Updated Wednesday, June 1: Hardeep Singh Nijjar has written an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying claims against him are “factually baseless and fabricated.” You can read his letter here:
VANCOUVER — The Canadian government won’t discuss whether there’s any merit to a report officials in India have warned of a man running a terror “camp” in B.C., with the intent on carrying out attacks in India.
Entering a committee meeting Monday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale didn’t respond to questions about a report in the Times of India Monday, alleging an international fugitive named Hardeep Nijjar has trained a small group of Sikh youth how to use arms, including AK-47s, at a camp near Mission, B.C. — about one hour east of Vancouver.
“Wherever there is a credible, threat the police and security authorities of Canada respond appropriately, in robust ways,” Goodale said. “Whatever action needs to be taken, is to be taken.”
But the minister said he was unaware if the government in Punjab or the Indian government had reached out to Canadian officials in regards to the allegations, as the Times of India article claimed.
The report, citing “Punjab intelligence sleuths, claims a man of the same name is now the “operational head” of a group Khalistan Terror Force (KTF).
Khalistan is the name of an independent Sikh homeland that some fundamentalist Sikh groups aim to create in the Punjab region. The Canadian government lists two pro-Khalistan organizations — the International Sikh Youth Federation and Babba Khalsa International — as designated terrorist organizations, but does not list the so-called Khalistan Terror Force.
In an email to Global News, the RCMP in British Columbia said it was “not in a position to speak to specific allegations, threats or ongoing investigations.” At the same time, the Dept. of Justice would “neither confirm nor deny” whether there has ever been an extradition request for Nijjar, citing the “confidential nature of state-to-state” communications.
According to the Times of India, Nijjar has a Canadian passport and has been staying in Surrey, B.C. since 1995. The news outlet posted a purported image of a Canadian passport bearing Nijjar’s name.
A man with the same name as the one mentioned in the Times of India report refuted the claims, telling the Vancouver Sun the allegations are “garbage” and that he is “very shocked” his name is being associated with the story.
“I am a Canadian. I have responsibilities. I have little kids. I have a family,” he said. ” I am living here 20 years, right? Look at my record. There is nothing. I am a hard-worker. I own my own business in… plumbing.”
Global News reached out to the man multiple times, but was unable to speak with him.
In the Times of India story, it’s alleged Nijjar is wanted in India in connection with a 2007 blast in the Punjabi city of Ludhiana that killed six people and injured 42 others, the news report stated.
The Times of India report claimed Nijjar had recruits shoot AK-47s “for four hours daily” at a shooting range near Mission.
The mayor of the community where the so-called terror camp was carried out, dismissed the report.
“I don’t give any credence to the story,” said Mission Mayor Randy Hawes.
“The Sikh community here is pretty tight knit and would know if there were any radicals running something like that,” he told Global News in an email. He added there are only a couple of places in the community where shooting is permitted and such facilities are under regular police scrutiny.
Andre Gerolymatos, a terror expert based at Simon Fraser University, disagrees. He pointed to armed motorcycle gangs and other criminal groups operating in the province as examples of how easy it is to train recruits to use weapons under the radar of law enforcement and officials.
“We should not be surprised if someone is taking it a step further and training people to use weapons in another country,” he told Global News. “I’m not saying there’s a training base in Mission, but it is possible.”
Gerolymatos also suggested the Times of India report may have been the result of an intelligence leak to put pressure on Canadian authorities to act on a situation of concern.
With file from Rumina Daya