‘The Liberals aren’t alone’: All parties must contend with Sikh extremism, says Dosanjh
The Liberals aren’t the only political party with a problem on their hands when it comes to Sikh separatism, says a former NDP premier of British Columbia who was the target of a violent extremist attack in the 1980s.
Ujjal Dosanjh, who also served in the federal Liberal cabinet under former prime minister Paul Martin, spoke with Eric Sorensen on this weekend’s edition of The West Block.
In early 1985, Dosanjh – an opponent of the extremist elements in the Sikh separatist movement – was struck repeatedly with an iron bar near his law office, suffering a broken hand and requiring more than 80 stitches in his head.
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The man charged with that crime, and later acquitted, was Jaspal Atwal.
In spite of a serious criminal record that also includes a conviction for attempted murder, Atwal popped up this week at a reception during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s trip to India. Dosanjh said Atwal has long had a talent for making political connections.
“He’s tried to ingratiate himself with everyone in the world … The Liberals aren’t alone in that regard,” Dosanjh told Sorensen.
“It’s easy because the problem with the politics in Canada has been that the Liberals, the New Democrats and to a certain extent the Conservatives have all kind of played footsie with the Khalistani separatists. They have ignored the violence, the parading of the posters of [the] Air India bomber in the parades … all of that has been ignored.”
India has long grappled with a Sikh independence movement centred in Punjab, the country’s northwest, dating back to India achieving independence from British rule in 1947.
Canada has sought repeatedly to reassure the Indian government that it is not a potential hotbed of extremist separatist activity, and Trudeau’s trip was partly designed to reinforce that message. The incident with Atwal was a major setback, Dosanjh reiterated.
“The government of India basically said free speech is one thing, [the separatists] can ask for Khalistan. But for [Canadian politicians] to be hobnobbing with them and giving them legitimacy and oxygen … that’s problematic.”
Dosanjh was also asked about the ongoing conflict between Alberta and British Columbia over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project. He knows both NDP premiers (Rachel Notley and John Horgan) personally, and said he’s glad that tempers seem to be cooling.
“It actually pleased me to no end … because they both looked childish and that’s not how you build nations,” he said of the dispute.
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Canada needs to get Alberta’s energy resources across B.C. to market, he added, so “ultimately, we’re going to need one, or another, pipeline.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press
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