Canadian Sikh protests outside Indian mission off to a muted start

TORONTO,(Reuters): A handful of members of a Canadian Sikh group gathered outside the Indian diplomatic mission in Toronto on Monday, a week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the prospect of New Delhi’s involvement in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia.

The protests, which are also planned in Ottawa and Vancouver, are aimed at increasing public awareness about India’s alleged role in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot dead outside a Sikh temple on June 18 in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a high Sikh population, one organizer told Reuters.

Between 100 and 150 members were expected to join the protests, Jatinder Singh Grewal, a director of the group Sikh for Justice in Canada, said, but only a dozen people had gathered in front of the Indian consulate in Toronto around noon when the demonstration was set to begin.

Protesters began chanting “Khalistan live forever” in the Punjabi language. Trudeau said last week Canada was pursuing “credible allegations” that Indian government agents may have been involved in Nijjar’s murder.

India swiftly denied any role in the killing and described the allegations as “absurd”. The accusations have sparked tit-for-tat retaliation from both countries, with each nation expelling diplomats and New Delhi suspending visas for Canadians.

“We are asking Canada to expel the India ambassador, Grewal told Reuters on Sunday.

The Indian High Commissioner to Canada, Sanjay Kumar Verma, said concerned authorities have been informed of the protests.

“Ensuring the security of diplomatic premises and personnel is the responsibility of the host country. I have no reasons to doubt that such a commitment will remain unfulfilled,” Verma said in an email.

The Toronto Police Department said it was aware of the planned demonstrations on Monday but declined to disclose details of the security preparations or potential response to any violent situations that may arise during the protest.

Nijjar, who worked as a plumber, left the north Indian state of Punjab a quarter-century ago and became a Canadian citizen. He has supported the formation of an independent Sikh homeland, called Khalistantan, to be created out of Punjab. India designated Nijjar a “terrorist” in July 2020. The Canadian government has amassed both human and signals intelligence in a months-long investigation into the Sikh separatist leader, CBC News reported last week, citing unidentified sources. U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen told CTV News that “shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners” had informed Trudeau of the possible involvement of Indian agents in the murder of a Canadian citizen in June.

Canada is home to about 770,000 Sikhs — the highest population of Sikhs outside their home state of Punjab — and the country has been the site of many demonstrations that have irked India.

Sikhs make up just 2% of India’s 1.4 billion population but they are a majority in Punjab, a state of 30 million where their religion was born 500 years ago.

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