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Nijjar Killing: How Canada’s Allegations Miss the Forest for the Trees

Ottawa needs to re-examine its own turbulent relationship with sections of its citizens part of the Indian diaspora.

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In 2018, I found myself flying to Tel Aviv, Israel for a policy trip.

Back then, I was living in Boston, and my transit stop was a quick 90-minute turnaround in Toronto and then en route to Tel Aviv.

I had no intention of leaving Toronto’s Pearson airport. For one thing, in 90 minutes between international flights, couldn’t leave is one thing, but wouldn’t leave is another.

A week before my trip, Air Canada threw a spanner in the works, and to my bemusement, I learned that I would need a “transit visa”.

I was gobsmacked.

Yes, I am well aware of the pangs of visas and not having a strong enough passport, but a “transit visa”, for just passing through? I had transited many countries across Europe to the Middle East and East Asia, so why should Canada be any different, if I was merely just a “ship in the night or a plane during the day”?

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The Randomness of a Passport

I quipped to my Canadian friends, “Canada, you’re the 51st state of the United States”, alluding to how it was just an extension of the United States. “If I am good enough for Israel and the United States, paranoid immigration and carceralesque in their security approach, then I sure as hell should be good for Canada”. I went on to add, “What are you vetting me for with a transit visa, in the ninety minutes I have? Checking, to see if I am good enough to buy Tim Horton’s Coffee or do they reckon that I am oot and aboot, a Starbucks guy”.

It's strange, that Canada puts the same rigours that the United States does for tourist visas and for something as absurd as transit visas. Yes, the United States has them, but at this point, we take visa absurdities as synonymous with the American immigration system.

There is a new juxtaposition that is being framed. I recently wrote about how Canada is becoming the “Benjamin Button of immigration”, in the sense one could go about becoming a Permanent Resident (PR) in Canada before even being a resident.

As the Express Entry PR system was unveiled a few years ago, this opened the floodgates for scores of Indian immigrants, a lot of them who have rightly preserved their sanity fighting the gridlock of American H-1B backlogs and delays and headed to greener albeit colder pastures up north.

This juxtaposition comes in direct contrast with some sections of the diaspora that fled Punjab in the 1970s and 1980s as the Sikh insurgency in India hit a crescendo.

Much has been written about the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Justin Trudeau’s bold claims, the diplomatic brouhaha between Ottawa and New Delhi, and the tea leaves or dare I say maple leafs being read on the geopolitical implications going forward.

However, there is something that is glaringly obvious and yet blatantly ignored.

The press portrays it as an “India v Canada”, or the “diplomatic rift between two countries”. Yes, technically, Trudeau and Ottawa’s umbrage is on allegations of “the slain of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil”, but in reality, it is the complexity of a certain section of Sikh diaspora politics, the inherent randomness of a passport and coincidence of geography.

How Ottawa and New Delhi See Nijjar

Like father, like son, Justin Trudeau and Monsieur Pierre Trudeau and Canada have had a unique relationship with some sections of the Sikh diaspora. As scholars note, soon after Operation Bluestar, the Death of Indira Gandhi, and sadly the pogrom in New Delhi, many patrons of the Khalistan or separatist movement chose refuge in Western countries like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

So, firstly, Nijjar’s presence in Canada was a mere happenstance of geography and personal known connections in a land, rather than connections to a land. These sections of the diaspora, unlike the Indian diaspora moving to the United States post the immigration reforms of 1965, were not forming the economic diaspora; but as Christine Fair notes, “they formed a conflict diaspora that lionized Bhindranwale and castigated India’s armed forces more than the militants.”

There is little appetite for Khalistan as a viable idea for many in Punjab today, but its anachronism has been kept alive by a few vestiges and some diaspora with their own contorted hankering for a separatist homeland while living in a land far far away.

New Delhi’s umbrage has been that the notion of freedom of speech in the West has been one that has had perverse effects where it has been galvanised by an insidious section of the diaspora to slander and mobilize hate towards India through Khalistan activism.

This would be akin to New Delhi entertaining Quebecois separatists. Sorry, more like New Delhi entertaining violent Quebecois separatists.

There is a sense of a euphemistic whitewash in the Western media when it comes to writing about Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Never mind, the skepticism on how he immigrated to Canada on a fake passport in 1997 and got citizenship amidst subterfuge, but coverage largely described him as a happy-go-lucky family man who worked as a plumber in British Columbia.

For New Delhi, Nijjar was more than a dissident, but as the chief of Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), which India sees as a threat to its national security and ripe for stirring up militant activism back in Punjab. So, Ottawa’s allegations, albeit nebulous and described as unfounded by New Delhi, are less about the Indian state going after a Canadian plumber on Canadian soil, and more about India safeguarding its own national interests.

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The Lessons for Canada are Plenty

Ottawa needs to reexamine its own turbulent relationship with sections of its citizens who are part of the Indian diaspora. Immigration 101 largely meant diaspora, wherever they moved, retained their cultural identity but adopted and assimilated into the politics of their new homeland. In this case, Khalistan separatists across the Great White North have brought the putrid politics of their ancestral land in a violent fashion and unloaded it on Canada.

Canada, under the large garb of diversity, needs to understand, that certain sections of its diaspora, with their nefarious intentions will cause a law-and-order problem in Canada. Violent protests and vandalism targeted at Indian missions first affected the Canadian taxpayer and exchequer. Secondly, under the ruse of “all dissidents need to be heard”, a question and a closer examination of the left progressive school of thought. What kind of peaceful dissidents celebrate the assassination of a former female Prime Minister in such horrid gory details?

Thirdly, the banality of Trudeau’s statement of “Canadian citizen on Canadian soil” means less introspection of the violence purported by some sections.

Ottawa cutting its nose to spite its face, by ruining diplomatic and trade relations with the fifth largest economy and a major geopolitical force, to safeguard a citizen, who brought more disrepute to his adopted homeland than positive recognition.

For Trudeau, he would be wise to learn the lessons that his father, the Senior Trudeau didn’t when he ignored Mrs. Gandhi’s warnings on sections of violent separatists. In the pre-internet and pre-9/11 era, Air India Flight 182 in 1985 was bombed by separatists, thus killing Canadians, Britons, Indians, and others on board. It took 9/11 to dislodge this attack down the list of aviation history’s most heinous attacks.

Lastly, Trudeau may be seen to appease Jagmeet Singh and the New Democratic Party (NDP) for political brownie points and political posturing with some members of his Sikh constituency. However, Trudeau forgets, that through the Express Entry system instituted by his own government, there is a fresh section of the Indian diaspora, newly minted Canadian citizens, empowered with their voting arsenal, that will think differently in the ballot boxes.

(Akshobh Giridharadas is based out of Washington DC, and writes on diverse topics such as geopolitics, business, tech and sports. He is a two time TEDx and Toastmasters public speaker and a graduate from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. He tweets @Akshobh. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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