Toronto: Sikhs turned up in large numbers at a Khalistan referendum event in Canada just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed New Delhi’s strong concerns the same day about continuing anti-India activities in the North American nation to his counterpart Justin Trudeau at the G20 Leaders’ Summit.
The vote to weigh support for Khalistan, a separate homeland for Sikhs in India, was held on Sunday in the British Columbian province of Surrey at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara where its former president Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot dead in June.
The outlawed Pro-Khalistani group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), which organised the referendum, said more than 100,000 people attended the event, the Global News channel reported.
“The turnout tells us, and the wider community, that the issue of Khalistan is not an issue for a fringe group of people but rather… this is a deep-rooted issue that touches the hearts and minds of many Sikhs,” Jatinder Grewal, a Sikh for Justice director, told the Vancouver-based news channel.
The vote was supposed to be held at a school in Surrey, but was cancelled after images of weapons on the poster were brought to the school authorities’ notice by concerned residents.
In a strongly-worded condemnation, Modi told Trudeau on Saturday that the extremist elements are promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the community in Canada and their places of worship.
“The nexus of such forces with organised crime, drug syndicates and human trafficking should be a concern for Canada as well. It is essential for the two countries to cooperate in dealing with such threats,” a Ministry of External Affairs statement quoted Prime Minister Modi as saying.
In a media interaction after meeting his Indian counterpart, Trudeau said that the actions of the few do not represent the entire community or Canada.
“Canada will always defend freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and freedom of peaceful protest and it is extremely important to us. At the same time we are always there to prevent violence and to push back against hatred,” he said in response to a question on Khalistani extremism.
Just days before Trudeau had departed for India for the September 9-10 summit, Shri Mata Bhameshwari Durga temple in Surrey was vandalised with anti-India and pro-Khalistan graffiti slogans.
Despite New Delhi registering strong protests, an anti-India campaign has continued in Canada with pro-Khalistani graffiti and posters targeting Indian diplomats and temples across the country.
Incidents of Khalistani elements protesting outside the Indian consulate in Toronto displaying “Kill India” posters, had led to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar saying that Canada was apparently allowing these protests driven by votebank politics.