At least three Sikh independence activists from B.C.’s Lower Mainland say they were warned by officers with the RCMP’s national security division that their lives were in danger, prompting all three of them to be separated from their families.
The three men are in addition to Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was killed on the grounds of a B.C. Sikh gurdwara this past spring and whose son has said he had received such a warning. All four men had actively campaigned for the creation of an independent Sikh homeland, carved out of India’s Punjab region, that would be called Khalistan.
Three of them told The Globe and Mail that they were not told the nature of the threats when visited by the RCMP, nor whom the RCMP was investigating as a result.
Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada has reason to believe that Indian government agents carried out the June killing of Mr. Nijjar, causing a deep diplomatic rift between Canada and India and forcing scrutiny of the relationships of other Western countries with the South Asian country considered a pivotal trade ally.
The Indian government has accused Canada of tolerating extremist Sikh groups, including one led by Mr. Nijjar, that threaten Indian unity. Before his killing, Mr. Nijjar had been spearheading a Canadian referendum on the future of Khalistan. It went ahead this fall; hundreds of thousands of Sikhs in Ontario and British Columbia voted in the non-binding plebiscite.
The RCMP did not respond to requests for comment about the warnings. Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said it passes along information about threats to the RCMP.
One of the men, who has not spoken publicly before, told The Globe and Mail that he received a warning last year but that police would only say that they were required to warn citizens if they have reason to believe their lives are in danger. Because he has children, he was required by police to leave his home for the duration of the investigation.
The Globe and Mail is not naming the man, who is an outspoken supporter of the Khalistan movement, because he fears that going public could antagonize those who wish to harm him.
A second man, Moninder Singh, is a spokesperson for the B.C. Gurdwara Council and past president of the Dasmesh Darbar Gurdwara Sahib. Mr. Singh, who was close friends with Mr. Nijjar, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail that police visited him in his Surrey home last July to warn him that they had credible evidence that his life was at risk. All four men were visited by police on the same July day.
Because he has children, Mr. Singh said police told him he had to immediately leave home. In all, he said he spent five weeks away from his wife and kids as the RCMP investigated the threat. Mr. Singh said police warned him that if he declined to leave, his two school-aged children would be apprehended by B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development. (The ministry declined to comment on the case or whether this is its policy.)
Mr. Singh, who is also chief operating officer of the British Columbia Nurses’ Union, has long championed the creation of Khalistan.
“I don’t feel threatened. I’m doing my work and activism the way I always have for 25 years,” he said. “The loss of my friend and that separation feels deeply painful and at the same time I’m deeply proud of who he was in life and in death.”
Mr. Singh said he was never told the nature of the threat against him, simply that “unspecified intelligence” contained a threat.
Two people told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Singh spoke with them about his interactions with police at the time, and confirmed his account: Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, an Abbotsford realtor, and Gurpreet Sahota, the editor-in-chief of CK News Group, a Punjabi weekly newspaper based in Surrey.
Mr. Sahota said Mr. Singh is a charismatic speaker and considered a powerhouse by the local the Sikh community.
“The elders believe in him. The community likes and respects him,” said Mr. Sahota.
As his profile rose in the last several years, Mr. Singh has increasingly found himself the target of reporting in Indian media, where he has been referred to as a “Khalistani terrorist.”
A third Sikh activist, Gurmeet Toor, told The Globe and Mail and other media last week that he, too, had received a warning.
Mr. Toor said he was a close friend of Mr. Nijjar and helped work on the referendum, but he said he was surprised when two Surrey RCMP officers, accompanied by a national security official, knocked on his door close to midnight in late August and asked him to sign a “duty to warn” letter indicating his life may be in danger.
Mr. Toor said he was advised to be careful, to avoid gatherings and to move to a safer location. He said he was not provided details of the threat or given a copy of the form.
Mr. Toor, speaking through an interpreter whose translation was verified by The Globe, said he answered yes when formally asked by the RCMP if he wanted their help, but his request for a bulletproof vest and armoured car was denied.
Mr. Toor said he sent his youngest child to live outside of his home after being advised to do so by the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development. Having one of his three children “ripped away” has been hard, he said, but he added he is not afraid.
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” Mr. Toor said.
The fourth man warned was Mr. Nijjar. His son has said his father was first approached by police last year at the same time as Mr. Singh and the unnamed Sikh man from Surrey.
Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma declined to comment directly on the men’s stories, which he described as “absurd misinformation campaign” and said that questions should be directed to Canadian authorities.
CSIS told The Globe that it informs the RCMP or police of jurisdiction when it has information regarding a credible threat to life.
“Public safety is the No. 1 priority for both CSIS and the RCMP,” said spokesman Eric Balsam, who did not comment on the specifics of the events surrounding the four Sikh men.
With reports from Colin Freeze and Mike Hager