British Columbia's attorney general says the community is reeling over allegations India's government may be connected to the death of a Sikh leader in the province, but those on the inside say the allegations aren't a surprise.
Niki Sharma said Tuesday that the link is shocking, and every B.C. resident has the freedom to express their political views without the threat of violence or harm.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was the president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, B.C., when he was shot to death while in his vehicle in the temple's parking lot in June.
Sharma said the province will do everything necessary to make sure that if there are other B.C. residents under threat that they are protected.
"It’s shocking and distressing," she said of the claim. "Every British Columbian has the freedom to express their political views, to express their values without the threat of violence and harm. And what Prime Minister Trudeau revealed (Monday) was troubling."
But it's not a shock to Mukhbir Singh of the World Sikh Organization, who said they have been speaking out against India's meddling with their community members abroad for years.
“For decades, India has targeted Sikhs in Canada with espionage, disinformation and now murder,” said Singh at a news conference in Ottawa.
Singh said he wants Sikhs at risk to receive more protection, while noting that some members have been told by officials that they need to move away to keep themselves safe.
Stephen Brown, the CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said at the same news conference that action must be taken.
"We must understand that this assassination of one of our fellow citizens on the streets of our country in broad daylight, in front of a place of worship, affects each and every one of us."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set out the allegations in Parliament on Monday, saying Canadian intelligence services are investigating credible information of a link between the Indian government and Nijjar's death.
India denies any connection. Both Canada and India have kicked out diplomats in response to the claims.
Nijjar was one of the organizers of an unofficial referendum on Sikh independence in India. He had been organizing the Canadian vote for the independent Sikh homeland of Khalistanbefore he died.
Last month, Sikh officials said many thousands voted in the referendum at the same temple location where Nijjar was shot dead. A second vote is set for later this month.
Nijjar's son, Balraj Singh Nijjar, said Sikhs have long faced injustice from India and they made the referendum a peaceful protest.
"I believe India made a mistake by assassinating (my father) because just like as we saw 135,000 people showed up and voted, " he said, noting that before the shooting people told him they wouldn't vote.
"You know people were waiting in line for three, four hours just to put that one vote in."
Others in the community had suspected India might be involved in the death of Nijjar long before Trudeau made the announcement.
Organizers of the referendum announced last week that they added a second question to the ballot for the Oct. 29 vote, asking if they believe India's high commissioner was responsible for the death of Nijjar.
Jasbir Singh Boparai, a business owner in Mississauga, Ont., and activist in the Khalistan movement, said it was shocking that a foreign government may be involved in the killing.
But Trudeau's announcement about the claims gave him comfort, he said.
"Now we feel very proud that the Canadian government is behind us."
Bal Krishna, a 71-year-old lawyer also from Mississauga, said he expected the issue to be resolved peacefully between India and Canada.
But he said that Trudeau’s announcement “shows there is a lack of maturity in our politicians.”
“I have a lot of reservations,” he said. “Any allegation made by any country should be based on some facts and here, even if the investigation is not complete, charges are not filed, accused have not been arrested."
— With files from Fakiha Baig in Mississauga and Alessia Passafiume in Ottawa
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2023.
The Canadian Press