VANCOUVER — The son of Sikh community leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar says his father met regularly with Canadian intelligence officers in the months before he was shot dead in British Columbia last June, a killing that's been credibly linked to India, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons on Monday.
Balraj Singh Nijjar, 21, said his father had been meeting with Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers "once or twice a week," including one or two days before the June 18 murder, with another meeting scheduled for two days after his death.
The meetings had started in February and had increased in frequency in the following three or four months, he said in an interview on Tuesday.
He said he also attended a meeting between his father and the RCMP last year in which they were told about threats to Nijjar's life.
His father was advised to "stay at home," he said.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar — a vocal supporter of the Khalistan movement that advocates for a separate Sikh homeland inIndia's Punjab region — was gunned down by two masked men in the parking lot of Surrey's Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, where he was president.
Trudeau told Parliament that intelligence services were investigating "credible" information about "a potential link" between India's government and the killing.
India's government has denied the accusation as "absurd and motivated."
Over the years, Balraj Singh Nijjar said his father had received hundreds of threatening messages telling him to stop his advocacy for Sikh independence.
"If you don't stop talking about Khalistan, we'll kill you. We know where you live. We know you go to this gurdwara," he said of the messages.
He said they would always report the threats to the police, but neither he nor his father wanted to hide, and they felt protected under Canadian law.
"We weren't worried about safety because we weren't doing anything wrong. We were just using freedom of speech," he said.
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a U.S.-based spokesman for the group Sikhs for Justice and a close associate of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, said Nijjar had asked Canadian authorities whether he should wear a bulletproof vest in the weeks before he was gunned down.
The New York-based lawyer said Nijjar asked about the vest in April or May, and the agencies responded to the effect that they could not provide one.
Nijjar had also told him a year earlier that Canadian authoritieshad informed him of a threat to his life, Pannun said in an interview on Tuesday.
He said that call came shortly after the July 2022 shooting death of Ripudaman Singh Malik, who had been acquitted in the 1985 Air India terrorist bombings.
A 2005 Canadian government report concluded that the bombings that killed 331 people were carried out as a result of a conspiracy by Sikh Khalistani separatists that was "planned and executed" in Canada. Only one man, bomb maker Inderjit Singh Reyat, was ever convicted.
"He called me and (for the) first time specifically told me that Canadian agencies told him that the next target could be Nijjar," Pannun said, referring to his conversation with Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
He said the Canadian authorities told Nijjar he shouldn't go to his gurdwara at his usual times, and he should avoid being seen in public.
Pannun said he wasn't aware of any precautions Nijjar may have taken to protect his personal security, but he believes his friend chose to go about his daily life despite the warnings because his campaigning in Canada was peaceful.
"Since the Khalistan referendum is a peaceful and a democratic process, and he is in Canada, where freedom of speech and expression is inherently a democratic, fundamental right," Pannun said.
India takes a very different view and had previously accused both Pannun and Hardeep Nijjar of terrorism and separatism.
Nijjar had been the main co-ordinator in Canada for an unofficial global referendum on Sikh independence in India, Pannun said.
He said there are two versions of Nijjar in the public eye — one concocted by the Indian government accusing him of terrorism, and the true version.
"He was peacefully advocating for (the) Khalistan referendum."
Outside that work, he said Nijjar helped support community members in need.
A media officer for the RCMP in B.C. said a request to confirm the warnings and advice given to Nijjar had been forwarded to the Mounties' national headquarters. CSIS did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2023.
Nono Shen and Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press