The leader of India‘s Sikh-majority Punjab state has slammed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party after the federal government removed direct references to Sikh extremism in a recent terrorism threat report.
Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, whose meeting with Trudeau was one the flashpoints of the prime minister’s troubled trip to India last year, called the move “a threat to Indian and global security” in a statement issued by his office on Saturday.
Singh suggested that Trudeau was kowtowing to Sikh voters ahead of October’s federal election, slamming the Liberals for what he called a “knee-jerk decision that was clearly aimed at protecting its political interests in an election year.”
Singh’s remarks came after the Trudeau government on Friday changed the language of its 2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada to remove references to the Sikh religion.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale asked for the review after Sikh Canadian activists protested the report’s listing of Sikh extremism as one of the top extremist threats in Canada, citing a lack of evidence.
The updated version of the report no longer lists “Sikh extremism,” but rather discusses the threat posed by “extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India.”
“Independent state” is ostensibly a reference to Khalistan, an envisioned Sikh ethno-state that separatists want to create in Punjab.
That section of the report now reads:
Some individuals in Canada continue to support violent means to establish an independent state within India. These violent activities have fallen since their height during the 1982-1993 period when individuals and groups conducted numerous terrorist attacks. The 1985 Air India bombing, which killed 331 people, remains the deadliest terrorist plot ever launched in Canada. While attacks around the world in support of this movement have declined, support for the extreme ideologies of such groups remains. For example, in Canada, two organizations, Babbar Khalsa International and the International Sikh Youth Federation, have been identified as being associated with terrorism and remain listed terrorist entities under the Criminal Code.
The Indian government’s sensitivities on the Khalistan issue cast a cloud over Trudeau’s ill-fated trip to India in February 2018.
Prior to the trip, Singh, a vocal opponent of Khalistan, had accused some of Trudeau’s Sikh cabinet ministers — including Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan — of being connected to separatists.
Singh eventually hosted talks with Trudeau and Sajjan in Punjab, later telling Indian media that Trudeau promised to look into curbing the activities of Sikh Canadian extremists who allegedly financed violent attacks in India.
Following the talks, Trudeau assured that “Canada supports one, united India and that we are unanimous as a government, as ministers, on this issue.”
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WATCH: Trudeau, Sajjan meet Punjab leader who accused gov’t of supporting Sikh separatism
Singh pointed back to those talks in his statement Sunday.
“Trudeau had been informed of Khalistani activists being involved in financing terror activities in India from Canada,” Singh said.
He said the Trudeau government’s removal of references to Sikh extremism from its report amounted to “de facto promotion of extremism.”
“It is obvious that Trudeau had played safe in view of the upcoming elections in Canada, giving in to pressure within his country,” Singh said, adding that the move was likely to damage Canada’s relations with India.
“Trudeau is playing with fire with his decision to assuage inflamed domestic passions through this ill-considered move,” he said. “The world cannot afford to fan extremism in any form, which is what the Trudeau government was effectively doing with such ill-thought moves.”
Singh’s remarks drew swift condemnation from pro-Khalistan group Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar (SADA) Canada.
In a statement provided to Global News, the president of SADA Canada East said the changes to the report were made as a result of the Canadian government “realizing their mistake,” and that Singh had no place commenting on Canadian affairs.
“Singh’s remarks are clearly meddling with our Canadian affairs.”
WATCH: Trudeau believes India trip ‘refreshed’ relationship with Punjab leadership (Feb. 23, 2018)
Singh is a signatory to the Amritsar Declaration, a 1994 document which called for the Indian government to grant states the right to self-determination.
However, one of the Sikh scholars who drafted the manifesto told the Times of India in 2015 that the document called for self-determination “within the framework of the Indian constitution,” rather than demanding that Sikhs take the matter into their own hands.
On Saturday Trudeau and Sajjan visited one of the largest Sikh temples in Canada, Vancouver’s Ross Street Gurdwara, to mark the religion’s holy day of Vaisakhi.
“As we celebrate Vaisakhi, let us also celebrate all the incredible contributions of this community,” Trudeau said in a speech that came hours after the language of the report was changed.
He said the values celebrated during the holy day — like equality and social justice — help make Canada stronger.
Sikhs have helped to build Canada for more than 120 years, Trudeau said, adding there are now Sikh entrepreneurs, politicians, artists and true leaders in every field.
There are roughly half a million Canadians who identify as Sikh, most of them in the Greater Toronto Area and suburban Vancouver.
Sixteen Sikhs were elected as Liberal MPs in 2015, with four of them currently in Trudeau’s cabinet.
— With files from the Canadian Press