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Canadian politicians look the other way while Sikh extremism undergoes resurgence

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Release Date: June 29, 2007

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 organizations.

"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 Canada.

"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 extremists.

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 influence."