Ujjal Dosanjh, a former Liberal cabinet minister and onetime B.C. premier, says Sikh extremism is on the rise in some parts of the country, and blamed, in part, "politically correct" Canadians who let it happen in the name of diversity.
Mr. Dosanjh, who was savagely beaten in Vancouver in 1985 after speaking out against religious violence, said Canadian multiculturalism has allowed extremism to take root in Sikh and other ethnic communities.
That militancy is worse now, he said, than a generation ago when extremists blew up an Air India flight, killing 329 people, most of them Canadians. Ironically, Mr. Dosanjh said separatist extremism is more entrenched in some Canadian Sikh communities than in Punjab, the Indian region where the Khalistan movement - named after the theoretical Sikh country - originated.
"It's getting worse," Mr. Dosanjh said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "The number of people who have continued to perpetuate that kind of hatred has become smaller, but more consistent and more long-lasting."
Mr. Dosanjh's comments come in the wake of tandem Sikh crises that flared again last weekend. In B.C., the annual spring Sikh festival was marred in Surrey when organizers warned Mr. Dosanjh and another Sikh-Canadian politician - both of whom are known for their moderate Sikh views - to stay away from the parade.
In Brampton, Ont., a riot erupted at the Sri Guru Nanak Sikh Centre over proposed changes to the temple's management. Both events are distressing, Mr. Dosanjh said, especially as the Air India bombing anniversary nears.
Mr. Dosanjh's comments echo recent concerns expressed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Prime Minister Stephen Harper over growing support by Canadian Sikhs for militants in Punjab.
Mr. Singh, himself a Sikh, raised the issue when the two prime ministers met in New Delhi last November and earlier this month when the two talked at the disarmament conference in Washington. Mr. Harper took the concerns seriously, according to a senior Canadian government official.
Mr. Dosanjh's comments shocked some Sikh organizations, including the influential World Sikh Organization of Canada.
The Sikh organization said Mr. Dosanjh was out of line to deride multiculturalism and to suggest that Sikh extremism is pervasive in Canada. Balpreet Singh Boparai, the organization's legal counsel, defended the right of the Sikh diaspora to advocate for better conditions in India, including calling for a separate homeland.
"We reject violence," Mr. Boparai said. "But does advocating for Khalistan through peaceful means, through dialogue, through information, or advocating for the self-determination of Sikhs in India - is this extremism? I would say no."
Meanwhile, Mr. Dosanjh blamed what he described as Canada's polite brand of multiculturalism for giving extremists the space to nurture old grudges brought from their homelands. At the same time, Canada has failed to instill its own values on new immigrants.
"I think what we are doing to this country is that this idea of multiculturalism has been completely distorted, turned on its head to essentially claim that anything anyone believes - no matter how ridiculous and outrageous it might be - is okay and acceptable in the name of diversity.
"Where we have gone wrong in this pursuit of multiculturalism is that there is no adherence to core values, the core Canadian values, which [are] That you don't threaten people who differ with you; you don't go attack them personally; you don't terrorize the populace."
Mr. Dosanjh urged mainstream Canadians who aren't part of these ethnic communities to step up and speak against extremism.
"I think Canadians need to engage in this cultural diversity debate," he said. "And we actually have to say to each other: 'Hey what you're doing is wrong. What you're doing here is right.' We should stop being politically correct and have a debate."
Mr. Dosanjh and Liberal MLA David Hayer were warned last weekend to stay away from the annual Vasaikhi festival in Surrey, which celebrates the birth of Sikhism.
Then, at the parade, a float appeared that displayed the faces of martyred Sikhs, prompting Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts to turn and leave.
With a report from John Ibbitson