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Activists of Sikh organizations shout pro-Khalistan and anti-government slogans after offering prayers on the occasion of the 37th anniversary of Operation Blue Star, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, on June 6, 2021.NARINDER NANU/Getty Images

Canadian security agencies take seriously any allegations of illegal funding of the Sikh secessionist movement in India’s Punjab state, says Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.

India’s High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma recently told The Globe and Mail that New Delhi is concerned that some segments of the Sikh community in Canada are offering support and money to secessionists who want to separate Punjab from India. He called on Canada to crack down on diasporic funding of the Sikh independence movement that is seeking to create a sovereign homeland known as Khalistan.

Asked about the High Commissioner’s comments on Thursday, Mr. Mendicino said Ottawa has given security agencies the tools to deal with any illegal funding.

“We are eyes wide open when it comes to threats to national security, when it comes to foreign interference, and we will continue to take a very sober and pragmatic approach to protecting Canadian interests and democratic institutions,” he said.

Mr. Verma told The Globe that India is concerned about “illegal channels which are being used by those Canadians of Indian origin who are trying to push for the dismemberment of India or secession from India.”

The Tribune, a north Indian daily, last year reported that India’s National Investigation Agency, a counterterrorism agency, visited Canada in November, 2021, to discuss with Canadian authorities “the funding routes for pro-Khalistan groups.”

Rita Trichur: Jagmeet Singh’s comments on Khalistan risk undermining Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy

As part of its new Indo-Pacific strategy, Ottawa is opening the door to closer economic and diplomatic ties with India in an effort to end years of frosty relations since Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister in 2015, including an ill-fated trip in 2018 where Jaspal Atwal, convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister in 1986, was invited to dine with the Prime Minister during the visit. The invitation was rescinded after it came to light but he was earlier photographed with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and then-infrastructure minister Amarjeet Sohi at an earlier event in Mumbai.

In 2020, India also accused Mr. Trudeau of inciting “extremist activities” after he raised concerns about New Delhi’s response to farmers protesting against a law they feared would leave them vulnerable to exploitation by corporations. Mr. Trudeau said Canada would always support the right of farmers to be heard.

The Liberals, Conservatives and NDP parties have members of the Sikh faith in their caucuses and consider Sikh Canadians an important voting bloc.

The Canadian government, however, has distanced itself from an unofficial and non-binding referendum organized by the separatist group, Sikhs for Justice, which is asking Sikh diaspora in several countries whether they support a homeland in Punjab. There has been voting in Canada on the matter.

David Morrison, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, told his Indian counterpart in early November that “Canada respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India and does not recognize or support unofficial referendums,” according to a readout released by the Department of Global Affairs.

At the same time, Mr. Morrison also told the Indian official that “people in Canada are free to assemble and express their views, so long as they do so peacefully and lawfully.”

Separately, Thursday, the NDP drew attention to human-rights abuses in India and urged Canada to take action.

“The growing number of anti-Muslim and Islamophobic hate crimes, and abuse toward minorities – including Muslims, Sikhs Christians, Buddhists, Dalits, LGBTQ community, women and Indigenous [Adivasi] peoples – is appalling and unacceptable,” NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson told a news conference.

She called on Mr. Trudeau to bar 13 Indian officials from entering Canada and to boycott Group of 20 events in India’s Kashmir region. The officials are all affiliated with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Ms. McPherson said the 13 individuals have all “called for racist and genocidal violence against Muslims and other minorities in India.”

Jaspreet Kaur Bal, the vice-president for Ontario of the World Sikh Organization, told the same NDP press conference that she believes India is a “fascist state.”

Speaking after the press conference, Ms. Bal said there is no evidence that Sikh Canadians are committing illegal activities in support of Khalistan. She said a “significant portion” of Sikhs in Canada support making Punjab an independent state. “It’s not a fringe idea.”

The Indian High Commission did not immediately respond to the NDP’s call for Canada to ban the Indian officials and boycott any G20 event in Kashmir.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has in the past attended Khalistan rallies before becoming leader in 2017, declined to say where he stood on the issue. He told The Globe and Mail that he was in a rush but promised to “follow up and have a full chat.”

His office later send a statement, saying the High Commissioner should present evidence of illegal funding to law enforcement.

“There are Canadians laws in place to protect against that,” communications director Mélanie Richer said. “If that is the High Commissioner’s allegation and that is the evidence the High Commissioner has, it should be presented to the authorities immediately.”

An aide to Defence Minister Anita Anand tried to block a Globe reporter from asking her about funding of Khalistan secessionist as she walked into the main entrance of the House of Commons. Ms. Anand replied, “We believe in the territorial integrity of all countries,” as she was whisked through security.

Deputy Conservative leader Tim Uppal made clear Thursday his party does not support illegal funding of Khalistan operations but believe Canadian Sikhs are free to support a separate Punjab homeland, where their religion is the majority.

“We support a united India. If there are any illegal activities, that should be dealt with by the authorities. If there are people who are expressing themselves in a legal way then it is fine with us,” he said.

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