Sikh and Muslim leaders are calling on Canadian authorities to do more to protect citizens under threat from foreign actors after the allegation that a Canadian Sikh leader’s death was linked to agents of the Indian government.
World Sikh Organization board member Mukhbir Singh said while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s revelation on Monday regarding the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar may have shocked many Canadians, it was not a surprise to the Sikh community.
“For decades, India has targeted Sikhs in Canada with espionage, disinformation and now murder,” Mr. Singh told a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday.
“Hardeep Singh Nijjar had publicly mentioned the threat to his life for months and said he was targeted by intelligence agencies. [The Canadian Security Intelligence Service] and local law enforcement agencies were aware of the threat to Nijjar, as well as other Sikh activists in Canada, and they had been alerted to the danger from multiple sources.”
His organization called for several measures, including “immediate protection for Sikhs in Canada who face a threat from India and its agents.”
Mr. Singh said the WSO is aware of other Canadian Sikhs with threats against their lives who have been “advised to make changes to their pattern of living.” Asked whether law enforcement authorities approached Sikh community members about the threats or vice versa, Mr. Singh said both.
“Some of the community members have advised local officials of threats against their lives; local officials have also advised community members of threats against their lives,” he said.
Stephen Brown, chief executive of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said members of Muslim, Sikh and other communities have voiced such concerns to the federal government for years, with no action.
“When we can see, in Canada, our Prime Minister getting up in the House of Commons and saying that there is credible evidence to suggest that the agent of a foreign country is assassinating religious minorities in our country – they’re killing Canadians in broad daylight in our country – it’s absolutely unacceptable,” he said.
“Anybody would be wise to be concerned about this – not just ethnic minorities, not just religious minorities.”
Mr. Nijjar, 45, was shot dead in June outside the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Surrey, B.C., of which he had been president for four years. He was an outspoken supporter for the creation of an independent Khalistan, a separate homeland for Sikhs carved out of Punjab, and he volunteered with Sikhs for Justice, a U.S.-based group spearheading the movement.
A Canadian citizen and leader in Surrey’s Sikh community, Mr. Nijjar had been accused by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) of being a terrorist. He had spoken of the dangers of advocating for Sikh rights, and confided in friends that he had been alerted by CSIS that he was being targeted for violence. His lawyer confirmed CSIS’s warning in June.
Gurpreet Singh, an independent journalist and broadcaster with Spice Radio, interviewed Mr. Nijjar in May, one month before his killing. He recalled that Mr. Nijjar spoke of threats against his life – one of several times that he had spoken publicly about them.
“He said, ‘I’m being cautioned by the Canadian authorities, again and again, to remain vigilant,’” Mr. Singh said.
“I was not surprised [to learn of his death]. I hate to say that, but that’s what he had been saying. And, after his death, supporters had been saying the same thing. I would say that Trudeau’s statement actually vindicates Hardeep Singh Nijjar posthumously.”
Randeep Sarai, the Liberal member of Parliament for Surrey Centre, said while authorities did warn Mr. Nijjar of threats against him, police don’t typically provide the type of services that the public may expect, such as security at home.
Mr. Sarai said it is his understanding that police are actively looking at ways to better protect people at such risk.
“If relocation or different travel plans and other means are not sufficient, and other means are needed, I think that’s expected of our law enforcement agencies because Canadians need to be safe,” he said. “They should definitely not fear reprisal from abroad. This is something I think the RCMP is actively looking into and actively engaging, and making sure that if they have to adjust their ways, they might have to do that.”
The RCMP did not respond to a request for comment.
On Monday, B.C. Premier David Eby said he was angered to hear of Mr. Trudeau’s announcement and that the province would do all it can to enhance protections for British Columbians against the violence or threat of state actors.
“I call, yet again, on the federal government to share all relevant information related to any known ongoing foreign interference and transnational organized crime threats with our provincial authorities and our government, so we may act in co-ordination and protect those at risk,” Mr. Eby said in a statement.