Asian News Makers
ANM News Diplomacy India Insight

It’s unfair to label the entire Sikh community as a votary of Khalistan: Dave Hayer

ANM Correspondent

Dave Hayer holds membership in various community services and business organizations in Canada. He has been a member of the Legislative Assembly from 2001 to May 2013 in British Columbia. He is the son of Tara Singh Hayer, the editor of Indo-Canadian Times who was assassinated for being vocal on the violence and terrorism prevalent in the Sikh community. Tara Singh was a key witness to the twin Air India flight bombings on 23 June 1985 that killed 331 people onboard including over 80 children and 280 Canadian citizens. He had given written affidavits claiming to have information about the people involved in the bombing. Unfortunately, due to a loophole in the Canadian justice system, his evidence could not be used in a court of law after his sad assassination on November 18, 1998.

A torch bearer of Punjabi language, Tara Singh Hayer helped create Punjabi fonts for his newspaper in the 70s which are still widely used all over the world. A former Indian Army officer who valiantly fought in the 1965 war with Pakistan, he retired as a captain from military service in 1968 before moving to England in 1968-1970. In 1970, he immigrated to Canada to join his sister, who had lived in that country since 1959.

His son Dave, besides being active in community services and business organizations in Canada, is a member of Simon Fraser University’s India Advisory Council, which supports SFU’s strategic initiatives in India and engagement with BC’s Indo-Canadian Diaspora and president of the Association of Former MLAs of BC. During an informal interaction with the ANM, he poured his heart out on the tumultuous relationship between India and Canada dwelling at length on the ongoing tensions the two countries as a result of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation of potential links of the agents of India to the murder of Hardip Singh Nijjar, head of a gurdwara in British Columbia and a Sikh separatist leader involved with the Khalistan movement, which calls for an independent Sikh state.

Asian News makers: Your comments on Justin Trudeau’s allegations against India…

Dave Hayer: I have been involved with the community and in the elections at the municipal, provincial and federal levels before becoming an MLA in 2001. Even now, I am involved with the community at all levels and understand the heart of the community. I talk to many people who may or may not be affiliated with any political party. I have lived through the Air India bombing, the largest mass murder in Canadian history that was committed much before 9/11. The sad story is that no one was convicted for the heinous crime as all the perpetrators walked free. Families of the victims are still looking for closure.

They are sick to their stomach just thinking how easy it was for the culprits to commit such a mass murder and get away with it. The government of Canada has not done enough to charge and convict the culprits despite having ample evidence against them. Canada is one of the best countries to live in but unfortunately, our justice system is lacking in protecting the victims and ensuring justice for the survivors. Sadly, our justice system has been used to protect the rights of criminals, not the rights of the victim or law-abiding citizens.  I have always spoken up for the rights of the victims.  The Canadian Charter of Rights should be for everyone, not for the criminals.

I was shocked when Trudeau made those allegations in Ottawa with a claim that he had credible information that points to a potential link of the Nijjar killing to agents from India. Anyone can allege anything, but it won’t hold in a court of law until you have proof acceptable to the court. Otherwise, it can be challenged.

These kinds of allegations may be acceptable in some rogue countries like Iran or North Korea, but not India, which is the largest democracy in the world and a friendly country at that. It was wrong on his part to make such allegations.

Trudeau should have, at least, gone outside the Parliament chambers and senior police officials should have talked to the media first to explain about the evidence and the information the police have. Then the PM could have made comments equipped with the information provided by police agencies independent of politics. Allegations, made by a perceived and real authority, with full evidence are taken seriously. I don’t know if India was involved, but if India was involved, then it is wrong. I don’t know if Nijjar was involved in events in India but all I know from what I heard is that he was not involved in any anti-national activities within Canada. My condolences to Nijjar’s family…

ANM: Even though Nijjar was on the Interpol list of wanted criminals?

DH: I am not an expert to comment on that. I only know what I have read in the news. It is for legal experts to look into this. Killing anyone is wrong.  All the same what Trudeau did, in my personal opinion, is due to political reasons; I think he made those statements to cater to his voter base. At a time when he is blamed for everything that is going wrong in Canada – high rents, high cost of housing, soaring inflation, worse crime record, people have serious challenges in interest rates increased from .5 to 5 per cent within a year – Trudeau has no option but to divert public attention from the real issues. When he went to Parliament, he knew he would be asked all these questions during the question period. Therefore, he changed the channel to deflect from the issues confronting the Canadians. And now, India-Canada relations are front page news locally, nationally, and internationally with everyone talking about how India got Nijjar killed without any evidence.

ANM: Wasn’t Rupinder Singh Malik too killed in Surrey almost in a similar fashion? (Rupinder Singh was acquitted in the 1985 Air India bombings. He was killed on July 14 in Surrey, B.C, last year).

DH: Yes, he was killed in Surrey in front of his office. Malik was also found not guilty in the Air India bombing. He had even gone back to the same judge to request that he be declared innocent. But the judge refused. He said that finding not guilty doesn’t mean people are innocent. Not guilty in Canada means, evidence allowed to be entered in the court and accepted by the judge did not prove the person was 100 percent guilty, yet evidence not allowed to show in the court might show a person was not innocent. Mr. Malik had a printing press that was to be used to print Guru GranthSahibji. Only a few people are allowed to print Guru GranthSahibji. From what I heard Mr. Hardeep Nijjar, President of Gurdwara, had taken away that printing press and I believe there was a dispute between the two of them. I heard from the community that Mr. Malik was trying to pitch someone else against Mr. Nijjar in the upcoming Gurdwara elections.

So, there were some issues and problems, some people can do a lot for power. Some people are saying Mr. Malik’s friends could have taken revenge against Mr. Nijjar for Mr. Malik’s killing. The police arrested two people for Mr. Mallik’s killing but they haven’t moved a court yet. Let’s wait for the investigation. We do not know who killed Mr. Nijjar as yet. Until the police catch the killers, we will not know who ordered Mr. Nijjar’s killing.

Before the Air India bombing, India had asked Canada to extradite Mr. Parmar. But Canada did not do so and then he planned the Air India bombing.

I know India had requested the extradition of Mr. Parmar much before the Air India bombing. I know he was arrested in Germany, but Germany did not send him to India, instead, he was sent to Canada though he was arrested in Germany on a warrant issued by India. The World Sikh Organization and some people in the Liberal party of Canada, not all, are sympathetic to the Khalistan movement. The general feeling is that had Mr. Pierre Trudeau, who was the prime minister of Canada back then, extradited Mr. Parmar to India, the Air India bombing would not have happened.

It was proved in Canadian courts and in the Air India inquiry report that Mr. Parmar was the mastermind of the 1985 Air India bombing. All this information recorded in the Canadian court documents is public. When Mr. Justin Trudeau became PM in 2015, he had made a big statement that he had inducted five Sikhs in the cabinet. Many people say family members of some of those had connections with the Khalistan elements.

If anyone wants Khalistan, it is his/her personal choice in a democracy like Canada, as long as they don’t indulge in violence. Quebec in Canada too had been fighting for independence. In Canada, our government holds legal referendums to settle important issues. However, two referendums held by the Province of Quebec did not succeed in resolving the issue. No foreign country got involved in the Quebec referendums. There was no violence; no one was killed despite the two failed referendums. Neither any foreign country nor their citizens had a vote in a Canadian referendum. This didn’t result in hatred, but just strong disagreements. Everything was peaceful. If anyone wants Khalistan, they should consider holding a legal referendum in India, not Canada. I have not met anyone who would like to move back to India to live in Khalistan when it is carved out from India.

ANM: How fair is that the way Mr. Trudeau’s comment branded all Sikhs as promoters of Khalistan?

DH: It’s not fair at all. I talk to various communities and thousands of Sikhs. I lived in Surrey since 1972 when there were only 20 Sikh families. And now, with thousands of them, they have become one of the largest communities in Surrey. In the 1970s we knew each family and everyone knew us. From my own interaction with community members in BC, I can say 90-95 per cent of Sikhs in Canada do not support Khalistan. Even if Khalistan is created, Sikhs from Canada won’t like to live there. Some Sikhs wonder if some part of Pakistan is going to become part of Khalistan as a part of Pakistan was under Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh empire.

People want to live in Canada and enjoy the clean air, quality life, and everything else Canada has to offer.

Many Sikhs from the Indian Army, who live in Canada, are proud nationalists. Not everyone who goes to the gurdwaras is a supporter of the Khalistan. They go there for prayer, the langar or for family or social or cultural gatherings. Some of the international students have told me that they hold the Khalistani flag because of the benefits they get at the Gurdwara, not because they believe in the cause. Everything is so expensive due to Trudeau’s policies.

Realistically, it is wrong to paint everyone with the same brush as there are many in the Liberal Party in Canada who do not support the Khalistan movement.  Sikhs in Canada support different political parties like other Canadians in India. Hence, it’s unfair to label every Sikh a supporter of Khalistan. Anybody can support any legal cause, and as long as it is done peacefully without resorting to violence, it should not be treated as a crime. And every crime needs to be investigated and criminals held accountable for their crimes and punished in a court of law.

ANM: Of late, people going to India are scared of taking Air India’s direct flight from Vancouver to Delhi.

DH: People avoid speaking up against the Khalistan movement for fear of reprisal. If they do so, they might face physical attacks or emotional hurt.

ANM: It took decades to build strong bilateral relations between India and Canada. Have we gone back on our commitment?

DH: Our common goal should be to punish the criminals, be it India or Canada, though our legal systems are different. India’s legal system is a thousand years old while that of Canada is still young. Our system is based on British and French models and is still evolving. When people come here from different countries, they don’t want to bring their problems, issues, or divisions along. They want to bring the best from the countries of their origin.  If they bring all the problems from their old country, Canada won’t remain the best country in the world to live in. We respect each other, stand up for the rule of law, and live and let live.

But why has the Khalistan movement been allowed to grow despite warnings from India? They are out in the open. They are conspicuous by their presence around the city, at temples and can be seen even during Vaisakhi parades.

Canadians believe we can have divergent democratic views as long as we don’t force them on others and don’t use hate and violence to promote our views. I strongly believe one should not force his/her beliefs on others.  Osama-bin-Laden was killed by the Americans, but we have not seen anyone worshiping Osama-bin-Laden as a hero in public places in Canada. We need federal government legislation that ensures that terrorists who kill innocents are not worshiped or deified openly.

ANM: Like you said there are maybe just 1 per cent of the 7 per cent South Asians who are associated with the movement. Why then did Trudeau sacrifice that 6 per cent of his vote bank to appease that one per cent?

DH: Trudeau seems to be on the losing side ethically, morally and legally. We can have freedom of expression, but we should not allow open displays of posters of terrorists. Trudeau condemned Nijjar’s killing but not the killers of the Air India bombing mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar, who had taken far too many lives. Every Canadian politician should condemn such incidents regardless of which religion the perpetrators of the crime belong to.

Our political and justice system should let the people know that they cannot allow the promotion of violence or hate. Legislation should be changed; if change is needed to hold people accountable.  Our politicians should find a way to stop the promotion of terrorism, hate, and violence. But somehow when it comes to terrorists who killed 331 people, including 280 Canadians of which 80 were children, our politicians close their eyes and ears.

Related posts