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Protesters and Police clash outside the Indian Consulate in Toronto on July 8.Sammy Kogan/The Globe and Mail

A rally this weekend involving hundreds of people from Toronto’s South Asian community was “heated,” police said, but officers made only one arrest and that person was not charged.

Sikh separatists squared off with counterprotesters supporting the government of India at the Indian consulate in Toronto on Saturday, with both sides shouting at each other for hours from behind barrier fences.

There were similar demonstrations in Vancouver, London, San Francisco and Melbourne on the weekend as Sikh protesters press for the province of Punjab to be carved from India to form an independent homeland called Khalistan.

The government of India strongly rejects this idea and has maintained the Khalistan movement is an extremist threat being driven by diaspora groups, including some members of Canada’s 770,000-strong Sikh community.

“We are really, really frustrated with what’s happening here” said Arvin Mishra, a 35-year-old living in Brampton, Ont. He was among the counterprotesters who gathered outside Toronto’s Indian consulate, which he said was needed to help protect it from “Khalistani extremist people who were directly threatening Indian diplomats.”

Western Canada: Surrey, B.C., community reeling after Sikh leader shot on temple grounds

Saturday’s demonstrations were organized by Sikh groups in the wake of last month’s shooting death of Hardeep Nijjar, a pro-Khalistan temple leader. He was shot in the Surrey, B.C., parking lot of the gurdwara where he served as president. Police are still investigating his slaying.

In the past, Indian authorities have accused Mr. Nijjar of being a terrorist.

Pro-Khalistan Sikhs in Toronto allege that Indian envoys are engaging in foreign interference and trying to keep track of their activities in Canada.

“We know for a fact that we are being targeted by the Indian government.” said Harkirt Singh, a 28-year-old Brampton lawyer who stood among the pro-Khalistan protesters.

He said that his group was assembling to send a signal that they would protect Sikhs’ rights in the aftermath of Mr. Nijjar’s slaying. “One of our presidents of a Sikh gurdwara in Surrey – as I’m sure you’re aware – was assassinated not too long ago on Canadian soil,” he said.

At the peak of Toronto’s protest, about 100 yellow-and-blue flags Khalistan flags flapped on the north side of Bloor Street East. This was about twice as many as the Indian tricolour flags on the south side of the street, where counterprotesters had gathered in front of the building where the Indian consulate occupies the seventh floor.

Why Khalistan independence protests are being held this weekend in Vancouver and Toronto

A police line in the middle of Bloor Street separated the two factions.

Late in the afternoon, a man was tackled by police officers as he rushed from the pro-Khalistan side towards the counterprotesters.

He shouted “Khalistan” as he was handcuffed and led away to cheers from his supporters.

“Get back, get back, get back,” police shouted as they secured the fences.

Police later said the man was not charged.

“We’re here to ensure public safety. We’re here to ensure both sides can protest their views,” said Superintendent Chris Kirkpatrick of the Toronto Police Service at the scene.

He said some of his officers offered to escort government of India counterprotesters to vehicles or subway stops as the protest wound down.

“We will do that at times, because it’s heated and it’s charged,” Supt. Kirkpatrick said.

On July 16, Toronto-area Sikhs will vote in a global referendum campaign asking them whether they want an independent Khalistan. The campaign is being organized by a non-profit group known as Sikhs for Justice. The government of India opposes the campaign and the Greater Toronto Area has already seen two prior rounds of voting last year.

Sikh Liberal MPs meet with Marco Mendicino over Surrey, B.C., killing

The death of Mr. Nijjar, who was involved in the referendum effort, became the rallying call behind the protests this weekend. Pro-Khalistan promotional materials for rallies have proclaimed him as a martyr. Some online posters ahead of the event said “Kill India” and suggested, without evidence, that Indian diplomats played a role in Mr. Nijjar’s death.

Days prior to the protests, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly called such messaging “unacceptable” and vowed that police across Canada would protect Indian diplomats and their buildings.

Dozens of professionally printed placards bearing Mr. Nijjar’s image were distributed to pro-Khalistan protesters in Toronto with the text reading that he was “assassinated by India.”

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