canada in 1947 and today, the Canadian parliament has nine MPs from the Indo-Canadian community.
Canadian was killed for his opposition to religious fundamentalism. By rubbing shoulders with people who subscribe to the ideology of his killers, Indo-Canadian politicians are demonstrating a particularly ungrateful attitude toward the contributions of Canadian.
Politicians can always get away with this by saying that they need ethnic votes. But how can anyone explain the presence of a Canadian Forces vehicle in the Surrey Vaisakhi parade this year or the participation of mounted RCMP officials a few years ago at the same event?
The Canadian Forces are engaged in a war against terrorism in Afghanistan that shares border with Pakistan, where Khalistani extremists were trained. By joining supporters of Khalistan, the Canadian Forces are not only sending conflicting signals, but also legitimizing their cause.
It cannot be denied that Canada and the U.S. gave Sikh separatists enough room to grow. The roots of the problem lie in the Cold War era when India and the Soviets were in one camp, while Pakistan and the U.S. were on the opposite side.
That Cold War-era mentality has changed to some degree after 9/11 and India has emerged as a big economic power. But the political system in Canada still accepts the influence of Sikh separatists. Bigotry in any form should not be encouraged. If Canadian politicians can resist pressure from white supremacists, why can’t they stand up against rogue elements of another country?
Apparently, Canadian politicians who see Quebec separatists as Untouchables have no problem courting separatists of another country.