Canadian Sikhs took to the streets to protest outside India’s diplomatic missions, responding to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s remarks connecting New Delhi to the murder of a Sikh separatist advocate in British Columbia.
Trudeau’s recent statement in parliament highlighted ongoing investigations by domestic intelligence agencies into credible allegations linking New Delhi to the shooting of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who lost his life in June.
In Toronto, approximately 100 demonstrators burned an Indian flag and symbolically struck a cardboard cut-out of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a shoe. Simultaneously, about 200 protesters gathered outside the Vancouver consulate.
Support for Khalistan in Ottawa
In Ottawa, fewer than 100 individuals congregated in front of the Indian High Commissioner’s office, waving yellow flags marked with “Khalistan,” expressing support for an independent Sikh state in India’s Punjab region, a cause Nijjar championed.
One protester in Ottawa, Reshma Singh Bolinas, expressed gratitude to Justin Trudeau for his stance and urged Canada to pressure India to prevent future killings of innocent people.
Canada’s Sikh Community and India’s Response
Canada is home to nearly 770,000 Sikhs, constituting the largest Sikh population outside of Punjab, their home state. In recent years, various demonstrations by Sikhs in Canada have provoked India’s ire.
India has denounced Trudeau’s allegations as “absurd” and issued a travel advisory warning of growing “anti-India activities” in Canada, advising travelers to exercise “utmost caution” without providing specific evidence.
Spotlight on Canada’s Sikh Community
These allegations have cast a spotlight on Canada’s Sikh community, which represents just 2% of India’s 1.4 billion population. However, Sikhs form a majority in Punjab, a state with a population of 30 million, where Sikhism originated 500 years ago.
Kuljeet Sing, a protester in Toronto and member of the group Sikhs for Justice, accused the Indian government of employing “dirty tactics” and compromising Canada’s sovereignty.
Canada’s accusations have prompted retaliatory measures, including the expulsion of diplomats by both nations and the suspension of Canadian visas by New Delhi.
Call for Expulsion of Indian High Commissioner
Some demonstrators in Toronto and Ottawa have called for the expulsion of India’s High Commissioner (ambassador) to Canada, Sanjay Kumar Verma, who had earlier stated that authorities were aware of the protests and providing security.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a former plumber, left the north Indian state of Punjab 25 years ago and became a Canadian citizen. He had supported the establishment of an independent Sikh homeland. In July 2020, India designated him as a “terrorist.”
The Canadian government conducted a months-long investigation into the Sikh separatist leader, amassing human and signals intelligence, citing unidentified sources.
The United States collaborated closely with Canada in examining intelligence that indicated potential involvement of Indian agents in the murder of a Canadian citizen in June.