New Canadian Media
Tuesday, 27 June 2017 08:59

Embers of Sikh Extremism

Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Parliament Hill in Ottawa is one of those treasures found only in liberal democracies.  Anyone can show up and lobby, protest, shout his lungs out or carry a placard peacefully and silently, no matter what the cause.  It is also a great place to watch the fireworks on Canada Day as long as enjoying the sights and sounds with 50,000 strangers does not bother you.

Sometimes, the ‘Hill’ is the site of demonstrations by groups that are not entirely acceptable.  At times, even listed terrorist entities have marched back and forth: a good example was the 2009 mass turnout by Tamil Canadians over the civil war in Sri Lanka at which Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) flags were seen. The LTTE is a banned terrorist organisation in this country.

On June 11, approximately 200 Sikhs gathered on Parliament Hill to commemorate the anniversary of the 1984 attack by Indian forces on the Sikhs’ holiest site, the Golden Temple or Darbar Sahib.  Demonstrators chanted ‘Long live Khalistan’ and demanded that India allow a referendum on the creation of an independent Sikh state in the Punjab.

Khalistan is of course their word for this homeland and the 1984 siege led to the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182 which killed 329 people off the coast of Ireland: the bomb was placed on the aircraft by Canadian Sikh extremists and was the single largest terrorist attack in history prior to 9/11.

It is important to distinguish the desire for a national homeland from the desire to obtain that homeland through violence or terrorism.

We don’t hear a lot about Sikh extremism these days, which could lead some to believe that it is no longer an issue.  It is fairly certain that Sikh extremist activity is at a nadir, the recent protest in Ottawa notwithstanding.  As I have written before, however, it would be a mistake to assume that the movement is dead.

India for one does not think it is. During an April visit to his native Punjab province, Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was accused by a high-ranking Indian official of being a ‘Khalistani’.  That official, Amarinder Singh, said there were other ‘Khalistanis’  in the Trudeau cabinet and that he would refuse to meet with any of them.

This gets complicated as Minister Sajjan’s father was a senior official in the World Sikh Organisation the purpose of which was the pursuit of an independent Sikh state. It is not as if the Minister has not had enough problems of late, ranging from his exaggerated claim to have been the mastermind of a 2006 Canadian military operation in Afghanistan (codenamed "Medusa") to what he knew or didn’t know about the transfer of Afghan detainees to local authorities.

It is important to distinguish the desire for a national homeland from the desire to obtain that homeland through violence or terrorism.  I know of no link between the Minister and banned terrorist organisations and, as a Sikh, he has every right to favour independence for his people through peaceful means.

There may very well be vestiges of Sikh extremism in Canada: the long-awaited "Khalistan" never materialised and no doubt some are not willing to allow the political process to unfold gradually. Yet, we also have to take into consideration the nature of the current Indian government.  Whatever you think of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, you cannot deny he has ushered in a wave of xenophobic and hateful Hindu nationalism that has been responsible for some very violent acts in India. 

It would not surprise me if some of these extremists were a little oversensitive to any whiff of Sikh independence. 

We must be vigilant in Canada to the possibility that we harbour individuals willing to create a "Khalistan" at all costs.  But we must be equally vigilant in subjecting accusations in this direction to careful scrutiny.

Phil Gurski is a 30-year intelligence veteran and the author of the forthcoming The Lesser Jihads: Bringing Islamist extremism to the world. 

Published in Commentary

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa has debunked international criticism over the treatment of the island nation’s Tamil minority population. "The war was not against the Tamils. We only fought a brutal terrorist outfit that was the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)," the president told a political gathering in the southern district of Galle on Wednesday. "If our war was against Tamils, how could Tamils live happily and peacefully among the Sinhalese in the south of the country," Rajapaksa quipped.

Tamil Canadian

Read Full Article

Published in South Asia
by Our Staff Correspondent
 
A Canadian man has pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge in the United States for supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ellam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka.
 
Suresh Sriskandarajah, 32, faces a maximum of 15 years in prison after admitting Tuesday in a federal court in New York of plotting to provide material support to the LTTE, a group banned in Canada and the U.S.
 
An accomplished student in Waterloo, Ontario, Sriskandarajah came to Canada from northern Sri Lanka as a boy. Also known as Waterloo Suresh, he had been working on a Ph.D. after earning degrees from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. In May, 2008, he received Laurier's CIBC Leaders in Entrepreneurship Award.
 
"The guilty plea was probably something he was planning for some time to try to get a reduced sentence," said Amarnath Amarasingam, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at York University. "He was facing 15 years in jail and a long drawn-out trial. Not really the ideal situation to be in. The letter provided by the Sri Lankan government is also interesting - and seems to have been effective. It's clear that the family did all they could to help."
 
In the letter cited by Amarasingam, Sri Lanka is purported to have urged the U.S. to abandon his prosecution because of “his publicly recognized efforts to secure a lasting, peaceful reconciliation for the Tamil people.”

The letter was revealed by the U.S. federal judge hearing his bail plea in February, the National Post had reported.
 
The Canadian newspaper said Judge Raymond Dearie refused him bail “with some reluctance” and had noted that “given the history of Sri Lanka’s prolonged and bitter conflict,” the request was “an extraordinary initiative that evidences Suresh’s legitimate and admirable work.”
 
Even Judge Dearie’s reference to him by his first name only suggests an atypical reaction of the U.S. court system towards a terrorist, the Post said.
 
Sriskandarajah was first arrested in August 2006 after a joint investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation into the activities of the LTTE, better known as Tamil Tigers.
 
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release that between September 2004 and April 2006, Sriskandarajah and several co-conspirators helped research and acquire aviation equipment, submarine and warship design software, night vision equipment and communications technology.
The prosecutors said Sriskandarajah used students as couriers to smuggle prohibited items into LTTE-held territory in Sri Lanka at that time and he helped the group launder its money in the U.S. and elsewhere.
 
Founded in 1976, the LTTE began its armed conflict against the Sri Lankan government in 1983 to establish an independent Tamil state in northern part of the country. Its guerrilla strategy often included acts of terrorism and numerous political assassinations, including the May 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the 1993 assassination of the President of Sri Lanka Ranasinghe Premadasa.
 
India declared the LTTE a terrorist group in 1992, followed by the U.S. in 1997. Canada and the European Union did so in 2006. In May 2009, Sri Lankan government forces defeated the LTTE. – New Canadian Media
 

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Published in International

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