Toronto, ON - The continuing failure of Canadian politicians
to take Sikh extremism seriously has contributed to a
resurgence in the militant movement, which has also been
encouraged by the failure to gain convictions in the 1985 Air
India bombing, a conference on immigration and terrorism in
Toronto was told Friday.
"Within two weeks of the acquittal of the Air India
suspects, Khalistan slogans were again being chanted. The
extremists were emboldened," said Kim Bolan, an award-winning
reporter with the Vancouver Sun who has written extensively on
Sikh extremism and the Air India bombing.
Speaking to an audience at the Fraser Institute's first
conference on immigration, border controls and terrorism, Bolan
detailed how many Sikh temples are again displaying banners
supporting the creation of Khalistan and pictures of members of
the International Sikh Youth Federation and Babbar Khalsa, two
groups the Canadian government has labeled as terrorist
"Yet politicians from all parties continue to regularly
visit these temples."
Bolan stressed that politicians need to do more due
diligence before meeting with people or groups who claim to
represent any immigrant community. In search of the ethnic
vote, all too often politicians ignore vital information on the
background of the people they are meeting.
As an example, she pointed to a Liberal fundraising dinner
in Vancouver several years ago in which three of the Air India
suspects mingled with a number of Liberal MPs including Paul
Martin and then Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
"The message this sends is that these people (Sikh
extremists) are powerful and connected to the government. Our
politicians need to avoid going to events that include suspect
immigrant community leaders."
Bolan, who has received several death threats resulting from
her writings on Air India and Sikh extremism, said Sikh
terrorism has its roots in the Khalistan movement, the quest
for a separate, independent Sikh state. She said the movement
was hijacked in the 1980s by individuals who used intimidation
and fear to dominate the Sikh immigrant community in Canada.
The result was a terrorist movement that was primarily based in
"The extremists were not challenged by Canada's mainstream
institutions," she said.
"Many of the stories coming out of the community about
beatings and intimidation were treated as little community
stories involving a minority in Canada."
Bolan described how the extremist leaders in the past would
openly discuss their desires for violence and the need to kill
their enemies. Brochures and pamphlets with similar violent
themes were produced and distributed. Ceremonies honouring
assassins and terrorists were held at various temples and
mainstream politicians attended. But since the discussion was
carried on in Punjabi, neither the politicians nor mainstream
Canada paid attention.
"Nobody figured out what was going on."
In fact, Bolan suggests that when it comes to the Sikh
community in Canada, there still exists "two solitudes" between
what is said in Punjabi and English.
But she holds out hope that the power the extremists hold
within the Sikh community can be reduced and those responsible
for terrorist and criminal acts will be brought to justice.
"The Sikh community in Canada is fighting hard to rescue
itself from the extremists," Bolan said, adding that while the
movement for an independent state of Khalistan has virtually
evaporated in the Punjab, it continues to fester in Canada.
She suggested that Canada needs tougher laws to deal with
threats and intimidation and a simple change to the way
Canada's political parties conduct their nomination meetings
would also help reduce the perceived power and influence of the
Since nomination meetings for most political parties don't
require anyone voting to be a Canadian citizen or be legally
allowed to vote in a general election, Sikh extremists have
become very adept at delivering block votes that can influence
and often determine who wins a party's nomination in a
particular riding, Bolan said.
"Change the nomination rules around who can vote. That
little thing will reduce the extremists' power and