Jagmeet Singh's view of Sikh separatism under scrutiny after appearances at rallies

What is the significance of Jagmeet Singh’s decisions to take part in public forums sponsored by Sikh extremists?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh delivers a speech at a pro-independence Sikh rally in San Francisco in 2015. (Sikh Roots/YouTube)
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Is Jagmeet Singh being unfairly held to account for events that happened when he was just a child?

Or is there evidence that the leader of the federal NDP is too closely associated with small extremist elements in the Sikh community?

These questions have been raised in recent days, after it came to light that Singh has appeared at rallies for Sikh independence in recent years.

He appeared at a National Sikh Youth Federation meeting in 2015, where another speaker endorsed violence as a form of resistance.

In a CBC interview with Terry Milewski in October, Singh refused to condemn the celebration of Talwinder Singh Parmar — the man seen as the orchestrator of the Air India bombing — as a hero or martyr.

The Air India bombing was the largest mass murder in Canadian history. In 2010, Justice John Major released a report into the event calling Parmar the mastermind of the attack.

Yesterday, Singh told the CBC's David Cochrane that "the inquiry identified specifically Talwinder Singh Parmar, and I accept the findings of the investigation of the inquiry. 

"I accept them and I condemn all those responsible."

The federal NDP leader explains why he will continue to attend Sikh events even when posters celebrating the Air India bomber Talwinder Singh Parmar are displayed. 2:24

Later, in an interview with Carol Off on As It Happens, he would not explicitly denounce violent armed resistance.

Shinder Purewal argued that in the years since the report that held Parmar culpable, Singh, a Canadian-born lawyer, "didn't actually believe in Justice Major's report."

"He believed in the fringe elements, conspiracy theory, and now he comes out and says yes because he's saving his leadership," he told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.

"Is that the answer Canadians deserve?"

Purewal is a political scientist at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and has written books on the Sikh separatist movement. He has run for office for the Liberals twice, in 2000 and 2011.

He believes Singh is playing politics.

"During his primary nomination, then during his leadership race, he actually concocted a theory … that India was sabotaging his leadership."

"That was a clear line to get the secessionist people behind him, so they will volunteer, they'll give money."

The Current asked for an interview with Singh, but he was not available.

No simple answers

For Ramandeep Grewal, an active volunteer in Toronto's Sikh community, the premise of the question about extremist elements is troubling.

"We consistently see in the media people asking about violent armed resistance, Sikh extremism, Sikh terrorism," she said.

"It does not exist."

There is a spectrum of people who advocate for greater political autonomy of Punjabis or of Sikhs, she said.

"It's a tiny, tiny minority that may overtly advocate for any kind of resistance or violent struggle."

She thinks we shouldn't expect simple answers from Singh, in what she sees as a very nuanced situation.

"He does not have the luxury of providing nuanced answers," she said, "because people ... are tired of what they see as, you know, a dodging tactic, or [political leaders] trying to duck and cover."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.


This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marely, Kristin Nelson and Pacinthe Mattar.

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