Jagmeet Singh now rejects glorification of Air India bombing mastermind
Federal NDP leader says he accepts inquiry's conclusion that Talwinder Singh Parmar was behind attack
After having expressed some doubts, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said today he accepts the Air India inquiry's conclusion that Talwinder Singh Parmar was the mastermind behind the deadly mid-air bombing that killed hundreds of Canadians — and he thinks it's inappropriate for some Sikhs to glorify Parmar by displaying his photo.
"There was an inquiry that was conducted into this horrible terrorist act. 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," he said in an interview with the CBC's David Cochrane Thursday.
The 18-month long Air India inquiry, led by former Supreme Court justice John Major, pointed to Parmar as the chief terrorist behind the bombing.
A separate inquiry, carried out by former Ontario NDP premier and Liberal MP Bob Rae, also fingered Parmar as the architect of the 1985 bombing that left 329 people dead — 268 of them Canadians.
In an interview with CBC's Terry Milewski last October, Singh refused to denounce extremists within Canada's Sikh community who glorify Parmar's memory.
When Milewski asked him specifically about Parmar, Singh said this: "I don't know who's responsible [for the bombing] 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."
A day after a 2015 appearance by Singh at a Khalistan "sovereignty" rally ignited criticism, the NDP leader said the inquiry's findings are not in doubt and he accepts that Sikh extremists were behind the attack.
Some don't accept 'official record,' Singh said
Singh said the aftermath of the bombing was painful not only for the families of the victims but also for many Sikhs who felt they were "collectively punished for the acts of some individuals."
Because of the history of violence and persecution directed at some Sikhs, it has been hard for some in the community to accept that Parmar was to blame, he said.
"There are some in the community that don't accept the official record," he said.
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When asked if he thought it was appropriate for some gurdwaras — Sikh houses of worship — to display pictures of Parmar, Singh said he did not.
"Personally, I think the displaying of a picture of Mr. Parmar is something that re-traumatizes and hurts and injures people that are suffering so much in terms of that loss in their lives," he said.
"I don't think it's appropriate, so I don't think it should be done. It doesn't help us move forward with peace and reconciliation."
Militant leader honoured by some Sikhs
At the controversial 2015 rally Singh attended, the stage featured a large poster of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a militant leader regarded by the Indian government as a terrorist but celebrated by some Sikhs who want a state separate from India.
Bhindranwale was killed in an Indian military raid on the Golden Temple, a sacred site then regarded as a hotbed of the Khalistan independence movement. His death in the raid made him a martyr to many Sikhs who were appalled that an Indian prime minister would approve armed action against a revered religious site.
Indira Gandhi, India's prime minister, was later killed by her Sikh bodyguards for sanctioning the Golden Temple action. That killing later prompted retaliatory violence against many Sikhs.
Singh spent much of his early political life lobbying the Ontario government to recognize the 1984 anti-Sikh riots — that resulted from Gandhi's killing — as an act of genocide.
In Thursday's interview, Singh said he has no qualms about attending events where controversial figures with violent pasts are venerated — even if he does not condone their actions himself — because they offer him a chance to have a "dialogue" with disaffected Sikhs.
"I still think it's important to reach out to people and talk about my journey, about how I felt the same pain and trauma knowing that people who look just like me were singled out and targeted and murdered," he said.
He said he views such events as offering a chance to talk about what the Sikh community can do to "transform that pain into something positive."
Ujjal Dosanjh, a former B.C. NDP premier and federal Liberal cabinet minister, said Singh's denouncement of Parmar is "better late than never."
"I think he's done the right thing. I just wish he had done so from the beginning," he said in an interview with CBC News.
But Dosanjh said he's concerned about Singh's pledge to continue attending events that might involve the celebration of extremist figures.
"He has obviously grown up in the grievance politics of post-1984. He didn't grow up in India. I did, I know the realities on the ground, I know that both Bhindranwale and the government were all to blame for what happened," he said.
"He ought to be a quick study on these issues, and he has proved not to be, and that's a worrying sign."
Dosanjh — who has himself faced death threats from extremists who have branded him a "Sikh traitor" for his opposition to separatism — noted Bhindranwale had amassed a trove of weapons at the Golden Temple before it was stormed by Indian troops.
Singh also said Thursday there is nothing wrong with people discussing the possibility of an independent homeland for Sikhs separate from India, but he himself will not weigh in on that debate.
"It is not my place to have an opinion. With respect to other countries, it is up to the people to decide," he said.