British Columbia

Accusation that India could be behind gurdwara killing is significant shift, some B.C. Sikhs say

Some members of the B.C. Sikh community say the Canadian government alleging that the government of India may have been involved in the killing of a Sikh leader is momentous.

Prime minister said Monday that agents from India carried out killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar

Sikh men stand in the shadow of a large gurdwara as birds fly above them.
Members of the Sikh community are pictured at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara on Monday, near where former gurdwara president Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed on June 18. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Some members of the B.C. Sikh community say the Canadian government's allegation that the government of India may have been involved in the killing of a Sikh leader is momentous.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, was gunned down outside the Sikh temple on June 18, shortly after evening prayers had concluded.

Many of Nijjar's supporters had alleged that the Indian government was behind the assassination, especially as he was a prominent supporter of the movement for an independent Sikh state called Khalistan.

Nijjar had previously been called a "fugitive terrorist" by the Indian government and accused of playing a part in the killing of a Hindu priest — something his supporters have denied.

WATCH | Members of Surrey's Sikh community react to allegations against India: 

Shock, anger as Trudeau links India to killing of Surrey Sikh leader

7 days ago
Duration 10:48
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says India may be responsible for the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh community leader in Surrey. Some of his supporters in Surrey say they hope justice will be served.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally accused the Indian government of playing a part in the killing, saying intelligence reports found credible links between Indian government agents and the slaying.

At a news conference outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara on Monday, activist Harkirat Kaur described Nijjar as a father figure for her.

"Hearing what Justin Trudeau said ... finally, like, it's a sort of relief," she said. "But that kind of turned into resentment.

"Resentment of the fact that this has been going on for 40-plus years and it finally took for our leader to be killed for them to have some sort of acknowledgement."

WATCH | Canada expels Indian diplomat in wake of intelligence reports: 

Canada expels Indian diplomat as it investigates death of Sikh leader

8 days ago
Duration 1:25
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly says allegations that an agent connected to the Indian government was behind the death of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar are 'troubling' and 'completely unacceptable' if true.

Pro-Khalistan activists in Canada have previously alleged that foreign interference from India has been occurring for decades, and that Canadian intelligence agents did not do enough to protect Nijjar. 

Moninder Singh, a spokesperson for the B.C. Sikh Gurdwara Council, said the reaction in his community was mixed after the prime minister's announcement.

"If Canada is actually declaring that India is an actual actor in this, I think that's the first step towards acknowledging and the first step towards justice," Singh told a news conference.

"But until we actually see people behind bars ... I think it's kind of like skepticism right now that something is actually going to happen."

A Sikh man with a blue turban speaks.
Moninder Singh said a public enquiry into Indian foreign interference in Canada should happen immediately. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

He also said a public inquiry into Indian interference in Canada "needs to happen immediately."

B.C. premier 'deeply disturbed'

B.C. Premier David Eby said in a statement that he was "deeply disturbed and angered" by the information.

"Canadians across the country must be safe from the interference of foreign governments, including being targeted for threats or physical harm, including murder," the premier said.

A man in a blue shirt raises his hand and speaks.
B.C. Premier David Eby said he was deeply disturbed by the information that a B.C. Sikh leader may have been gunned down by Indian government agents, and called on anyone angered by the information to support the judicial system. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

The premier said he received a briefing from Canadian Security Intelligence Service about the incident on Monday, and called on the federal government to share all information regarding foreign interference with the province.

WATCH | What is driving the Khalistan movement? 

What is Khalistan? A look at the movement for an independent Sikh state

18 days ago
Duration 13:38
Some Sikhs have historically been seeking an independent Sikh homeland in northern India called Khalistan. Experts say the history of the movement is complex, emotional and evolving.

"I join with those in the Sikh and Punjabi community, and the broader province, demanding justice and answers," he said. "Our government will fully and enthusiastically support any federal efforts to ensure those responsible are held personally accountable."

Political scientist says allegation 'shocking'

Shinder Purewal, a political scientist at Kwantlen Polytechnic University who has written extensively about the Khalistani movement in Canada, said that the prime minister's Monday accusation was "shocking," especially as it came after a tense meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"I think the next stage is going to be the Indian government's reaction," he told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On The Coast"There is going to be some reaction because both countries do it on a mutual basis.

"Our trade talks were over about two weeks back. Trade mission to India is cancelled for October, so diplomatically we were at low ebb."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of being involved in the shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar today in the House of Commons. Former premier Ujjal Dosanjh says the accusation is 'very troubling'.

Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh said that the accusation of India's involvement was "very troubling" and would likely damage relationships between India and Canada in the long-term.

"You expect democracies, other countries, to abide by the rule of international law and not to go into other countries and target people that you might perceive as enemies," he said.

"Like most Canadians, I want to know what's going on because it is incredibly worrying that a country like India can come across borders and kill our citizens."

With files from On The Coast