This week, the national Canadian media worked itself up into a lather over NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's previous public appearances alongside Sikh nationalists.
Leading the charge was the Globe and Mail.
It often writes the narrative that's subsequently adopted by CTV and CBC. These two broadcasting behemoths reach large audiences.
At the core of their coverage is an emphasis on the 1985 Air India bombing as a made-in-Canada plot committed solely by a tiny group of Sikh extremists in British Columbia.
It's ironic that the Globe and Mail, of all media outlets, is pushing this narrative so insistently.
Two former Globe and Mail Air India bombing specialists, Zuhair Kashmeri and Robert Matas, distinguished themselves by providing far more nuanced and open-minded coverage during their many years on this beat.
Postmedia, Maclean's, CBC, and CTV only strayed from the homegrown-terrorism storyline on the very rarest of occasions.
The Globe and Mail, on the other hand, was the only mainstream national media outlet to seriously investigate whether the Indian government played any role in the creation of the extremist group Babbar Khalsa.
The organization's leader, former Burnaby resident Talwinder Singh Parmar, has been identified as the mastermind of the bombing of Air India Flight 182, and hardly anyone seriously disputes that he was deeply involved in this mass murder.
However, it's also clear from the Globe and Mail 's most recent editorial that it has abandoned its previous open-minded, balanced reportage on this issue. The previous coverage earned it considerable respect within Canada's Sikh community.
Now, its "marquee columnist", Margaret Wente, questions whether there was sufficient vetting of Jagmeet Singh before he became leader of the NDP. It's laughable.
Mainstream media outlets leave an impression that anyone who raises human-rights concerns about a vicious, despicable, and well-planned pogrom of Sikhs across India in 1984 is sympathetic to Sikh nationalism and is therefore a "Khalistani" with violent tendencies.
These two issues are conflated, even though writers outside the media mainstream, such as Jagdeesh Mann, Gurpreet Singh, and Sandy Garossino, have pointed out that the Khalistan movement has been dead for more than 20 years in India.
That hasn't seemed to have penetrated the thick skulls of some in the national media.
Rather than doing their own research, many rely on CBC's non-Punjabi- and non-Hindi-speaking Terry Milewski, of all people, as their leading source of information on Canada's Sikh community. It's a joke.
Anyone who even hints at the possibility that the Indian government or rogue agents may have helped create Babbar Khalsa is looked upon as a lunatic by the mainstream media.
This is notwithstanding disturbing revelations about extensive Indian government spying in Canada in the 1980s, which was detailed in Soft Target: The Real Story Behind the Air India Disaster, coauthored by Kashmeri and former Toronto Star reporter Brian McAndrew.
Even the "terrorist" who kicked off the recent bout of media hysteria, Jaspal Atwal, is reportedly a supporter of the Akali Dal, which is a partner of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.
Singh is as Canadian as anyone else
Both the Conservatives and the Liberals have an interest in painting Jagmeet Singh as "the other", a man to be feared because he's going to import foreign disputes onto Canadian soil and undermine business relations with India.
The reality is he was born and raised in Canada, experienced a bunch of racism as a kid, and probably heard a great deal about the atrocities in India in 1984, and that has informed his perspectives as a political leader.
In this regard, he's no different from Liberal cabinet ministers Harjit Sajjan (who moved to Canada when he was five years old) and Navdeep Bains.
Singh cares about human rights to a much greater degree than most white politicians who didn't encounter racism as children.
There are many millennials and older Canadians who can relate to Singh's experiences.
Like Singh, they can see the reductionism being advanced by the national media.
They know what it's like to be largely defined solely by skin colour or ethnic heritage, rather than by the multitude of personality traits, skills, and interests that make up their identity.
I have a hunch that Singh's dignified response to the media's attempt to reduce him to a simple label—Khalistani sympathizer—is going to help him over the long run.
Sooner or later, a significant segment of the voting public will see through the silly media caricatures with the help of wise commentators like Mann, Gurpreet Singh, and Garossino.
This recent controversy just might ignite more curiosity about what happened to Sikhs in India in 1984.
It might persuade some to read the work of Kashmeri and Matas and question why Kashmeri was never permitted to testify at the Air India inquiry.
They might pick up a new book by Gian Singh Sandhu, a founder of the World Sikh Organization, who describes in vivid detail how his community was smeared by the Canadian media in the 1980s.
If you want to learn more about how the Air India bombing has been covered over the years in different books, check out this article: "Long read: How the 1985 Air India bombing could tie into the 2019 federal election in Canada". It reveals that there are several narratives, not just one.
If you're curious to learn why Sikhs are fed up with the mainstream media's obsessive focus on Khalistan, I recommend Jagdeesh Mann's "Khalistan terror has died, but Khalistan targeting has not".
A progressive source of information on India is Georgia Straight contributor Gurpreet Singh, whose articles can be found here.
In particular, I recommend "Indian media censors itself under Narendra Modi" because it highlights the risks that Indian journalists face for straying from narratives preferred by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
There are many perspectives out there for those with an open mind and an interest in hearing different points of view. You just have to know where to find them.
India gets a softer ride than China
Here's another oddity: repression of minorities in China is routinely accorded a great deal of attention in the Canadian media, whether it's taking place in Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, or other areas.
But repression of minorities in India—whether it's taking place in Kashmir, the tribal belt, northeastern states, or Delhi—doesn't warrant anywhere near the same level of interest.
The national media in Canada is quick to counter the storyline of the Chinese government, but strangely reluctant to contradict the storyline of the Indian government.
Part of the reason is that the western media look upon India as a democracy and China as a dictatorship.
But as regular readers of Gurpreet Singh's articles realize, there are deep flaws in India's democracy under Modi's rule.
The national Canadian media's failure to acknowledge this is just one of several contributing factors behind the continuing stigmatization of Jagmeet Singh.
It's easy to attribute it all to racism, but many of these media people cannot be simply written off as racists. They don't carry hatred in their hearts. They're just ignorant and lacking in curiosity.More