Sikhs in Canada are grateful to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for speaking out about their concerns and defying India despite the possibility of harsh retaliation from New Delhi, which he claimed could be connected to the killing of a Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
Because of his support for Khalistan, an independent Sikh state, the Indian government viewed Nijjar, a Canadian citizen who was fatally shot in June in British Columbia as a terrorist.
India vehemently denied any participation in the killing of Nijjar, which happened in the parking lot of a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia. Canadian Sikhs, however, are sceptical, and the minority who actively support Khalistan are terrified.
"There's a lot of fear," said Sentokh Singh, who was among the small group who protested in front of the Indian High Commission (embassy) in Ottawa this week. "That's why we are here today."
Following Trudeau's shocking revelation last week, both nations fired ambassadors in a tit-for-tat response, but India went further and issued a travel advisory and halted the issuance of visas to Canadians.
Trudeau's action runs the risk of undermining the strategic economic and political reorientation towards India that many Western nations are doing to confront China. It also diverted attention from his efforts to address issues about the expense of living, which have negatively impacted his popularity in polls.
The majority of Sikhs outside of the northern Indian state of Punjab live in Canada, where there are approximately 770,000 people. The Indian government has long indicated its disapproval with some community members' vocal support for Khalistan.
Sikhs in Canadian politics are more powerful than they appear. Despite making up only around 2% of Canada's population, they have 15 MPs in the House of Commons, more than 4% of the seats, largely from crucial election battlegrounds.
Jagmeet Singh, the head of the opposition New Democrats, a left-leaning group that is backing Trudeau's minority government, is also a member.
"In political terms, this is no-brainer: You got to get out ahead of the story and you got to express outrage," said Fen Hampson, professor of international affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Trudeau's "unsubstantiated allegations" seek to shift focus away from "Khalistani terrorists and extremists who have been provided shelter in Canada," India's foreign ministry said.
According to Canada, there has been no evidence of crime, violence, or terrorist activities, and Sikhs have a right to peaceful protest.
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