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Canada says pro-Khalistan Sikhs have right to freedom of expression

By Murtaza Ali Shah
September 18, 2022

TORONTO: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has said it cannot stop the Canadian Sikhs from expressing their views through the Khalistan Referendum voting as long as the process is peaceful, democratic and within the legal parameters of the Canadian laws.

Commenting on the situation that has unfolded in the wake of an attack on a Hindu temple and on the poster of a revered Khalistani Sikh leader, a Canadian govt official said that Canadian nationals have every freedom to express their views in every manner possible as long as it follows the Canadian laws on right to freedom of expression and right to free speech and assembly.

The official spoke after consistent lobbying by the Indian govt with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government against the rising pro-Khalistan sentiment in Canada – home to over one million Sikhs – and a high-profile campaign for Khalistan being run by the pro-Kahlistan and pro-separatist group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ).

India has tried to apply diplomatic pressure on the Canadian govt ahead of the Khalistan Referendum voting on 18 September at the Gore Meadows Community Center in Brampton, Ontario. Hundreds of Sikhs gathered at the centre on Saturday to make preparations for the voting on Sunday – a move that is set to pitch India against the Canadian government.

The Canadian govt has said that its position on the united India and its status will not change; that it will not recognise a referendum run by the advocacy group but it has stressed that at the same time it cannot take away right of Canadians to get involved in any kind of political activity and demand their rights through peaceful and democratic means.

Canadian parliamentarian Sukhminder Singh Dhaliwal has also said that constitutional and democratic political expression cannot be stopped.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the Counsel General of Sikhs for Justice and a New York Attorney, said Indian government has used every trick to paint Sikhs in a bad light before the western world but the democratic govts have refused to come under Indian pressure because they recognise that Khalistan Referendum seeks to assess the desire for an independent Khalistan and once the voting process is completed then the case will be presented before the United Nations.

The position taken by the Canadian govt on Khalistan Referendum is set to anger India which has felt perturbed at the scenes of thousands of Sikhs coming out in the Western capitals demanding freedom from India and the establishment of an independent state of Khalistan.

The Indian govt has openly accused the Canadian authorities of showing leniency towards Khalistanis in Canada.

Earlier this week, the Indian authorities launched a strong protest with the Canadian govt after BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Toronto was vandalised with anti-Indian and pro-Khalistan slogans written at the entrance ahead of 18 September Khalistan Referendum voting which is set to attract tens of thousands of Sikhs.

The Indian government has condemned the vandalism at the Mandir, calling on the Canadian Prime Minister to take action against the suspected Khalistani activists.

The vandalism incident comes after the local police announced it has arrested an Indo-Canadian man for tearing Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s banner in the city of Caledon, Ontario, ahead of the 18 September Khalistan Referendum. In response to the attack, over 500 Sikhs protested outside the Indian consulate in Toronto alleging that the Indian govt was behind the attack on the posters of nationalist Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who is regarded as a martyr, saint and icon of Khalistan movement.