OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh declared Thursday that he accepts the findings of the Canadian inquiry into the Air India bombing and condemns all that were behind the horror that killed more than 300 people off the coast of Scotland in 1985.
That includes Sikh extremist Talwinder Singh Parmar, identified by Canada's Air India inquiry as the mastermind of the attack. In a column posted Thursday by The Globe and Mail, Singh also attempts to explain why it has taken him until now to explicitly condemn Parmar, as well as those in the Sikh community who choose to display his photo in places of honour.
"While the Air India Inquiry did not result in convictions, its findings identified a man named Talwinder Singh Parmar as the mastermind of the attack," Singh wrote. "I accept those findings and condemn all responsible for the horror they inflicted.
"Some in the Sikh community have not accepted the official record of events. While I can understand that pain, my approach has been different: I have always tried to give space to all voices so that we can move together toward peace and reconciliation."
Singh says he has been asked to condemn terrorism many times and always has and always will.
The opinion piece comes as Singh finds himself defending his appearances at a number of other events in recent years which promoted the idea of Sikh independence, including one in which he is seen sitting quietly beside a Sikh leader in England who says his vision of Sikhism endorses "violence as a legitimate source of resistance and survival."
Needs to do more, critics say
Singh needs to do more to denounce such sentiments, said Ujjal Dosanjh, a former federal Liberal health minister, ex-premier of British Columbia and a Sikh who is a vocal critic of Sikh separatism.
A politician standing next to a fascist doing a Nazi salute is expected to speak out, as is a politician standing next to someone who promotes violence in the name of a cause, Dosanjh said in an interview.
"Unless he totally disavows that and much more, he shouldn't aspire to lead a political party, to be the prime minister of the country," he said.
"That's not to say he's not a good man but his views that come across from many of these things are views that are totally antithetical to the idea of a secular Canada."
Singh's condemnation of Parmar is welcome, but he must now reach out to those who disagree and help them understand the truth, Dosanjh continued.
In Thursday's column, Singh — who was born in Canada to Sikh immigrants from the Indian state of Punjab — says his words and actions are informed by the experiences of his family and Sikh history, which is complex and often tragic.
That includes the government-ordered military raids on Sikh separatist leaders holed up inside the Golden Temple in 1984; the ensuing assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards; the four days of anti-Sikh rioting that followed, killing thousands of Sikhs; and the Air India bombing, carried out by Sikh extremists in retaliation.
No one has ever been brought to justice for the bloodshed during the riots, a major source of anger and sadness for many Sikhs both in India and abroad. In 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a special investigation of outstanding riot cases. In January, the Supreme Court in India set up its own special investigation team to look back at those 199 cases.
A year ago, the Ontario legislature passed a motion labelling the riots a genocide, a move that angered the Indian government and helped fuel recent diplomatic tensions between Canada and India. As an NDP member of that legislature, Singh introduced a similar motion in 2016 but it did not pass. He has since been barred from travelling to India because the government considers him a supporter of Sikh separatism.
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Singh himself has not said one way or the other which side of that fence he is on — and some say that will likely have to change.
"These questions will persist until its deemed Jagmeet Singh has answered the question to the satisfaction of Canadians and Canadian media," said Robin MacLachlan, vice-president at Summa Strategies and a former NDP staffer. "It is incumbent upon him to satisfy that curiosity."
The videos and questions about Singh's support for a separatist cause are a challenge for the NDP at the moment, MacLachlan added — but the party's leader now has a chance to address and educate Canadians about the complexities of Khalistan and Sikh history.
"How Jagmeet and the NDP come through these questions depends on how they address them."
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