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editorial

It was a cowardly and heinous crime, which makes it easy for anyone who aspires to be prime minister of a nation of laws to condemn automatically.

Yet for months federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh entertained an artful ambiguity regarding blame for the bombing of Air India Flight 182, which claimed 329 lives on June 23, 1985, and stands as Canada’s deadliest act of terrorism

It was hatched and executed by a group of Canadian-based extremist Sikh secessionists and masterminded by the late Talwinder Singh Parmar. This has been clear for years.

This week, Mr. Singh admitted the obvious and denounced both Mr. Parmar and the attack in the pages of this newspaper. Not coincidentally, Mr. Singh’s sudden clarity on the question followed The Globe and Mail’s revelations that he shared a public stage with Sikh radicals, some of whom advocated armed struggle, on at least two occasions since 2015.

The question now is: Has he gone far enough?

One can surmise that his obfuscations resulted from an assessment of the electoral downside of taking an uncompromising stand against Sikh nationalism (and, by extension, against the Quebec kind). Support for an independent Khalistan remains strong among some Canadian Sikhs; a tiny minority here continues to celebrate Mr. Parmar as a martyr.

At root, the story may be less about Mr. Singh’s semantic choices – although it is certainly about that – than it is of a federal party leader navigating the intricacies of Canada’s diaspora politics.

Any serious aspirant to being prime minister understands that one path to power has, for at least a couple of decades, passed through the country’s various cultural minorities.

According to a 2015 Environics Institute analysis, there are currently 33 federal electoral districts in Canada where visible minorities constitute a majority. In 22 of them, South Asians make up at least 20 per cent of the electorate. Fourteen of those have significant Sikh minorities. Chinese-Canadians make up the largest voting bloc in 11 more.

Those 33 ridings, which represent 9.8 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons and are sure to grow in number, have been courted assiduously by every recent federal party leader. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who have a 14-seat majority, won all but three in 2015.

It’s no accident that Mr. Trudeau’s foreign policy efforts have focused on China and India, or that he recently orchestrated an extended Trudeau-family photo op in India in the guise of an official visit.

Canada’s strength is our multicultural diversity. We are richer for the contributions of new citizens, and it is a testament to this country that they are proportionately represented in the Commons. When federal government decisions are made, their voices are being heard, whether it relates to India, China, Israel, Syria, Ukraine or dozens of other places.

Problems can arise, though, when our relationship to a given country is conditioned by the interests of that country’s diaspora community in Canada.

That, in turn, can give rise to embarrassing incidents, such as Mr. Trudeau’s gaffes on his India trip involving a former Sikh extremist who was convicted in Canada of attempting to murder a visiting Indian cabinet minister in 1986. It turns out that the Indian government, fairly or not, has ongoing concerns about Sikh nationalists in Canada.

Mr. Trudeau says Canada supports a united India. Mr. Singh now says he has no view on the matter as a federal politician, but refuses to apologize for attending rallies that included Sikh nationalists who called for violence.

Mr. Singh is making this complicated. In his defence, we have never had a proper reckoning with Sikh extremism in this country, mostly because we have never been able to move past the trauma of the Air India bombing.

Consequently, we haven’t paid attention to how the Sikh community has grown and changed in Canada, leaving many members feeling tarred by the past actions of a few, and the politicians seeking their votes confused about where to stand on peaceful Sikh nationalism.

Of all the countries in the world that should be able to deal with this, Canada is it. Quebec separatists and the federal politicians who court their votes have understood for decades that it is possible to support independence, or to tolerate its peaceful expression, while shunning and condemning those who would use bombings and assassinations to achieve it.

Mr. Singh still hasn’t quite figured that out.