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Canada Dosanjh Says He Feels ‘suffocated’ In Feud With Sikh Group


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, here to champion the rights of Roma being targeted for expulsion by President Nicolas Sarkozy, charms some Roma kids at a squatter camp on the outskirts of Paris.

Photograph by: Peter O'Neil, Postmedia News

PARIS — Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, fresh from an 11-day trip to India for a film screening and then to Paris to champion Roma rights, says he feels like he is returning to a ghetto-like atmosphere in Canada where his freedom to speak is under siege.

The former federal health minister and British Columbia premier was responding to the World Sikh Organization of Canada’s widely publicized allegation last week that a new documentary about his life, screened this month in New Delhi and Chandigarh, could incite violence against more than 400,000 Canadian Sikhs.

The organization said there is no evidence to back up Dosanjh’s long-held conviction, which was expressed in the documentary, that there are extremist elements in Canada’s Sikh diaspora.

“It feels kind of suffocating,” Dosanjh told Postmedia News prior to his return to Canada for the resumption of Parliament on Monday.

“For someone like me — where I’ve been and what I’ve been through — I shouldn’t feel suffocated. But I do,” said Dosanjh, who in 1985 was severely beaten with an iron bar after speaking out against radicalism.

“Because if they can turn an innocuous documentary about my life, which they haven’t even seen, into a thing that’s so dangerous allegedly for ordinary Sikhs, I just feel we have a ghetto in Canada.”

He said if he feels intimidated by the organization’s criticisms, as well as an ongoing lawsuit it has filed against him, then ordinary members of the community must feel even greater pressure to not speak out.

The organization said it is “concerned that a new film highlighting (Dosanjh’s) claims that Canada harbours a Sikh extremist movement will prompt another round of racist attacks on Canada’s more than 400,000 Sikhs.”

Dosanjh described the criticism as “hate propaganda” from “merchants of fear,” and said Canada’s “fringe” Khalistani movement is trying to end his political career.

“It seems to me that they think if they can kill me politically they’ll have their Khalistan in India.”

He also said the organization’s release may be inciting threats against him.

The World Sikh Organization was created in 1984 after the Indian government’s military assault on the Golden Temple, the Sikh religion’s holiest shrine, to expel armed Sikh separatists.

Dosanjh describes it as a “Khalistani” organization supporting the creation of a breakaway Sikh homeland in India called Khalistan.

In 2007, during the inquiry into the 1985 Air India terrorist bombing, the organization unsuccessfully attempted to introduce witnesses who would argue that the Indian government, rather than Canadian-based Sikhs, may have been responsible for the worst mass murder in Canadian history, killing 329 people.

Organization lawyer Balpreet Singh said last week the organization “supports Sikhs in Punjab to voice their political opinions, whatever they may be” and added that “if that includes Khalistan then we are with them.”

Dosanjh said the organization doesn’t speak for the community — in either India or Canada.

“This particular fringe element in the Sikh community is so consumed by Khalistan they’re in a time warp,” said Dosanjh, who’s the MP for Vancouver South.

“In India and the Punjab, among politicians and among ordinary people, this doesn’t exist. And my worry is that this will come back to haunt Canada one day because if you have a diaspora living in the past, in a time warp, right in the middle of a thriving 21st century Canada there could be problems.”

He said the fixation “can derail ordinary integration in Canadian society and I worry about it.”

Dosanjh describes himself as “an Indo-Canadian born and raised in a Sikh family” who is being “berated” for having independent views.

A World Sikh organization news release quoted Prem Vinning, a longtime Liberal organizer famous since the early 1990s for his ability to recruit large numbers of Liberal party members prepared to vote en masse for particular candidates in riding nomination and party leadership battles. Vinning said there is “no evidence of a Sikh extremist movement in Canada, but the Liberal politician’s persistent rhetoric is causing a backlash for Canadian Sikhs.”

The Air India inquiry heard evidence in 2007 that ordinary members of the Sikh diaspora in Canada were afraid to provide evidence to police about violence within the community.

One former police officer cited the unsolved beating of Dosanjh in 1985 and the 1998 assassination of Tara Singh Hayer, who had agreed to be a witness in the Air Indian criminal prosecution.

“The perpetrators are known within the community. I don’t think either of those cases may ever come to trial and one of the reasons — it’s not because of a lack of effort by the police — it’s the fear and suspicion from the community of retaliation,” said Mark Lalonde.

“They have to live in this community and there is a price for coming forward.”