April 20, 2019 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Ottawa, Canada: Sikh diaspora groups in Canada have expressed serious concerns over Indian interference in Sikh affairs in Canada.
The World Sikh Organization of Canada has written to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale over concerns regarding the interference of Indian interests in Canada and within the Sikh community.
Last week, Germany laid charges against individuals for spying on the Sikh and Kashmiri communities and providing information to India’s foreign intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). This is the third-time German authorities have charged individuals for spying on behalf of India in the recent past. Charges had earlier been laid against a Ranjit Singh in March 2014 and one “T.S.P.” in September 2016. It also came to light that the same Ranjit Singh who was charged in 2014 for spying was named on April 1, 2019 as a facilitator and handler of a cell of “Babbar Khalsa” militants who were arrested in Mohali, Punjab. Those arrested are all below the age of 30 and were reportedly radicalized by Ranjit. It was alleged by the Punjab Police that “Ranjit Singh is the mastermind who was providing help to the accused and was motivating them to eliminate the targets.”
The Punjab Police later said that they did not know Ranjit Singh had been convicted of espionage in Germany.
The links between a known Indian intelligence asset and the radicalization and arrest of a cell of “Babbar Khalsa” militants is worrying and the implications go farther than just India or Germany.
In the letter to Minister Goodale sent today, WSO expressed concerns about Indian interference and espionage within the Sikh community in Canada.
In 1986-87 several Indian diplomats were asked by Canadian authorities to leave Canada because of their espionage activities in the Sikh community. One of these diplomats was Maloy Krishna Dhar, a former Joint Director and a 29-year veteran of the Indian Intelligence Bureau was in Ottawa on a diplomatic posting from 1983-87. Dhar wrote in his memoir “Open Secrets” that his mission was to “penetrate select Gurdwaras”, create assets in the Sikh community and also to generate “a few friends amongst the Canadian Members of Parliament”
Dhar also was involved in targeting both mainstream and Punjabi media with stories to “tell the Indian side” and to “regularly meet Canadian Foreign Office mandarins and RCMP point men to brief them about developments back in India and to share whatever “open” information the Indian mission could cull from the community through ‘open’ means”
Dhar wrote, “I do not intend to disclose the details of the intelligence operations that were carried out between Mani, Shashi and me in deference to the niceties of diplomatic protocol. But we did a lot and reached appreciable penetration in the key Sikh inhabited cities in Canada.”
While the activities of Indian intelligence have not drawn attention in the same way in recent years, pressure from Indian interests continues to be felt by many members of the Canadian Sikh community. Many Sikhs, including current and former elected officials, have been denied visas to visit India due to their having spoken out about human rights abuses in India.
In the summer of 2017, the Consulate General of India in Toronto attempted to coerce Carabram, a local cultural festival, to cancel a Punjab pavilion. The Punjab Pavilion was envisioned as a celebration of the culture of Punjab which is today divided by Pakistan and India. Despite this, attempts were made to link the Punjab Pavilion with “Sikh extremism” and Indian national politics.
Indian interference in Canadian affairs was also on display when the Consulate Generation of India (Toronto) attended a local Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh Canada (HSS) event in the Greater Toronto Area. The HSS is the international arm of the far-right Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is an Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist (Hindutva), & paramilitary organization which has been widely condemned as an extremist organization and reported on by the likes of Amnesty International, & Human Rights Watch.
The Indian Government’s control and manipulation of the media to serve its ideological purposes is also well known. Reporters Without Borders has said in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index that India is now 138th-ranked in the world out of 180 countries measured, down two positions since 2017 and lower than countries like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Myanmar.
According to a recent report in the Diplomat, “the BJP Government has transformed previously independent media outlets into state mouthpieces for the sake of minimizing criticism and disseminating their own narrative”.
In Canada, there have been long-held suspicions in the Sikh community that Indian interests manipulate, interfere and pressure media here. During the Air India Inquiry, Don McLean, a member of the Vancouver Police Department, spoke about his concerns regarding the involvement of the Indian government and its agents in Canada during the 80s. Mr. McLean noted his concern that the Indian Consul General was inflaming the Sikh community by making references to Sikhs as “semi-literate farm workers”. In addition, he stated that Indian secret service agents (RAW) were active in the Canadian Sikh community. They made payments of $10,000 to Indian newspapers published in Canada, in order to influence their editorial content. Mr. McLean stated that he noticed the shift in newspaper coverage following these “payments” by the Indian agents.
WSO President Mukhbir Singh said, “with the upcoming Canadian federal elections, and the active involvement of the Sikh community in Canada’s electoral process, we are even more concerned by the potential of Indian interference. There is a history of Indian interference and intimidation in Canada and we hope that all steps will be taken to ensure that Canadian Sikhs are not intimidated or pressured by Indian interests. It is of the utmost importance that Canada remains free from foreign interference.”
SADA Canada Unit Want Canadian Government to Take Swift Action:
Ontario: Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar (SADA) Canada unit president Sukhminder Singh Hansra said in a written statement that the operatives of the Indian Consulate General in Toronto are interfering with Canadians affairs. He added that the this issue was subject of his party’s letter last year to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Intelligence Security Services (CISS).
“Once again, in light of the upcoming Canadian general elections in October, the Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar (SADA) Canada East, feel, the Indian Government operatives are active in Canada. We are fearful and concerned that these operatives will try to interfere in the October general election to get biased results hurting Canadian democracy”, he added.
SADA statement notes that [r]ecently, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said in a press conference that “Canada likely to experience foreign meddling in October election”.
“In 2018, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Chrystia Freeland criticized the Indian officials for the same reason. “Interference in domestic affairs by foreign representatives in Canada is inappropriate,” Ms. Freeland’s spokesman, Adam Austen, wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail”, the statement notes.
In his statement Sukhminder Singh Hansra said: “We ask the Government of Canada to “immediately investigate and expel those whom may cause interference”. According to an email our organization received from Global Affairs Canada confirming that the foreign counselors are not allowed to take part in country’s internal affairs under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. There is sufficient evidence available which can be traced that the operatives of Government of India working for Consulate office in Toronto, using their resources and Visa issuance as an influencer to suppress Sikh Canadians. The Government of Canada needs to take a swift action”.