The announcement by Surrey-Tynehead Liberal MLA Dave Hayer not to run in the next provincial election has come as a rude shock to moderate Sikhs in Greater Vancouver.
With the defeat of Ujjal Dosanjh in the last federal election, Hayer had become the lone moderate voice among Indo Canadian politicians on the west coast.
Hayer is a vocal critic of terrorism and religious extremism. He has consistently opposed fundamentalism and recently raised the Air India issue in the B.C. legislature.
Bombs placed on two planes left 331 people dead on June 23, 1985 in the worst world's worst case of aviation terrorism before 9/11. The bombings were blamed on the Sikh separatist group Babbar Khalsa.
Hayer’s father Tara Singh Hayer, a slain editor of the Indo Canadian Times, was a potential witness in any Air India trials until he was murdered in 1998.
Though he died as a critic of terrorism, Tara Singh Hayer once supported Sikh separatists. Ironically, he glorified Talwinder Singh Parmar, the alleged mastermind of the Air India conspiracy in his writings.
Tara Singh Hayer later fell out with the militants and survived a first attempt on his life in 1988, which left him paralyzed.
Dave Hayer has time and again sought action against the conspirators behind the Air India bombings. His frequent criticism of militancy has evoked sharp reaction from fundamentalist groups. It is even rumoured in the community that the fundamentalist lobby had him removed from the position of parliamentary secretary after Christy Clark became the premier—and may have actually influenced his decision to quit.
He was not alone in criticizing fundamentalism when Dosanjh was a member of Parliament. Dosanjh, who lost his seat as Vancouver South MP in 2011, also invited trouble for repeatedly criticizing Sikh fundamentalists.
The former Liberal MP was beaten for his moderate views in 1985. Dosanjh also received many death threats for speaking out against violence.
Although I don't agree with Hayer's right-wing politics and have annoyed him at times by speaking out against B.C. Liberal cutbacks and the anti-labour position of his party, his consistent opposition to terrorism deserves appreciation.
Once, I publicly mocked him as an ineffective MLA who was only good for holding coffee meetings with his constituents. Yet I always respected him for speaking out against fundamentalism. His father's past allegiance with Sikh separatists may have been problematic, but Dave Hayer was more consistent and clear in his thoughts against terrorism and never compromised with those forces.
He even honoured Dr. Darshan Gill, a leftist newspaper editor who fought against militancy and died last year of cancer. This was despite the fact that his father had differences with Gill when Sikh militancy was at its peak 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.