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Sikh politics in Canada: World Sikh Organization (2007)

The World Sikh Organization advocates an independent Sikh state, but does not advocate violence. At the same time, its supporters have often praised and defended those who use violence in the separatist cause. (This report originally appeared on CBCnews.ca on June 28, 2007.)

Part 2 of a special report

(Note: This report originally appeared on CBCnews.ca on June 28, 2007.)

The World Sikh Organization advocates an independent Sikh state, but does not advocate violence.

At the same time, its supporters have often praised and defended those who use violence in the separatist cause.

Sanjh Savera, a Punjabi weekly in Ontario, published front pages praising Sikh assassins who murdered former Indian army chief of staff Gen. Arun Sridhar Vaidya, top, and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India. The pages ran Oct. 10, 2003 and Oct. 31, 2002 respectively. (CBC)

In B.C., World Sikh Organization leader Daljit Singh Sandhu praised Air India bomb-maker Inderjit Reyat as a friend and a good man. In 2002 and 2003, past and present WSO presidents were on the advisory board of Sanjh Savera, a Punjabi weekly in Ontario, when it published front pages praising Sikh assassins who murdered Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India and former Indian army chief of staff Gen. Arun Sridhar Vaidya.

The headline on the Gandhi cover tells readers to "Bow to the martyrs who got rid of the sinner" — the martyrs being the two Sikh bodyguards who shot her.

On the advisory board of Sanjh Savera when the 2002 Gandhi cover was published were:

  • then-president of the World Sikh Organization Ajit Singh Sahota.
  • WSO current president Gurpreet Singh Bal.
  • Bal's brother, Jaspal Bal, also known as Amanpreet Bal, editor in chief of Sanjh Savera.

The WSO and the Liberal leadership convention

Among the delegates for Gerard Kennedy at the 2006 Liberal leadership convention were Jasjit Bhullar, former Ontario president of the WSO, and Jaspal Bal, editor of Sanjh Savera and brother of WSO president Gurpreet Bal. Bal was photographed at the convention with Gian Singh Sandhu, founding president of the WSO.

Former Ontario premier Bob Rae also was a leadership candidate at the convention. In 2005, Rae wrote a report on the Air India bombing for the Paul Martin government in which he placed the blame for the Air India bombing squarely on Sikh separatists:

"Let it be said clearly: the bombing of the Air India flight was the result of a conspiracy conceived, planned, and executed in Canada.… As Justice Josephson determined in his Reasons for Judgment, the conspiracy to bomb the two Air India flights involved individuals belonging to what became known as the Babbar Khalsa movement, a group of Sikh radicals determined to "purify" the Sikh religion and establish an independent homeland for Sikhs in Punjab, India."

Jaspal Bal, right, editor of Sanjh Savera and brother of WSO president Gurpreet Bal, was a delegate for Gerard Kennedy at the 2006 Liberal leadership convention. Bal was photographed at the convention with Gian Singh Sandhu, left, founding president of the WSO. (CBC)

"The families told me that they believe Canada must do more to deal with forces of extremism, even hatred, within communities that have made this country their home. They believe that Canada's politicians have not been sufficiently sensitive to the risks of festering solitudes within communities breaking out into violence."

At the December 2006 Liberal leadership convention in Montreal, Rae again referred to the Air India bombing and added:

"We should never, ever allow ourselves again to become the victims of terrorism and … we should never, ever forget the human tragedy and the human cost of what happened on that terrible, on that terrible day."

But some Sikh delegates didn't like that speech. MP Ujjal Dosanjh and his wife, Raminder, were Bob Rae supporters at the convention.

"There's no question that WSO exercised a significant influence at the Liberal convention," Dosanjh said. "In fact, my wife was approached by a delegate who happened to be a Sikh not supporting Bob Rae — and didn't know who my wife was — who said, well, you shouldn't vote for Bob, because Bob expressed the issue of violence about Air India in his speech.

Sikhs did not bomb Air India 182- headline on November, 2000 press release by the World Sikh Organization. The release claimed a cargo door fell off the plane.

"It baffles me that you have delegates on the floor of a major political party to which I belong who do not want a reference to Air India in a candidate's speech," Dosanjh said.

Some 250 Sikh delegates followed Kennedy's decision to support the eventual winner, Stéphane Dion. Kennedy's campaign manager in Ontario was Sikh MP Navdeep Bains. Bains recently praised the high journalistic standards of Sanjh Savera, although the paper was recently accused by Bains's fellow Liberal, Dosanjh, of threatening him with a beating.

Sukhminder Hansra and Ujjal Dosanjh

On May 17, 2007, Sanjh Savera ran an editorial about the controversy over the April 7, 2007, Vaisakhi parade in Surrey, B.C., in which the mastermind behind the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 was portrayed as a martyr. But the editorial, by managing editor Sukhminder Singh Hansra, did not find fault with the parade. Instead, it condemned Dosanjh for objecting to it.

Dosanjh complained to the RCMP that the editorial amounted to a threat, and that it appeared to endorse a severe beating he suffered in 1985 at the hands of a Sikh militant wielding an iron bar. At the time, Dosanjh had criticized the murder of Indira Gandhi, just as he criticized the Surrey parade. Dosanjh pointed to a section of Hansra's editorial that seemed to suggest the 1985 beating was a good deed by a good Sikh:

"About two decades ago, Ujjal Dosanjh uttered heart-breaking words about the martyrs of the Sikh struggle. As a result, one of the Guru's loved ones gave him a good thrashing. Such things are not accepted in these peaceful countries but…"

The sentence was left unfinished. Dosanjh's response was to complain to the RCMP that he had again been threatened.

"Obviously it justifies violence, the past violence and by implication violence that may happen in the future. If you justify violence that happened 22 years ago and you are again being criticized for making statements today, the implication is what happened 22 years ago may happen again," Dosanjh told the CBC. "My understanding is that this is in fact a prompt … to take the same course of action as was taken 22 years ago and that's absolutely despicable and disgusting."

Hansra denies the passage was intended as a threat. Dosanjh "has a problem with the community," he said. Hansra added that he thought Dosanjh felt "challenged. Not threatened — challenged."
Sukhminder Hansra, left, and Liberal MP Navdeep Bains launch the new Punjabi Daily. (Punjabi Daily)

Liberal MP Bains, however, takes a different view from Dosanjh about Sanjh Savera. The weekly recently merged with several other papers to become a daily publication that will now be known as Punjabi Daily. Bains helped to launch the new paper and praised Sanjh Savera's high journalistic standards. Bains did not mention that its managing editor had been accused of threatening a fellow Liberal MP.

'It will haunt [the] Sikh Community being terrorist'

In Feb. 2007, members of the Punjabi Press Club in Ontario — a journalistic organization — received e-mails from Jaspal Bal and from Sanjh Savera's managing editor Sukhminder Singh Hansra that illustrate the close bond between the World Sikh Organization and the newspaper's management.

Bal says he will be circulating a "WSO article" about the Air India Inquiry and Hansra agrees that "we need to inform our people what WSO is doing for them."

From: Punjabi Press Club
Date: Feb 17, 2007 4:38 PM
Subject: FW: WSO article and opening statement
To: info@punjabipress.org

Dear Members,
As Air India enquiry is starting on Monday, World Sikh Organization will be opening this enquiry with their statement. WSO has established a legal team for this enquiry. A article written by WSOs will be sent to you to inform our community about this enquiry and role of Sikh Community as WSO is playing that role on behalf of the community.

So far no one has appeared or schedule to appear before Justice Major on behalf of Sikh Community. Sikh Community is being treated as terrorist at the enquiry. Finding from this enquiry will become recommendations for Government of Canada to make new rules dealing with it. It will haunt Sikh Community being terrorist.

We need to inform our people what WSO is doing for them.

Sukhminder Singh Hansra
www.sanjhsavera.com

-----Original Message-----
From: Amanpreet Singh Bal
Sent: Saturday, February 17, 2007 4:21 PM
To: Sukhminder S Hansra
Subject: WSO article and opening statement

Please notify pres club members about WSO article that I'll send to you once I'm back in Toronto. WSO has been asked to make its opening remarks on Monday, Feb. 19. Justice John Major is going to resume his sitting that day.
jaspal