Last Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood up in Parliament and spoke of “credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar” this past June near Vancouver. In essence, Trudeau has accused India of assassinating Nijjar. In response, India has denied any link to the murder and called the accusation “absurd” and “motivated.”
After the announcement, the Canadian public broadcaster, CBC, served outrage instead of presenting an objective account. In a television broadcast, journalist Evan Dyer described the alleged killing “the action of a rogue state” and implied that India was “nominally a democracy.” Journalist Andrew Chang said that if Trudeau’s accusation were true, the killing would represent “the highest form of interference possible.”
Practicing some selective amnesia of its own contentious dealings with its indigenous peoples and Quebec separatists, Canada views itself as a beacon for human rights, a platform for free speech, and a refuge for the persecuted, such as Sikh separatists. India views Canada as a valuable friend and trade partner but also as interfering in its internal matters (e.g., Trudeau’s support of Sikh separatists over the years both in Canada and India as well as his support of Indian farmers during their 2020–2021 strike) and as a safe haven for terrorists. A situation — especially one as explosive as this — requires a calm, mature, and comprehensive analysis where all sides are examined, beginning with a presentation of the evidence, an understanding of the context and a review of the use of assassination.
First and foremost, since Trudeau has made the allegations in public, he also needs to present concrete evidence to the public. At this point, with his unsubstantiated and heavy statement, he has made himself a champion of the Sikh separatists. There is some talk particularly in the India media that this may be a political tactic to win their votes or that Trudeau is unduly influenced by his Sikh friends and colleagues.
Either way, he may have unleashed a force he cannot control. His statement has emboldened Canada’s Khalistanis (supporters of a secessionist Sikh state in Punjab). A leader of the group Sikhs for Justice, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, has directed a threatening video to Hindus living in Canada, claiming that “you have repudiated your allegiance to Canada and Canadian constitution” and demanding that they “leave Canada and go to India.” He is also planning protests outside Indian embassies this week. Trudeau needs to remember that he is the prime minister for all Canadians — including the roughly 630,000 people of Indian origin who are not Sikh, not to mention the other 37 million Canadians — and that Canada should be a welcoming and safe place for all Canadians.
Sikh separatism has a long history in India and Canada
No event occurs in isolation. The Sikh issue has a complex and nuanced backstory that is essential to understand. In the 1930s, when India was still a British colony, the Sikhs began asking for their own nation, but when India became an independent country in 1947, for a variety of reasons, it did not ultimately happen. However, the dream remained alive, and an active and often violent separatist movement surged during the late 1970s.