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Khalistan flags fill the crowd at the Vaisakhi parade in Surrey, B.C, on April 20.Ethan Cairns/The Globe and Mail

More than half a million people gathered in Surrey, B.C. over the weekend for the annual Vaisakhi parade, which was dedicated to the memory of Hardeep Nijjar, the local gurdwara president who was killed last year.

Entire families wearing brand new, matching outfits – in pink gold, purple and saffron – attended Saturday’s parade in Surrey, considered the largest celebration of the Sikh festival in North America. It celebrates spring harvest, but also marks the creation of the order of Khalsa, in 1699, which is a significant moment for the Sikh faith.

The Vancouver suburb was awash with the smell of fried breads and curries, and the rhythmic beating of the dhol – the double headed drum. Dozens of children took part in the parade, singing hymns or demonstrating their fierce and lyrical skills in gatka, the Sikh martial art.

All along the parade route on 128th Street, hundreds of people gave away hot chai and water, as well as traditional Sikh treats and snacks such as pakoras, gulab jamun and chana masala. Some of the participants said they had been up all night preparing the food. They said they were honouring the spirit of service and communal eating, two significant aspects of their faith.

There was also grief, anger and politics in the air. The celebration marked the first Vaisakhi since the killing of Mr. Nijjar, who was gunned down outside Surrey’s Guru Nanak temple last June. On Saturday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh addressed the parade crowd in Punjabi as he stood with Mr. Nijjar’s son, Balraj Singh on the stage.

Mr. Nijjar was a key figure in the Sikh separatist movement for an independent Sikh nation known as Khalistan. Three months after his killing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons that there were credible allegations of a link between Mr. Nijjar’s killing and agents of India.

India, which has frequently complained about a Sikh separatist movement in Canada, denied the allegations, and the relations between the two countries have since been strained. No charges have been laid in Mr. Nijjar’s killing.

For hours after Saturday’s parade, dozens of young men drove through Surrey with massive Khalistan flags flying through the roofs of their cars and SUVs.

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