Jagmeet Singh defends appearance at Sikh independence rally

Jagmeet Singh defends appearance at Sikh independence rally
From CBC - March 14, 2018

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh went on the defensive Wednesday, saying his appearance at a 2015 rally in San Francisco should not be read as lending support to extreme elements of the Sikh community calling for independence for their homeland.

Singhwho spent much of his early political life lobbying the Ontario government to recognize the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India as an act of genocidesaid he attended therally to foster peace in a community still grieving three decades later over the violent events that left thousands dead. The riots erupted after Sikh bodyguards assassinated Indira Gandhi, India's prime minister.

"While there [at the San Franciscorally], I spoke directly about the pain in the community and my own path to learning about my heritage," Singh said.

"When faced with the knowledge that your relatives were targeted for who they were, you are faced with the question of how to respond. My response was to embrace my identity and work harder to stand up for human rights and not allow the voices of the marginalized to be made silent."

There can be little doubt about the sympathies of many who attended that 10,000-strongrally in 2015. Somemembers of the crowd can be seen holding ceremonial swords andchanting "Khalistan,Khalistan," while others carried signs that read "Sikhs demand independence."

The rally stage featured a large poster of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a militant leaderregarded by the Indian government as a terroristbut celebrated by some Sikhs who want a state separate from India.

Bhindranwalewas killed in an Indian militaryraid targeting the Golden Temple, a sacred site then regarded as a hotbed of the Khalistan independence movement. His death in the raid made him a martyr to many Sikhs who were appalled that an Indian prime minister would approve armed action against a revered religious site.

Others Sikhs revileBhindranwale's memory, as he is believed to be responsible for numerous deathsincluding those of Sikhs who opposed the partition of India.

In his speech, Singh againaccused India of genocide for attacks on Sikhs after the Golden Temple incident. At the time of the rally, Singh was serving as a member of Ontario's provincial legislature and had sponsored a motion calling on Ontario to recognize the anti-Sikh riots as an act of genocide.

Talwinder Parmar

In a statement sent Wednesday after theGlobe and Mail first reported his presence at the rally,Singh said he does not support terrorist acts.

"I condemn all acts of terrorism in every part of the world, regardless of who the perpetrators are or who the victims are," Singh said. "Terrorism can never be seen as a way to advance the cause of any one group. It only leads to suffering, pain and death."

In an interview with CBC's Terry Milewski last October, Singh refused to denounceextremists within Canada's Sikh community who glorifyTalwinder Singh Parmar, widely recognized as the mastermind behind the Air India bombing that left 329 people dead 268 of them Canadians.

When Milewskiasked him specifically about Parmar, Singh said this: "I do not know who's responsible [for the bombing] but I think we need to find out who's responsible, we need to make sure that the investigation results in a conviction of someone who is actually responsible."

Twoinquiries have concluded Parmar was the chief terrorist behind the bombing.

'It sends a message that Mr. Singhca not distinguish between whether or not the use of violence is appropriate in political matters.' - Ujjal Dosanjh

Ujjal Dosanjh, a former B.C. NDP premier and federal Liberal cabinet minister, said Singh's presence at a march that so prominently displayed a portrait ofBhindranwaleis troubling.


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