Canada, Politics, Security

Khalistan’s Deadly Shadow

The New York City police officers looked bored, unable to understand a word, as they eyed the angry crowd at Madison Square Garden. A sawmill worker from the Canadian province of British Columbia took the stage with a retinue of robed warriors toting curved swords. He wore an ornate turban and sliced the air with his hand as he promised a massacre of Hindus.

“They say that Hindus are our brothers!” he declared in Punjabi. “But I give you my most solemn assurance that, until we kill 50,000 Hindus, we will not rest!”

In response, the crowd erupted in slogans: “Hindu dogs! Death to them! Indira bitch! Death to her! Blood for blood!”

“Indira” referred to Indira Gandhi, then prime minister of India. She lived for only three months after this scene unfolded.

It was July 28, 1984—the founding convention of the World Sikh Organization (WSO), created to carve an independent Sikh state out of India. The millworker, Ajaib Singh Bagri, was number-two in the Babbar Khalsa International, a terrorist group engaged in an armed struggle to win that state, to be called Khalistan, or Land of the Pure.

Bagri’s leader, Talwinder Singh Parmar—also a resident of British Columbia—was wanted for murder in India, and was therefore barred from the United States. So in New York, Bagri spoke on Parmar’s behalf.

Canada, though, did not bar either man. Both had been granted Canadian citizenship. Moreover, in 1982, the government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau had refused to extradite Parmar to India. So he was spared the need to stand trial for the killing of two Indian policemen, and was free to collect donations from Sikh gurdwaras, or temples, across Canada. There, he preached that 50,000 Hindus must die—the pledge that Bagri repeated in New York—and that “Indian planes will fall from the sky.”

Less than a year later, he kept his word. Air India Flight 182, from Toronto to New Delhi via London, was destroyed by a bomb while in Irish airspace. All 329 passengers and crew were killed. A Canadian commission of Inquiry concluded that the leader of the criminal conspiracy was none other than Talwinder Singh Parmar.

*   *   *

The Sikh faith, created in what is now northern India by the 15th-century Guru Nanak, remains obscure to many in the West. Turbaned Sikh men are sometimes confused with Muslims, and some have been assaulted by confused thugs following Islamist terrorist attacks. Like the United States, Britain and other Western countries, Canada has been home to emigrant Sikhs for generations—the vast majority of them living peaceably in their adopted homeland.

In the 1980s, however, a powerful spasm of separatist militancy shook India and spread to the Sikh diaspora. In June, 1984, two months before the Madison Square Garden convention, Prime Minister Gandhi and her government set out to end a killing spree by Sikh militants who had turned the Sikhs’ holiest site—the Golden Temple at Amritsar—into an armed camp. The Indian army wrecked the temple complex and took many lives. Revenge came on October 31, 1984, when Gandhi was gunned down in her garden by two of her Sikh bodyguards. Hindu mobs immediately took revenge for the revenge, slaughtering thousands of Sikhs in hellish reprisals that were aggravated by official complicity. The police looked the other way. The horrors of 1984 won’t be forgotten by either side.

Soon, Canada and its Sikh community were dragged into the thick of the struggle. In June of 1985, Parmar’s Babbar Khalsa placed suitcase bombs on two planes leaving Vancouver. One brought down Flight 182, a massacre that remained, until 9/11, the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of aviation. The second bomb, intended to destroy another Air India plane simultaneously, exploded on the ground at Narita Airport in Japan, killing two baggage handlers. The reverberations from the attack were so profound in Canada that even today, 33 years later, a striking emblem of the Khalistani dream survives: a large “martyr” poster honouring Talwinder Parmar, sword in hand, permanently fixed to the exterior of an important Sikh gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia. Tens of thousands gather beneath it each spring for an annual Sikh parade. In American terms, the poster is equivalent to a public veneration of Osama Bin Laden.

A poster of Talwinder Parmar fixed to the exterior of the Dasmesh Darbar temple in Surrey, British Columbia. Parmar was named by two Canadian judges as the leader of the 1985 Air India bombing, in which two bombs took 331 lives. (CBC)

*   *   *

Air India Flight 182, a Boeing 747 named for the second-century Indian emperor Kanishka, had just checked in with Shannon airport on the west coast of Ireland when the dynamite-based bomb exploded. On a terrifying tape from air traffic control, a strangled cry is heard as a blast of wind seems to hit the pilot’s microphone. Then, silence. The Shannon controller tries to keep calm as he hails Air India again and again.

“Air India 182, Shannon … Air India 182, Shannon.”

It’s no good. The controller hails nearby flights, asking them to look around. In disbelief, an American pilot asks, “Do you have him on radar?”

“Negative.”

A rescue helicopter retrieves a body after the bombing of Air India Flight 182, off the southwestern coast of Ireland, June 23rd, 1985. (Tom Smyth/BC Supreme Court)

Nobody sees anything until hours later, when Irish sailors are sent out to gather bodies floating in a sheen of jet fuel. (Some of the sailors still lose sleep over it.) One of the first bodies found was that of an elderly Sikh with a long beard. A ghastly and mercifully blurred piece of video, taken inside a rescue helicopter, shows the corpse of a small child being winched up from a grey sea.

 

But only 131 bodies were recovered. The Kanishka’s passengers and crew had been obliterated at 31,000 feet as Capt. Narendra Singh Hanse—a Sikh and a former pilot for Prime Minister Gandhi—prepared to descend over the Irish coast towards Heathrow. Most of the dead were Canadian citizens of Indian descent, travelling to visit relatives. They included not only Hindus, but also Muslims, Christians, dozens of Sikhs and 86 children.

Today, the parents who lost their children are old, the orphaned children have their own children and the Sikh struggle for independence is moribund in India. Last year, in fact, Sikh voters overwhelmingly supported a united India and were key to the election of the Congress Party—the party of Indira Gandhi—to govern the Sikh homeland of Punjab. Support for Congress was especially strong in majority-Sikh districts. And Punjab’s Chief Minister is a strongly pro-unity Sikh, Amarinder Singh, who has alleged separatist influence in the Canadian government.

Harjit Sajjan, a Sikh who is Canada’s Minister of National Defence,  firmly denied the claim. And on Justin Trudeau’s visit to India this year, Singh agreed to a photo-op including Sajjan. But the Chief Minister let it be known that he’d handed over a list of Canadians he suspects of fundraising for Punjab’s few remaining separatist Sikh militants.

The listed suspects amount to a tiny subculture among Canada’s 450,000 Sikhs, the vast bulk of whom seek no return to the bloody 1980s and 1990s, when the battle for Khalistan took some 20,000 lives in India, most of them Sikh. But the hardliners are a well-organized political force, still raising the cry of “Khalistan Zindabad!”—long live Khalistan—in some Canadian gurdwaras where “martyred” Sikh assassins are memorialized as models for the young. These include the two bodyguards who machine-gunned Indira Gandhi. Khalistani fervour is alive on social media and a 2018 tweet from “George” (@PCPO_Brampton) declared: “Indira’s assassins are HEROES. Sikhs should glorify them.”

The endurance of such attitudes in Canada reflects the weak record of its justice system in deterring violence. For years, it seemed, Canadian courts were where terrorism cases went to die.

“Honour the martyrs who killed the sinner” – the caption on Toronto weekly Sanjh Savera’s 2002 cover celebrating the anniversary of prime minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31st, 1984, by her Sikh bodyguards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh.

For the most part, it’s a record of inaction. In 1985, Ujjal Dosanjh, a Canadian Sikh moderate who publicly condemned prime minister Gandhi’s murder, was severely beaten in Vancouver by a Khalistani thug with an iron bar. No one was convicted. The same year, Balraj Deol, another vocal moderate, was beaten by a group of Sikh militants in Ontario. Again, no-one was convicted.

In 1986, Parmar and several others were charged in Canada with a plot to blow up the Indian parliament. The case failed on a technicality and Parmar walked free. Also in 1986, four separatists shot a visiting Punjab cabinet minister on Vancouver Island. The gunman, Jaspal Atwal, was sentenced to 20 years, but was released after four years and became a Liberal party activist. In 1988 and again in 1998, a British Columbia publisher, Tara Singh Hayer, was shot, the second time fatally, after publicly implicating Parmar and Bagri in the Air India bombing. No one has been charged with Hayer’s murder. Meanwhile, Talwinder Parmar fled Canada for Pakistan and was killed by police in Punjab in 1992, without facing trial for the destruction of Flight 182.

In 2005, a four-year Canadian trial of Sikhs accused of participating in Parmar’s plot ended with acquittals for two members of the Babbar Khalsa—Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Singh Malik. Witnesses against both Malik and Bagri reported receiving death threats, for which no one was ever arrested. A third accused, Inderjit Singh Reyat, previously convicted for making the Narita airport bomb, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in return for a five-year sentence for the Kanishka bomb. He confessed that he built both bombs for Parmar, a fact confirmed by surveillance; Canadian intelligence officers had tailed both men to a test bombing, three weeks before the real thing. But Reyat refused to name any other members of the conspiracy. His claims of ignorance led to a third conviction, for perjury. He is now free and living in British Columbia.

Talwinder Singh Parmar, left, with Ajaib Singh Bagri, photographed by Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers at Parmar’s home in Burnaby, BC, July 1985, (CSIS/BC Supreme Court)

All of this may explain the nonchalant attitude shown by Sikhs who openly revere Talwinder Parmar—despite the fact that the judge, the defence and the prosecution at the Air India trial all agreed that Parmar (long dead by then) led the plot. So did retired Supreme Court Justice John Major, who conducted a judicial inquiry and reported in 2010 that it was a “fact” that Parmar commissioned both bombs.

Young men wearing logos of the International Sikh Youth Federation, banned as a terrorist group, at the 2007 Vaisakhi parade in Surrey, BC. (CBC)

The Canadian nonchalance regarding Sikh extremism extended to the political class, too. A startling example came In 2007, when politicians flocked to court the crowd on Vaisakhi—the birthday of the Sikh religion—at the annual parade run by the Dasmesh Darbar gurdwara in Surrey, BC. During that year, the temple committee added Talwinder Parmar to the lineup of killers whose portraits, garlanded with tinsel, adorned the parade floats.

At the time, the oversize image of Parmar had not yet been fixed to the outside wall of the temple. The posters on floats were a test—and none of the politicians uttered a peep. MPs from all major Canadian political parties attended, as did the Liberal premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell—around the same time as his fellow Liberal, Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, visited another temple exhibiting its own picture of Parmar in a heroic pose.

Questioned about his presence at the parade, Premier Campbell at first said there was no problem with what he’d seen—adding that he’d attend again in future years. A day later, though, his spokesman withdrew that statement and said the Premier was “upset” about the posters.

Conservative MP Jim Abbott, attending on behalf of then-prime minister Stephen Harper, flip-flopped in the opposite direction. First, he said he was “flabbergasted” to hear that Parmar had been honoured—but later consulted the party brass and said he would “vigorously defend” the event. Both Liberal and New Democratic Party MPs saw no reason to make a fuss. Sikh voters comprise important constituencies in several swing ridings in B.C. and Ontario, and the major parties didn’t want to risk alienating any part of them.

Two notable Liberals, though, stayed away from the parade. Both condemned the glorification of the Air India bomber; and both were Sikhs who bore the scars of their previous encounters with Parmar’s admirers. One was Dave Hayer, a member of the provincial legislature and the son of the murdered publisher, Tara Hayer, who had accused Parmar and Bagri 20 years earlier. The other no-show was the aforementioned Ujjal Dosanjh, victim of the 1985 beating, who rose to become Premier of B.C. and later a federal Liberal cabinet minister.

One indicator of the limited extent of extremist views within Canada’s Sikh community: these two vocal anti-extremists were elected and re-elected for 20 years in Dosanjh’s case and for 11 years in Hayer’s. Even so, they are routinely dismissed as spokesmen for the Sikh community by more radical Sikhs who have never sought election. Strangely, though, it is often the latter who have the ear of white politicians.

*   *   *

Even today, the hardliners remain a political force in Canadian politics. That became evident late last year, when Jagmeet Singh, a 39-year-old Sikh activist from Ontario, captured the leadership of Canada’s left-leaning New Democratic Party.

Singh got his start in Canadian public life by fighting for Sikh causes. Two of his earliest supporters—his brother, Gurratan, and his leadership campaign spokesman, Amneet Bali—were founders of the Sikh Activist Network, which they called “a previously underground network…of Sikh activists working for social justice while resisting the poisonous exploitative and murderous powers of neo-imperialism.” Their literature pledged to fight the “Oppressive Domination of the Fascist Indian Machinery.”

Jagmeet Singh himself had appeared at Khalistani events in North America, had been denied a visa to visit India, and had campaigned for clemency for a confessed Babbar Khalsa terrorist involved in the 1995 assassination of Punjab’s Chief Minister, Beant Singh (along with 17 bystanders). Singh later took part in a successful drive to have the Ontario legislature declare the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India a “genocide.” Now, as a federal party leader, he hopes to achieve the same in the national parliament.

The day after he won the NDP leadership in 2017, Singh’s long involvement with these issues led me to explore the topic on a CBC television news show that I hosted. In an on-air interview for Power and Politics, I asked Singh whether he thought it appropriate for some Sikhs to put up martyr posters glorifying Talwinder Parmar, despite his status as Canada’s worst mass murderer.

Singh declined five invitations to answer that question. He would not condemn the posters and would only say that he condemned the bombing—but without conceding that Parmar or any Sikh was to blame for it.

“I don’t know who’s responsible,” Singh said, “but I think we need to find out who’s responsible, we need to make sure that the investigation results in a conviction of someone who is actually responsible.”

This answer raised serious concerns—including among some NDP supporters—because what Singh said wasn’t accurate: Canada did secure a conviction—three convictions, in fact—of “someone who is actually responsible” for the Air India bombing. Parmar’s bomb-maker, Inderjit Reyat, was convicted first for the explosion at Narita airport, then for the one aboard Flight 182, and finally for perjury. Reyat also confirmed that Parmar ordered both bombs. Yet five months passed until Jagmeet Singh revised his answer to my question. He now acknowledges Parmar’s guilt and condemns the posters honouring him.

Singh’s comments in his CBC interview also were unsettling for his repetition of extremist tropes. The call to “find out who really did” Flight 182 often comes from Parmar’s admirers, who entertain the conspiracy theory that the Indian government blew up its own plane, using Parmar as its agent to discredit the Khalistani cause. Such theories are promoted by self-appointed voices in the Sikh community, such as the World Sikh Organization, launched at the infamous 1984 Madison Square Garden convention. The WSO complained in 2008 that John Major’s judicial inquiry failed to take the so-called Air India Truthers seriously.

On Twitter, Jagmeet Singh’s defenders denounced my interview with him in a blizzard of angry tweets. Some declared flatly that the Indians were behind the bombing. Others condemned the CBC and me for asking about the Parmar posters “just because Singh is Sikh.” Jaskaran Sandhu, a WSO board member called me “racist” and “bigoted.” It was as though only a bigot would object to the glorification of a mass killer of Indo-Canadians, including many Sikhs.

A second wave of critics claimed that I’d failed to grasp the “cultural” reasons for the veneration of Parmar, arguing that he was a victim of “persecution” whose “confession to the Air India bombing came under torture” by the Indian police. In fact, the official findings of Parmar’s guilt rest on hard evidence acquired while he was in Canada, seven years earlier. Neither the trial nor the inquiry relied upon any rumoured confession.

For his part, Jagmeet Singh seemed to agree that my questions smacked of racism. A week after the interview, asked directly if that was so, he replied, “Should I just say, yes?” He went on: “I think there was definitely some sort of clear problematic line of thought behind that question, so I’m definitely concerned with it … It was offensive to me that that was even a question.”

It was clear, though, that the question Singh found “offensive” was not one he’d been asked: whether he condemned the bombing. “It’s obvious that anyone would denounce something as heinous and as tragic as that incident,” he said. “The fact that that question is being raised makes me wonder why it is being raised.”

In truth, he’d been asked about the martyr posters, not the bombing. Asked if the posters should come down, he ducked that question, too.

“I’m not here to tell what a community should or shouldn’t do.”

As the controversy unfolded, Singh’s supporters continued to paint him as a victim of racism. A Toronto podcaster and self-described media critic, Jesse Brown, declared that my questions to Singh were “irresponsible, and “looked racist.” More inventively, British blogger Sunny Hundal argued that Parmar’s sympathizers didn’t honour Parmar because he was a terrorist, but because he led the Babbar Khalsa (which was, in fact, the terrorist organization which blew up Air India). For his part, the WSO’s President, Mukhbir Singh, contended that Sikhs who display Parmar’s portrait—for the most part grizzled veterans of the separatist struggle—were “naïve, not radical,” because, for some unexplained reason, they “think” that Parmar was innocent.

Anyone familiar with the politics surrounding militancy in, say, the Muslim community, might expect that Singh’s political rivals would have seized upon his remarks; the charge that left-wingers are “soft on terror” is commonplace in many countries. Yet Canada’s ruling Liberals and the opposition Conservatives both steered clear. The NDP have no monopoly on cynical ethnopolitics; and the other parties were no more eager to alienate any part of the Sikh community.

This background is well understood in India, where Justin Trudeau—like his Conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper—was taken to task for Canada’s tolerant attitude towards Khalistani extremism. On Trudeau’s arrival for his trade mission in February, the Chief Minister of Punjab, Amarinder Singh, was quoted as saying, “there seems to be evidence that there are Khalistani sympathizers in Trudeau’s cabinet.” Indeed, he once called Sajjan, Canada’s Defence Minister, a “Khalistani sympathizer.”

Although there’s no evidence that Sajjan has done anything to promote Sikh separatism, he has long been viewed with suspicion by Sikh moderates. In December, 2014, his nomination to stand for the Liberal party provoked an angry on-camera walkout by some 30 of his fellow Sikh Liberals. The scene played out in the district of Vancouver South—once held by the moderate Ujjal Dosanjh.

To outsiders, Sajjan seemed like an attractive candidate—a decorated Afghan war veteran and a former city cop. But the party rebellion included senior figures from the Sikh mainstream who’d been Liberal stalwarts for years. They complained that their preferred candidate, a secular moderate named Barj Dhahan, had been pushed aside by the party brass in favour of Sajjan, a turbaned Sikh whose father is a veteran WSO supporter and whose nomination was backed by Liberal power-broker Prem Singh Vinning, an ex-president of the WSO.

Jagdeep Sanghera, twice chairman of the Liberal executive in Vancouver South, joined the revolt. “The majority of the Sikhs are not part of the WSO. As a group we have decided we will not support the Liberal team,” he said. Kashmir Dhaliwal, former head of the Khalsa Diwan, Canada’s oldest Sikh society, added that “the Liberal Party, especially Justin, is in bed with extremist and fundamental groups. That’s why I decided to leave the Liberal Party.” Another to quit was Majar Sidhu, who lost three family members in the Air India bombing. Referring to the Conservative prime minister of the day, Stephen Harper, Sidhu said, “the Liberal Party is encouraging terrorist people. I’m supporting Harper.”

Still, there was no retreat by Trudeau. Although the Vancouver South rebels were nearly all Sikhs, Trudeau’s top aide, Gerald Butts, scoffed at the affair, telling me that, “I suppose you’re going to do a story about how the Sikhs are taking over the Liberal Party.”

It was a familiar tactic used by Khalistanis and their political allies: cast any criticism of Sikh radicalism as if it were a racist attack on all Sikhs. The remark also suggested that Butts identified “the Sikhs” with the WSO; and that Sikhs who don’t stand with the WSO are not really Sikhs.

*   *   *

Despite such controversies, Trudeau had every reason to expect that the final leg of his trip to India would go well. Heading into a pivotal meeting in New Delhi with prime minister Narendra Modi, Trudeau strongly endorsed a united India. Then, pressed to repudiate the posters back home honouring Talwinder Parmar, the Prime Minister said what NDP leader Jagmeet Singh did not: “I do not think we should ever be glorifying mass-murderers, and I’m happy to condemn that.” So far, so good. But all of that would be forgotten amid the furore that unfolded next.

It began with a buzz on my phone, signaling a new arrival in my inbox. Astonishingly, it was a snapshot from Mumbai, showing Trudeau’s wife, Sophie, in an evening gown, posing with a convicted Khalistani hit-man.

I gaped at the screen. I knew this guy. In fact, I’d interviewed him some years back about a campaign finance scandal. It was the same Jaspal Atwal whom Ujjal Dosanjh had accused of trying to beat his head in with an iron bar; and the same Jaspal Atwal who, as described earlier, had been convicted for the attempted murder of a Punjab cabinet minister on Vancouver Island in 1986.

More pictures came in, showing Atwal with members of Trudeau’s delegation. Another showed a posh-looking invitation to the next day’s dinner for the Trudeaus in New Delhi. The host: Canada’s High Commissioner in New Delhi. The guest: Jaspal Atwal. A convicted terrorist had the inside track on Trudeau’s Indian junket.

The story came together quickly, and the prime minister’s office rushed to contain the damage by rescinding Atwal’s invitation to the New Delhi bash. Then they blamed a Sikh Liberal MP from B.C., Randeep Sarai, for putting Atwal on the guest list. Sarai apologized, stepped down from his post as chair of the Liberals’ Pacific Caucus, and pledged that, “moving forward, I will be exercising better judgment.”

But it was too late to contain the scandal. I was marched from one studio to another to discuss the story again and again. I also interviewed Dosanjh, the former Liberal cabinet minister and well-known Sikh moderate, who observed acidly that the prime minister had long been “cavorting with Khalistanis.”

The Indian media pounced, too. The Sophie-and-the-hitman photo went viral. According to one estimate, the story in its various forms got 300-million hits in India.

As bad as this was for Trudeau, his team nevertheless found a way to make it still worse—by trotting out a dubious theory that unnamed “rogue elements” within the Indian government had somehow conspired to manufacture the Atwal affair in order to sabotage the trip.

This Indian Plot theory did not sell well—certainly not with the Modi government, which called it “baseless and unacceptable.” The theory raised eyebrows in Canada, too, for it seemed to suggest that Canada’s High Commissioner to India was an Indian agent. It also contradicted the earlier claims of Trudeau’s staff that the whole episode had been the fault of their own MP, Randeep Sarai.

And then things got even worse. It soon emerged that Atwal had been a fixture at Liberal events and fundraisers, both federal and provincial, for years. This would-be murderer had even served on the Liberal executive for a federal electoral district and had set off an earlier furor by getting himself invited to the British Columbia legislature.

Eager to paint the Liberal government as soft on terror, the opposition Conservatives promised to force a Parliamentary vote on a motion to condemn “terrorism, including Khalistani extremism and the glorification of any individual who has committed acts of violence.” But that plan sputtered when the WSO and its allies bombarded the Conservatives with angry messages swearing never to vote Conservative if the motion were not abandoned. “This sort of political rhetoric will damage the reputation of Canadian Sikhs in the public eye and hurt the community immensely, particularly our youth,” the WSO tweeted. The next day, the Conservatives caved. The motion was abandoned.

Soon, though, the spotlight turned back to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. In early 2018, videos emerged of the NDP leader attending Sikh separatist events in California and London. The videos were several years old but raised new questions that Singh had difficulty answering. Pressed on whether he endorsed armed struggle in the cause of Khalistan, he replied, “Well, I think you’re actually on the complexity of the situation…Given that it’s complex, it requires that thoughtfulness to proceed forward.”

*   *   *

None of this changed the fact that Khalistani militants remain a small minority of Canadian Sikhs, whose political influence frustrates moderate Sikhs in both Canada and India. Meanwhile, Khalistanis still hope for a referendum on independence in 2020—although their chances are slim: Sikhs in Punjab keep voting in large majorities for a united India.

But the separatists’ political impact in Canada is keenly felt by relatives of the Flight 182 victims. Perviz Madon described the problem when she testified at the Air India inquiry in 2006. Her husband, Sam, had gone down with Flight 182, leaving her with two young children to raise alone. She urged Justice Major to look squarely at the Khalistani parades, the so-called martyrs, and the pandering politicians who turn a blind eye.

“We need to stop our politicians from attending those kind of events,” she said. “I’m sorry, I know it’s about your votes. But that’s dirty business. You don’t want to be associated with a group that is linked to terrorism. You don’t want those kinds of votes.”

So far, though, they do. Three decades after Talwinder Parmar slaughtered 329 innocents on Flight 182, Canada’s politicians still remain wary of standing up to those who call the man a hero.

 

Terry Milewski, a CBC journalist, was the network’s senior correspondent until his retirement in 2016.

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53 Comments

  1. Sid says

    This story brings back so many of the ones I grew up hearing. The Khalistani groups were thought to be a thing of the past, an attempt by a splinter faction in an exceptionally patriotic community, to cause havoc. Then we started reading about the Canadian side of it. The fact that these vile men still garner respect there is fairly sickening. Aaround a fifth of my extended family is in Punjab, and the general attitude towards the Canadian inability to deal with Khalistani insurgents/provocateurs ranges from bemusement to disgust.

    • JackbeThimble says

      ‘From bemusement to disgust’ is a pretty good description of our attitude towards this issue in Canada as well. At least among the minority of us who even know about it.

    • I would recommend reading the rebuttal by renowned journalist Sunny Hundal on Twitter, whom Terry falsely claims is a blogger.

      • Terry Milewski says

        Sunny’s a former Guardian Blogger of the Year. Also, he rebuts nothing.

        Sunny disputes, or pretends to dispute, the lack of support for independence in Punjab – by noting that there’s no real separatist party in Punjab. Which confirms my point. He also points out that Sikhs were the main victims of violence in the 80s. Again, confirming my point. Plus, he says there’s “no evidence” the WSO promoted the Air India conspiracy theory that the Indians blew up their own plane. I correctly cited the WSO formally urging the judicial inquiry in 2008 to take that crazy theory seriously. Sunny could have looked that up, but chose instead to declare that there’s no evidence and hope someone would fall for it. And so on.

        Sunny Hundal, btw, distinguished himself on Twitter by “explaining” the Parmar martyr posters, saying they’re not celebrating Parmar’s role in blowing up Air India – heavens, no – but merely his role in the Babbar Khalsa – the terrorist group which blew up Air India. Some “rebuttal.”

        • Jagjit Singh says

          Oh very well, Terry! the Indian regime’s direct role in bombing the plane is not as crazy and ridiculous when it is also well substantiated by RCMP, CSIS and other journalists. Remember, the John Major inquiry was a flawed process, according to the CSIS agents. How come you never mentioned it? What kind of credibility you have as a journalist?

  2. Charles White says

    Milewski is a competent reporter who heartens back to the days when the CBC used to be good. This article provided me with much background about the complexity of Sikh Canadian politics I was unaware of. Example, I often wondered why Dosanjh was not a supporter of Sajjan or Jagmeet Singh considering Dosanjh was a left wing Sikh.

    It is ironic but sad this comprehensive background article was published by an Australian on-line site rather than Canadian MSM, like the CBC, which speaks to the current status of the MSM in Canada.

    • Sachit says

      The CBC has deteriorated significantly over the last few years. It should be renamed the Social Justice Channel

    • Terry Milewski says

      Charles, it’s hardly “ironic” that this latest article summarizes much that has previously appeared on the CBC, which has published, and continues to publish, an enormous volume of material on this topic. That includes half a dozen full-length documentaries over the past thirty years. The CBC covered four years of trial and four years of judicial inquiry from gavel to gavel. Only Kim Bolan of the Vancouver Sun did the same. More recently, the Jaspal Atwal story broke on the CBC. The Jagmeet Singh interview was on the CBC. Other, more comprehensive examples: https://youtu.be/XfEmXjh680k and online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/sikh-politics-in-canada-symbols-and-suits-2007-1.2859498 or http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/you-won-t-want-to-read-this-1.915985

      • Terry Milewski- It is sad to notice that a well known journalist like you would stoop to your anti Sikhi agenda level the way you did with your interview with Jagmeet Singh. You had no interest in his future plans as a new leader of NDP. You only had one interest, which was to malign Sikhs which is a shame coming from a w journalist like you.
        Terry, you disappointed me. I expected a bit of journalistic aptitude when you interviewed Jagmeet Singh rather than your agenda driven questions against the Sikhs which had nothing to do with the betterment of the Canadians.
        I have no idea why this envy and jealousy on your part for a religion that has been fighting for equality and justice for all for the past 550 years.

        As far as Kim Bolan is concerned, she is one of the worst journalists I know. She already had one of the jailed as convicted for Air India disaster and had a 16 page lay out of her newspaper ready to flood the streets long before the verdict. When the verdict of acquittal was announced, I could see her disappointment about the Canadian justice being served. Her face had gooten ashen because her disdain towards the Sikhs did not give the expected results.
        When both were aquitted, I heard Kim Bolan desperately talking to her newspaper about her preplanned conviction before the acquittal.
        Terry, did she get help from the prosecution for this? You know more about this than anyone else.

        Next time, when you want to know about Sikhi without your bigoted lens, please let me know.

        • You wish to talk about the betterment of Canadians?!?! Tell me, how does allowing a large mass of extremely poorly integrated migrants (I have lived in Brampton for 26 years and speak from experience) to infiltrate our political institutions to promote foreign causes of no interest or benefit to the Canadian people whatsoever lead to our betterment? You argue that Sikhs have fought for equality. Funny because in my hometown Sikhs have in fact fought to be above the law. They fought to carry kirpans in public when real Canadians must leave their knives at home. They’ve fought to be exempt from motorcycle laws which real Canadians must abide by. How does arguing for special privilege line up with this nonsense you spout about equality! I’ve seen the Sikh and Indian flags flying from Brampton city hall and I’ve seen your people slap that disgusting symbol of terrorism on everything you can. The Sikh community show no desire to integrate and we should bare that in mind when setting the limits of our immigration policy. Canada should be for Canadians!

      • Evan says

        Terry’s points aside, I think a primary source in a perceived decline in quality from the CBC is due to funding cuts under the Harper administration that induced the CBC to become uncritical in their journalism in a manner fitting the Harper administration’s liking, which has now rolled over into not shining as much of a critical light on the things the CBC thinks the Liberals care about. I don’t know how increased funding from the Liberals will change this. I know the CBC gets funding for original dramedy programming or whatever, but ultimately if the CBC could platform journalistic pieces like this, Terry wouldn’t need to publish them on Quillette.

        • Chris says

          yeah those cuts were wrong – he should have cut them completely

          or at least to the point where they can only maintain an emergency radio station. seriously, look up what the CBC’s original purpose was and why this mandate does no longer exist as such and how far the CBC strayed from it.

          to your point on current funding by one specific party. you are correct, one party (the one that raises taxes typically) versus the other (which advocates often for saving a dime) has historically been kinder to the CBC.
          Well, isn’t it fairly obvious that one doesn’t bite the hand that feeds them?

          the CBC uses taxes to give one side (and it’s always been the same for above reason) the upper hand (simply by choosing what to report on and what not and how often to re-run it). Now add that the CBC also compets with small radio stations and other media outlets – which never has been their mandate.
          perhaps the CBC is not the propaganda machine the right wants one to believe, but they are bias and competing unfairly

          which is the reason why I read here and other places instead of the CBC

      • Jagjit Singh says

        An unbalanced narrative. Here is what CSIS Intelligence Agent Lavigne had to say regarding the John Major investigation that Milewski deliberately ignored: “To those who would say that the possibility of Indian government officials being involved in Air India is ridiculous, I would say simply that the Service (CSIS) did possess evidence of that very thing. At the time, in 1984-85, External Affairs were very keen on encouraging commerce between Canada and India, so nothing could interfere with those efforts. However, because the Major Commission was prohibited from investigating possible Indian involvement, there is no mention of this in the final report.”

        • You’re delusional, there is no balance to be had here. We know who committed the bombing and if you’re going to argue in favor of defending the reputation of the worse terrorist in Canadian history then I can only hope you’re not in my country. Your comments should be viewed in the same way as a defense of Osama BinLaden.

    • Judy Whitehead says

      I don’t find it surprising the Dosanjh wouldn’t support a movement that called for the establishment of a theocratic state by violent means. What I do find surprising is the numerous gullible and naive Canadians who think that exotic identity movements are progressive by definition, with no knowledge of their histories, ideologies, and political goals. I don’t see this as hugely different than previous blanket Canadian prejudice, since both the latter and the former are similar in their levels of ‘willed ignorance’. Plase continue reading on this issue, so that you become better informed.

  3. Sachit Shah says

    Very good summary of the problems facing Canada in their tolerance for terrorists

  4. Laura Thuijls says

    The extremists tend to be the loudest and as they use violent tactics and charges of racism to silence the moderates, there are few voices left to be heard but their own. Thus, they get to present their values and desires as representative of their community. They are not. This is a common problem with many minority groups in the West. Great article highlighting this issue within the Canadian-Sikh-Khalistani context.

    • Jagjit Singh says

      Milewski’s narrative is racist as he misrepresents facts- a one sided propaganda. Why does Milewski ignore Soft Target written by Globe and Mail journalists who were threatened by Indian consulate officers? Why would CSIS agents testify on India’s role in bombing of Air India. These are the facts and Milewski seeks to silence those those who ask for truth by painting them extremists.

      • Terry Milewski says

        Nothing makes the far-out wing of the Khalistan movement seem more crazy than the deranged theory that the Indians blew up their own plane.

        First: why would the Indians do that? We are always told that it was to discredit the cause of Khalistan. But why did the Indians need a few hundred extra Canadian deaths, on top of thousands of other deaths in India, to discredit the Khalistan cause? Were the bombings, shootings and hijackings in India not enough? Would 300 among 21,000 dead make a difference? And the Hindu mobs who’d already slaughtered Sikhs by the thousand after Mrs Gandhi’s assassination – were they lacking in motivation? Were they not vicious enough?

        Here’s another absurdity. If the Indians blew up Air India, after a crescendo of threats while Parmar preached that “Indian planes will fall from the sky,” why did the Indian government desperately plead for extra security on their flights from Canada? Why were they trying so hard to stop their own bomb?

        As if that isn’t ridiculous enough, consider also that “Soft Target” proposes that Talwinder Parmar was an Indian agent – working for the Indians to discredit the Khalistani cause as described above. If so, why did the Indians expose Parmar by demanding his extradition for murder and by convincing the Canadians he was the most dangerous terrorist in Canada? Not exactly a skilled undercover operation, is it? Seriously: you’re trying to have your agent plant a bomb, so you tell the police to arrest him?

        Even that does not encompass the total incoherence of Parmar’s fans. They tell us he’s a saintly hero of the Sikh nation who fought the hated Indian government, and they simultaneously tell us to believe “Soft Target,” which says he was an agent of the same terrible Indian government. You have to wonder whether folks who peddle this nonsense are even trying to make sense.

        • Jagjit Singh says

          Terry,

          Your unwillingness to report the facts on this heinous crime accurately, is unjournalistic. Do you want us to think that CSIS is so incompetent that they will make crap up on such a serious issue? Not just the CSIS, even the RCMP stated the same. Gary Bass cited “serious concerns regarding possible Indian Government involvement, which at trial may permit the defence to explore very deeply into what the RCMP know on this issue”. Why wont you raise these naive questions to authorities? I am sorry that you can’t swallow how double agents and agent provocateurs have been used in history. Lastly, why would Parmar be allowed to travel to India by the Indian regime and killed without charges, if he was the most dangerous terrorist?

  5. Yog Raj says

    The silver lining is that Jagmeet Singh is taking NDP down with him while the party which furtively supports or rather supported by Khalistanis in Punjab, India is also floundering.

    This continues the destruction which Khalistani terrorists have wreaked in India. They destroyed the economy of Punjab which used to be the state with the highest per capita income in India. And the state has never recovered.

    • All too true. IN the 1970s and 1980s, PUnjab, as home of the Green Revolution, was the richest state in the country. I can only speak for myself, but as a lifelong NDP supporter, I can never support a part that supports a movement for a theocratic state. I won’t be voting NDP, and I can’t vote Liberal either for the same reason.

    • Sanghera says

      Does the economy of Punjab in decline have anything to do with the waters of the fiver rivers being divererted by India, south and away from Punjab?? With Punjab being described as a desert soon, who is REALLY killing the economy of PUNJAB??

  6. Shweta says

    There is atleast one factual inaccuracy here.In response to Indira Gandhi’s assassination Congress orchestrated the massacre of Sikhs not Hindus.

    • Singh says

      if People from Quebec can talk/share their views for separate country, then why not Sikhs can talk about Khalistan. The corrupt Indian Govts, Never given justice of genocide.

      • Singh says

        In India, there are “Maoist Terrorrist” (Hindus) kills 100s of Policemen, But the cunning Govt. of India never calls them terrorist but if any Muslim or Sikh say anything against Indian govt. then they blame as Sikh/khalistan terrorist. Some can explain me why “Maoist” not being called as terrorist? Its unfortunate that western Media follow them as maoist. too.

  7. Jagjit Singh says

    The article doesn’t address the CSIS evidence and testimony against India’s role in bombing of AI given at the Major Commission and how India pays off journalists in the Canadian media. A phenomenal book by Canadian journalists, the Soft Target also cover these facts. I guess the writer forgot to call the CSIS a Sikh extremist organization?

  8. Singh says

    Terry melewski views got stuck back 30 years back, he cant see the human rights issues in india.He cant see the radical hindu govt rulings in India presently. Terry seems like a agent of Indian govt.

  9. Thank You Terry. As an Indian I am happy that Canadians too are with India in denouncing terrorism. As you point out majority of Sikh community in India and around the world are first class citizens and denounce any form of terrorism. These Khalistan’s are acopalyptic nutjobs wanting to create a theocratic state that nobody wants.
    Very nice article.

  10. Michiel says

    I think people are ok with talking and sharing views in general. Not so much with bombing planes or hitting people with iron bars, or celebrating those individuals who participated in such acts.

  11. Prakash Shah says

    Good piece but reference to “Hindu mobs immediately took revenge” is incorrect because it paints the tragic incidents as a communal killing frenzy. This seems wrong because it is well know that ruling congress party officials directed the killings. Giving the perpetrators a religious character needs reexamination.

  12. Vikram Chopra says

    As a punjabi and Indian I really appreciate your research and non-partisan coverage. What is even more laudable is how you stand up against the vilification against you by fellow hack journalists such as Sunny Hundal and fake human rights activists of WSO fame. They can bully the conservatives from passing a motion against extremism but not you. You are the first journalist to expose WSO’s links with extremism in your documentary- Samosa Politics and continue to do so now.
    Well done sir.

  13. Realtor says

    It seems some people have nothing better to do so they keep stirring the pot for no reason. If somebody wants to do something positive for the society, there are enough things to do but no…… some people of an agenda and keep pushing their own version by ignoring the whole scenario/truth.

  14. Zachary Reichert says

    Sorry kids. If you can’t condemn a mass-murderer because you share a skin color or religion or political affiliation with them, you are prioritizing the wrong shit.

    Thank goodness most people are more reasonable than that.

    • Jagjit Singh says

      Parmar was condemned by WSO long time ago. He never received any prominent support from Sikhs. Milewski is baselessly linking him with mainstream Sikhs in politics.

  15. Shannon says

    more articles from this man – on topics of his interest.

  16. Readers need to question, why 30+ years later and out of the blue Terry is writing on this subject? My belief is that he well paid by right wing modi government because of the rise of young Sikhs in Canadian politics.

    • Chris says

      I cannot understand why in today’s age, a head state (or in this case government) of a leading western country (arguably the only one where multiculturalism is somewhat successfully established in all urban areas) would take every opportunity to instigate race, religion, gender, ecofanaticism and what-not based division (and consequently hatred) to gain a few cheap votes.
      Perhaps Terry also just wondered why that India trip was organized the way it was, and tried to fill readers in with some background from the past. Not that I care too much about those historic details personally, but it certainly helped me to put a few things into context and rethink the topic.
      And the underlying question why Canada is welcoming terrorists (of all kinds) in past and even more so currently is a very valid one.
      What is evident is that in Canada (some might argue in some Scandinavian countries even more so) a dollar goes the farthest when it comes to funding a very tiny, but vocal, radical minorities (compared to say the USA or Germany, which are more populous).
      So why is it, that societies that are tolerant, functioning and overall pleasant feel obligated to provide all sorts of radicals a platform?

    • You can’t argue the facts of the article so you attempt to sow seeds to doubt as to the author’s motive. Everyone sees your transparent and self serving bullshit for what it is.

  17. Jagjit Singh says

    Milewski, a White conservative anti-Sikh writer reveals his tacit racism, beyond even Hindu Fascists, by linking Jagmeet to Parmar’s actions when Jagmeet was an infant, in asking Jagmeet to condemn actions of Parmar whom Jagmeet had to relation to begin with.

    • Terry Milewski says

      Absurd in so many ways, Jagjit. Let’s just mention three.

      First, how is being anti-violence “anti-Sikh?” Over 21,000 died in the struggle for Khalistan, mostly Sikhs – including dozens on Air India Flight 182. Being anti-violence is obviously pro-Sikh, since it’s Sikhs who have suffered most from the violence. Don’t brown lives matter?

      Second, I did not ask Jagmeet Singh to “condemn actions of Parmar.” I asked him whether it’s appropriate for some Canadian Sikhs to glorify Parmar with martyr posters, considering that Parmar is the worst mass murderer in Canadian history. Singh could have just said, no, it isn’t appropriate – which is what he did say five months later. How does that “link” him to Parmar’s crime? It doesn’t. This is about the answer, not the question.

      Third, what on earth does race have to do with this? Sikhs are not a race. The bombers and the victims were all the same race. If you’re on the side of the victims, how is that racist? Besides that, are all the millions of Sikhs who voted for a united India, and the Sikh families of the Air India victims, and the Sikh politicians who’ve always opposed separatism – including a Sikh prime minister of India – are they all guilty of what you call “tacit racism?” Against their own race?

      • Jagjit Singh says

        Terry,

        Let’s look at disingenuous logic used in your reporting and reply:

        First, you have labelled inalienable political right of Sikhs to separate from a state that has systematically orchestrated their genocide, as extremism. This shows that your attempt to brutalize those Sikhs by calling them extremist because they want to achieve political independence. Secondly, where did you read that millions of Sikhs voted for united India? The last I checked, the Indian constitution annulled the referendum process and was imposed un-democratically on Sikhs, declaring all Sikhs as subjects of Hindu law under Article 25. When did Sikhs accept it? Please share.

        Using this logic, you are implicitly linking Jagmeet and Sajjan to extremism and radicalism when you don’t have any evidence to say so. Is this not bigotry?

        Your questioning Jagmeet over Parmar was preposterous because Parmar has been condemned by many, including the WSO in the 1980s yet you keep pandering this to Jagmeet when you should ask the Temple management this question. Rightly, Jagmeet has condemned Parmar including the posters of him however, you have really refused to report the facts on AI tragedy.

        My problem with your reporting is that you have deliberately refused to bring forward the evidence laid out by many CSIS agents, including Agent Francois Lavigne at the inquiry commission, clearly alleging the involvement of Indian government of bombing the plane through promoting violent Khalistan terrorists like Parmar. Agent Lavigne has gone far to say that the inquiry is flawed as it didn’t consider the evidence of India’s role in AI bombing. Why?

        I am quoting Lavigne:
        “To those who would say that the possibility of Indian government officials being involved in Air India is ridiculous, I would say simply that the Service (CSIS) did possess evidence of that very thing. At the time, in 1984-85, External Affairs were very keen on encouraging commerce between Canada and India, so nothing could interfere with those efforts. However, because the Major Commission was prohibited from investigating possible Indian involvement, there is no mention of this in the final report.”

        In fact, the RCMP memo by Bass clearly says that this matter wasn’t investigated when it should have been. There are serious questions, including why Parmar being a prime suspect in bombing of the AI was given visa to India yet Jagmeet who openly condemns genocidal regime -which to you probably think is extremism- is denied a visa.

        Would an investigative journalist not investigate these facts?

  18. Balvinder says

    Can’t believe the followers of the Sikj gurus actually supporting mass killers

  19. Inder Kooner says

    This is a great article. As a moderate Sikh, I greatly appreciate your efforts and hope to see more of this in the future. Moderate Sikhs need to stop staying silent on this issue. It’s sad that reporters from other ethnicities have to stand alone speaking on such issues. Maybe if more moderate Sikhs spoke up, people wouldn’t be able to make accusations of racism against him.

    • Perhaps another suggestion for moderate Sikhs would be to stop putting your symbol on every damn thing you can! Living in Brampton I see this symbols dozens of times every day. On damn near every car, truck, business and on occasional even flying at Brampton City Hall! If Canadians had moved to the Punjab by the hundreds of thousands and were stamping the maple leaf on every thing in sight would it not be rebuked as neo-colonialism or an imposition of foreign culture!?!

  20. Simerjit Singh says

    Jagjit Singh (and his ilk) is clearly rattled by this article. He doesnt want the people to look at the real picture of khalistanis, the ones he has supported all his life. He has a mental block which prevents him from seeing the true picture. So much so that he calls Terry racist & bigot, all the while supporting the likes Bhindrawale, Parmar & Bagri and those calling for killing 50000 hindus. Wonder if he understands what what those words mean. I dont understand why an attack on Parmar & Bagri is an attack on Sikhism but an attack on Beant Singh not.
    Sikhs praying to photos of Bhindrawale, Parmar, Bagri are same as muslims idolising OBL.
    As a sikh living in India I am tired of these runaways trying to meddle in our affairs, while they enjoying a better lifestyle & opportunities for their children.
    Its time India govt took the Canadian govt to task and I say this while feeling sorry for all my liberal minded Indian hindu, sikh & muslim brothers.

    • Jagjit Singh says

      “Simerjit Singh”

      Thanks for proving the point that you have nothing else other than distortion of the facts and brutalization to base your argument upon. It certainly makes sense why Hindu fascists like you, masquerading as Sikhs, are Terry’s big followers. However, this doesn’t give any credibility to your argument or to that of Terry’s who is simply making a mockery of himself by ignoring the facts on India’s role in bombing of Air India. CSIS and RCMP have testified on exactly this and collected evidence over the years. Globe and Mail journalist have also documented it yet all we hear is crickets, proving that Terry is basically a racist and fake news propagandist. .

  21. Mina says

    I’m a Hindu in Canada and several times insulted by my own people . I simply enjoy working with my boss and friends who are sikhs… love them

  22. Gaganjeet Singh says

    Terry, do not be dettered by these extremist. They will throw the dust of racism and bigotry to keep you away from discussing these topics, they will make the noise to drown out your signal. As an Indo-Canadian Sikh i’m appalled by the spinelss liberals and conservatives hobnobbing with Khalistani extremist. Almost all Sikhs in India and most in Canada do not support these extremist and everytime liberals mingle with these extremist as a way of reaching to the Sikh community they are indicating that most Sikhs are extremists, which we are not. And as for the Sunny Hundal, he’s just an anti-hindu, you’ll find him insinuating his anti-hindu views on every topic related to India.

    • Jagjit Singh says

      “Gagandeep Singh” That’s quite a blanket statement, unsupported, of course – yet humorously moronic and stupid. Do you have mental deficit like Milewski? Milewski is a right winger White conservative, who simply sells fake journalism against mainstream Sikhs without addressing the facts. Can you or Milewski answer the facts on Air India?

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