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Despite speculation that Sikh extremism in Canada is getting worse, there is evidence militancy is actually declining. (Laura Leyshon for The Globe and Mail)
Despite speculation that Sikh extremism in Canada is getting worse, there is evidence militancy is actually declining. (Laura Leyshon for The Globe and Mail)

Canadian Sikhs: The shaming of the majority by the brutality of the few Add to ...

Mr. Dosanjh's experience with extremism has been as personal as it gets. Early in 1985, he was badly beaten in Vancouver for speaking out against the Khalistan movement. Months earlier, the Indian government had attacked militants at Sikhism's holiest site, the Golden Temple of Amritsar, killing several hundred people and enraging Sikhs around the world. A few months after Mr. Dosanjh was beaten, a bomb exploded aboard an Air India flight from Toronto, killing 329 people, in apparent retaliation.

T. Sher Singh, a Sikh and a long-time media commentator based in Guelph, Ont., describes himself as a friend and political supporter of Mr. Dosanjh and, like him, a staunch critic of extremism. At the same time, Mr. Singh said "the movement has long died," and suggested Mr. Dosanjh has let his personal trauma cloud that reality, to the detriment of the community.

"I think if he could really get objective to it, he would stand back, he would just shut up on this issue and not say a word for two years or five years," Mr. Singh said. "But he's not able to. It's very personal between him and the clowns in the community."

Mr. Singh also took issue with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent expressions of concern to Prime Minister Stephen Harper about growing support in Canada for militancy in Punjab, which predated most of the recent events.

The violence in Brampton - the April 2 stabbing of a controversial speaker at a gurdwara (temple), and last Sunday's attack at another worship site where a hatchet, tire iron and machete were used to inflict minor wounds on four men - was abhorrent and should be dealt with firmly by the courts, Mr. Singh said. The glorification of so-called martyrs, whether in the Surrey parade or in temples across the country, is also "inappropriate." However, "what happened in Brampton and what happened in Surrey is not terrorism. It is stupidity and it is criminal … but it's got nothing to do with terrorism."

Mr. Singh said India has a strategic interest in keeping the Sikh diaspora "off-balance" and suggested " agents provocateurs" have long been causing trouble in Sikh communities in Vancouver and Toronto. "Violent incidents like these have happened all the time around important dates in the Sikh calendar - April 13 or June 5 or Oct. 31 - for the past 26 years," he said. "Why does it happen all the time in Canada?"

Manjit Singh, a Montreal-based Sikh scholar, expanded on this view, and said "trouble makers in Canada get cues from political leaders in Punjab because of being first-generation immigrants." He added that other countries with a history of fomenting Sikh militancy in Punjab are reportedly funding Canadian groups "to further their agenda" of destabilizing India, an ascendant rival on the world stage.

Complex as Canada's Sikh situation may be, "it is not an unusual or unique one, in that all different new communities have gone through this sort of a thing before," T. Sher Singh said. "I remember when I first came here, 30, 40 years ago, people from East European countries - Hungarians, Poles and Czechs - were being haunted by this sort of thing, primarily because there were mother-country issues coming over."

He also pointed out the long history of clashes at Toronto's annual Orangemen's Day Parade, a Protestant import from Ireland once known for displays of anti-Catholic sentiment that has long since mellowed into near obscurity.

"It took us 50 years in Canada to quiet them and give each other the freedom of having their own parades," he said. "We've dealt with all of that, and we need to deal with this the way we've dealt with the Quebec situation and say, 'Do whatever you want to do, but don't cross the line into breaking the law.' "

Trying to ban the display of pictures of martyrs and symbols "is going to inflame them even more," T. Sher Singh said. "It gives them power; it makes them feel they're being wronged."

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