Indian minister concerned about Sikh extremists in Canada

The Indian government is once again pressing Canada to be on guard for Sikh extremism, a warning that comes at the same time as some Indo-Canadians call for justice for a 1984 Sikh massacre.

Canada supports a united India, says PM Harper during 2nd official visit to India

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is greeted Tuesday by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he arrives at the presidential palace for the official welcoming ceremony in New Dehli. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Indian government is once again pressing Canada to be on guard for Sikh extremism, a warning that comes at the same time as some Indo-Canadians call for justice for a 1984 Sikh massacre.

Indian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Preneet Kaur raised the issue of extremism during a meeting Tuesday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and officials from the two nations.

Harper is on a six-day visit to India that is primarily focused on trade and investment.

"Prime minister, there was another area of great concern for us, which was the revival of anti-India rhetoric in Canada, and I am from the state of Punjab, which we are very happy you will be visiting...," Kaur said, referring to his upcoming stop in Chandigarh.

"We have after very hard times got a good situation of peace and progress back in Punjab and in India and we would like that to continue, so it does concern us I think, and we do appreciate very much that you have very been forthright and open about your stand on this."

Harper says Canada supports united India

This was not the first time India has raised the issue with Canada. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also heard the Indian government's concerns during a visit earlier this year, and the Indian Overseas Congress has gone so far as to accuse Canadian politicians of Indian origin of ignoring the issue.

Kaur was likely referring to the appearance, particularly in British Columbia, of flags and seals bearing the Khalistan flag at parades and on temples. Khalistan is the name of a proposed separate Sikh state, and pockets of the Indo-Canadian community support the idea.

The 1985 bombing of an Air India flight that killed 331 was believed by the police to have been orchestrated by Sikh extremists based in Canada. Hundreds of Sikhs protested on Parliament Hill in March against the death row sentence of Balwant Singh Rajoana.

Harper responded to Kaur by saying that Canada is a supporter of a united India, painting the pro-Khalistan movement as marginal.

"This is a view that is shared not just widely in Canada but very widely and very mainstream among our Indo-Canadian community," said Harper.

"We have over a million people who trace their origins to the Indian subcontinent and among my very large delegation on this trip are a considerable number of prominent Indo-Canadians, and certainly the support for the great progress India has made over the past generation is virtually universal in this community."

1984 massacre remembered

But the Indian government's pressure on the issue has been poorly received in Canada by some in the Indo-Canadian community and even the federal opposition, particularly when taken in the context of the November 1984 massacre of more than 3,000 Sikhs.

The remains of murdered Sikhs in razed villages were uncovered as recently as last year, and many believe the Indian government has not done enough to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The massacre occurred in the aftermath of the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The bodyguards were believed to have been retaliating for a bloody military operation in June of that same year aimed at extricating Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Groups such as the World Sikh Organization and the Canadian Sikh Congress argue that the community has a right to engage in a peaceful dialogue about a sovereign homeland, and the Indian government is meddling in the affairs of Indo-Canadians.

Another group, Sikhs for Justice, recently called on Harper to advocate for human rights for Sikhs while in India.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair referred to the events of 1984 as "pogroms" in a recent release.

"The victims and survivors of 1984 have waited too long for recognition of their plight and frustration," Mulcair said. "Rehabilitation and support for the broken families, especially the widows, must be prioritized."

Harper also met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday during an official ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the former seat of the British viceroy in India. The enormous building, fringed by fountains, hectares of groomed lawns and monument-sized stone stairways, is now the home of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, who Harper met midday.

Harper and Singh were expected to meet again late Tuesday afternoon to sign a series of bilateral agreements.

With files from The Associated Press