A wave of dueling protests unfolded on Saturday in Toronto as hundreds of members from Canada’s Sikh community gathered outside the Indian consulate. The demonstration was in response to the unresolved murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh leader who was gunned down in the Vancouver area last month. Protesters accused the Indian government of involvement in the assassination and demanded accountability.
Organized by Sikhs for Justice, a US-based organization, the rally drew attention to the alleged role of an Indian agency in the crime. Kuljeet Singh, a spokesperson for the group, expressed their firm belief that those responsible should face consequences. “When an Indian agency and system commit a crime, they have to be held accountable,” Singh stated.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who had been declared a wanted terrorist by India, was fatally shot on June 18 in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver known for its significant Sikh population. The killing has been described by some protesters, including Hakirt Singh, a lawyer, as a political assassination. Singh called for a thorough investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and expressed concerns about foreign interference in Canadian soil. “When there is vandalism against a member of Parliament, you see tweets and reactions from politicians. Here it is an assassination of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil. That is foreign interference,” he emphasized.
Nijjar had been an advocate for the establishment of Khalistan, an independent Sikh state encompassing parts of northern India and possibly Pakistan. While India accused Nijjar of carrying out terrorist attacks, he denied the charges.
The demonstrators, predominantly men, displayed yellow flags adorned with blue logos symbolizing their separatist movement while chanting “Khalistan! Khalistan!” The protesters embarked from the Toronto suburbs and converged in front of the Indian consulate, where they encountered approximately 50 members of the diaspora supporting the Indian government.
Vijay Jain, an IT consultant and one of the counterdemonstrators, expressed concern over the presence of provocative posters and called attention to the past acts of terrorism associated with certain groups participating in the protest. “They have a poster here calling to kill Indian diplomats. We are concerned because these groups have committed terrorist acts in the past, and politicians are not taking actions,” Jain told reporters.
Amid escalating tensions between Canada and India since the assassination, New Delhi has repeatedly accused Ottawa of negligence in dealing with Sikh protests within Canada. India’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, urged the Canadian government to take necessary measures to ensure the safety of Indian diplomats.
Canada is home to the largest Sikh population outside of Punjab, India, signifying the cultural significance and deep-rooted ties between the two nations.