Indian students in Canada are being warned to be vigilant in the face of what the Indian government calls a rising threat of hate crimes, sectarian violence and “anti-India activities.”
But police in Vancouver and Toronto, cities with significant numbers of Indian students, say they have not seen notable increases in hate crimes targeting Indian or South Asian populations.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued the warning to students and other Indian citizens in Canada in a statement released Friday.
The statement does not make reference to any particular incidents or specify which crimes the Indian government is describing.
It says Indian officials have raised concerns with their Canadian counterparts, and that the “perpetrators of these crimes have not been brought to justice so far in Canada.”
Representatives of the Indian government did not respond to requests for further details on Friday. Global Affairs Canada also did not respond to questions on Friday.
Balpreet Singh, spokesperson and legal counsel for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, said that in his view, the advisory from the Indian government does not reflect any actual threat to students living in Canada. He said the Indian government’s primary concern is people in Canada expressing support for Khalistani secessionist movements, which seek an independent Sikh homeland.
“There is no sectarian violence they can point to,” Mr. Singh said. “This advisory is purely political.”
Mr. Singh said two recent events in Canada have caught the attention of the Indian government. On Sept. 15, graffiti was discovered at the gates of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple in Toronto. The temple said in a statement that the graffiti was “anti-India” and attributed it to anti-social elements. The graffiti included the word “Khalistan” and sentiments opposed to India.
And on Sept. 18, a vote was held in Brampton, organized by a group called Sikhs for Justice, that was described as both a Khalistan and Punjab independence referendum.
According to reports in the Indian media, the Indian government lodged a protest about the vote with the government of Canada.
Other votes on the same question are expected to be held in Vancouver and Calgary this fall, Mr. Singh said.
“This is something that is very problematic for relations between Canada and India,” he said. “India is quite unhappy with the Canadian government.”
Students from India make up the largest cohort of international students in Canada, and a large share of those students hail from the Indian state of Punjab. The tuition fees that international students pay, which are several times higher than domestic student fees, have become crucial to the funding of the Canadian postsecondary education system.
The Toronto Police Service said its hate crimes unit is investigating the incident at the Hindu temple and has not yet identified any suspects.
Stephanie Sayer, a TPS spokesperson, said the hate crimes unit has not seen a notable increase in hate crimes targeting people of Indian or South Asian descent. But under-reporting of hate crimes is a challenge, and it can occur for a number of reasons, ranging from fear to language barriers, she said.
Sergeant Steve Addison, a spokesperson for Vancouver police, said his force also has not observed a significant increase in reported hate crimes involving students from India, and that there have not been any major incidents of that nature in the city.
Jaspreet Singh, the founder of the Toronto-based International Sikh Student Association, said he has not heard any reports of an increase in hate crimes targeting Indian students.
With a report from Mike Hager