Why Canadian Sikhs are angry with a government report on terrorism
By Barfi Culture Team
16th December 2018

Last week, the Canadian government published its annual report on the threat from terrorism. That report prompted a huge backlash from Sikhs who said it unfairly maligned the entire community.

The full report listed five main threats that Canada faced, from:
- Sunni Islamist Extremism (primarily ISIS and al-Qaeda),
- Right Wing Extremism,
- Shia Extremism (primarily Hizballah)
- Canadian Extremist Travellers (Canadian citizens going abroad to join extremist groups).

But for the first time it also listed 'Sikh (Khalistani) Extremism'.

What did it say about 'Sikh Extremism'?

This is all the report said:

"Some individuals in Canada continue to support Sikh (Khalistani) extremist ideologies and movements. This political movement aims to create an independent homeland for Sikhs called Khalistan, in India. Violent activities in support of an independent Sikh homeland have fallen since their height during the 1982-1993 period when individuals and groups conducted numerous terrorist attacks. The 1985 Air India bombing by Khalistani terrorists, which killed 331 people, remains the deadliest terrorist plot ever launched in Canada. While attacks around the world in support of this movement have declined, support for the extreme ideologies of such groups remains. For example, in Canada, two key Sikh organizations, Babbar Khalsa International and the International Sikh Youth Federation, have been identified as being associated with terrorism and remain listed terrorist entities under the Criminal Code."

Why are Sikhs angry?

Sikhs say the sudden inclusion of 'Khalistani extremism' in the report was highly suspicious since it was the first time it had been mentioned.

"We have to go back at least three decades to find anything. … What’s happened in the last year for the Sikh community to be included? What context can they give us? Why now?" said Moninder Singh, spokesperson for the British Columbia council of Gurdwaras.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada said the report "maligned" Sikhs and requested a meeting with public safety minister Ralph Goodale, who wrote a forward to the report.

"The report does not point to any current incident of violence or terrorism associated with the Sikh community in Canada and only references the 1985 Air India tragedy," it said in a letter.

"Given the lack of any current incidents associated with extremism in the Sikh community, it appears that the addition of the section on ‘Sikh extremism’ is linked to the fact that, despite any evidence, India has repeatedly raised this issue with Canada at every bilateral meeting between the two countries."

Politicians also challenged the report

Several MPs and political leaders have also criticised the government.

The Liberal MP Randeep Sarai was among the first to speak out, calling on the government to remove any references to 'Sikh extremism'.

So did NDP leader Jagmeet Singh

The Conservative MP Garnett Genius also spoke out.

And some journalists

How did the government respond?

Initially the government said little, merely pointing to a paragraph on foreign funding, implying security officials were concerned about funding of extremists elsewhere.

But as the backlash mounted, minister Goodale said it would look at the wording to ensure all Sikhs were not maligned.

"Words matter," Goodale said. "We must never equate any one community or entire religions with extremism."

But the WSO's Balpreet Singh said their concern wasn't merely the language used in the report, but why 'Khalistani extremism' was even mentioned given there was little evidence to justify it.

"Reevaluating the language is fine but just the fact that this section was there is very troubling given that there is absolutely no context beyond something that happened three decades ago," said Singh.

What Canadian Sikhs want is some proof that justifies the inclusion of 'Sikh extremism'. Otherwise its an attempt to malign the community and expose them to more hate-crimes, they say.

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