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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 ...

The troubling signs in Canada's Sikh community have been hard to miss.

In British Columbia, there were pictures of long-dead "martyrs" to the Punjabi separatist cause on parade, politicians warned away and threats made online. In the country's other Sikh centre, Brampton, Ont., armed violence broke out at two temples, where peace is meant to prevail.

Amid the far-flung fury, Canada's 300,000 Sikhs have had little choice but to watch, weigh in and move on with daily life, despite the distinctly uncomfortable feeling of being dragged backward into reductive stereotypes: crazed militant, keeper of the old-country grudge.

Setbacks and skirmishes have long typified the newcomer's journey into Canada's mainstream; Orangemen parades for years pitted Protestants against Catholics in Toronto, with bloody results, and many an immigrant group since has taken homeland grievances to the street.

Knowing this hasn't made life any easier for the peaceful majority among Canadian Sikhs, who continue to be shamed by the brutality of the few.

"There's no reason why this should be happening now; there's nothing going on in the Sikh community that would support violence or anything like that," said Balpreet Singh Boparai, a 29-year-old lawyer from Toronto.

Born and raised in rural Ontario, Mr. Boparai is as faithful to his Canadian values as he is to his religion. And yet, in his royal blue turban, long beard and traditional dress, he winds up wearing whatever happens in the remote corners of his community.

"My image is held hostage to the crazy acts of some random people," he said, referring specifically to the Brampton incidents. "These people who are doing this should be prosecuted … and even within the Sikh community, we're saying these people should be sidelined."

Unfortunately, it's Canada's mainstream Sikhs who feel sidelined by unsavoury incidents in their community in recent weeks. While repulsed by the violence in Brampton and threats against former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh in Surrey, they say these events have been unfairly conflated - by Mr. Dosanjh himself - to substantiate claims of a resurgent militancy and support in Canada for the Khalistan separatist movement in India.

While many may sympathize with the ideal of Sikh sovereignty, or call for Indian redress of past wrongs in the Punjab region, it is a reckless leap to suggest they support armed struggle or reject Canadian values, said Ramandeep Grewal, a prominent voice among Toronto Sikhs. She said her community's swift denunciations of the recent incidents suggest the opposite: that it is employing Canadian values, absorbed over decades, to marginalize its extreme elements.

"The response shows that the community is a lot more mature than it was 20 years ago," said Ms. Grewal, a corporate lawyer on Bay Street. "It's not going to stand by and allow a few people to taint the community by their actions."

Oddly, Ms. Grewal and other moderate Sikhs found themselves counting Mr. Dosanjh among that group this week, as he repeatedly suggested Sikh militancy has flourished as "politically correct" Canadians turned a blind eye out of misplaced multicultural sensitivity.

Mr. Dosanjh's comments won partial backing from Jason Kenney, the Conservative Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

"I think he has hit on an important issue, but I don't think it's easy to quantify the degree to which there may be extremism," Mr. Kenney told The Globe.

"There is no doubt that there are violent incidents, and endorsements of violent tactics in a number of different communities, and these things are totally unacceptable," he said, adding that those responsible "should be completely marginalized from the mainstream of their communities."

Sikhs say they have been doing just that since the 1980s, and that Mr. Dosanjh's remarks will only revive the fading embers of extremism, set back Sikhs' mainstream progress and fuel xenophobic intolerance.

Militancy "is definitely dying a natural death and most people would be more than happy to see that happen," Ms. Grewal said, "but some people just don't seem to be willing to let it go."

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