Canada on Friday removed a reference to Sikh extremism from its “2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada”, a move that was welcomed by the Sikh diaspora but criticised by sections of the Indian government, reported the Hindustan Times.
The 2018 report had identified Sikh extremism and the movement for an independent homeland of Khalistan, in Punjab, as one of five key terror threats facing Canada, along with “Sunni Islamist Extremism”, “Right-Wing Extremism”, “Shia Extremism” and “Canadian Extremist Travellers”. The section pertaining to incidents of terror by members of the Sikh community has now be renamed “Extremists who Support Violent Means to Establish an Independent State Within India”.
The section talks about support from “some individuals in Canada” for “violent means to establish an independent state within India” and identifies two organisations in Canada, Babbar Khalsa International and the International Sikh Youth Federation, as being associated with terrorism.
This was the first time that the report had included Sikh extremism as the top five threats in Canada, reported CBC.
While updating the report, Public Safety Canada, which is under the Canadian government, said in a statement that “a review of the language used to describe extremism has been undertaken and is ongoing”.
It continued, “The government’s communication of threats must be clear, concise, and cannot be perceived as maligning any groups. As we continue this review, it is apparent that in outlining a threat, it must be clearly linked to an ideology rather than a community. The Government will carefully select terminology that focuses on the intent or ideology.”
Shortly after the report was updated, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Ross Street Gurdwara in Vancouver to mark Baisakhi and praised the Sikh community for its emphasis on “equality and social justice”, reported CBC.
The report, published on December 11, was widely criticised by Sikh organisations in Canada, which has a sizeable and politically influential Sikh community numbering around five lakh. Canadian Sikh politician Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party and an MP, had written to Trudeau pointing out the “inappropriate labelling of entire communities as extremists” and “the addition of the ‘Sikh/Khalistani Extremism’ to the list...without sufficient evidence.”
After the report was revised, the Canada-based non-profit World Sikh Organisation issued a statement describing the revision as a “welcome first step” but noted that the terms Shia and Sunni terror had not yet been dropped.
However, the move prompted some criticism by the India government, which has long accused the Canadian government of going soft pro-Khalistan groups in Canada, said Hindustan Times. The Canadian government had been under pressure not to displease the Sikh community in election year, the report said.
Canada will hold federal elections in October. Indian officials purportedly told the publication that Canada’s leadership is “treading a fine line” as it seeks to maintain its ties with India but some sections continue to woo pro-Khalistani people.
‘Trudeau succumbed to political pressure’: Amarinder Singh
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh protested the Canadian government’s decision to remove all references to Sikh extremism. He said the move was a threat to global security.
Singh said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “succumbed to domestic political pressure”. The chief minister dubbed the “erasure of the various references to Khalistan and Khalistani organisations” from the report “as an unpardonable act in the eyes of the peace-loving global community”.
He added: “It is obvious that Trudeau had played safe in view of the upcoming elections in Canada, giving in to pressure within his country. In the process, he has quite blatantly ignored the adverse impact this could have not only on Canada’s relations with India but also on geopolitical stability.”