Terror report could trigger seismic shift in Sikh political leanings, impact next election

A December Public Safety Canada report contained, for the first time, a small section on the alleged threat of Sikh extremism. Liberal MPs face blacklisting as a result

Moninder Singh of the B.C. Sikh Gurdwara Council pictured outside of the temple in Surrey on April 8, 2015.

It’s touted as the largest celebration of its kind outside India, drawing almost 500,000 people to mark the Sikh religion’s new year.

For politicians eager to tap into an electorally powerful ethnic group, the huge version of Khalsa Day in Surrey, B.C., is a veritable gold mine.

But barring a significant change of tune by the federal government over the next week, this year’s edition will impose an unprecedented policy. Unless certain demands are met, Liberal MPs will be barred from speaking from its stages on April 20, says organizer Moninder Singh.

“We’ve never had to take steps like this,” said the B.C. Gurdwara Council spokesman. “But we can’t be giving platforms where half a million people are out walking around, when we don’t see a genuine relationship being formed with the community.”

The threatened ban was over an issue causing growing consternation in the Sikh community: an annual Public Safety Canada report on terrorism that for the first time this December contained a small section on the alleged threat of Sikh extremism.

Community activists insist that violent support for the independence of Sikh-dominated Punjab state from India ended in the years after the 1985 Air India bombing, Canada’s worst-ever terror act — and call the report a smear job.

Critics see the hidden hand of India, allegedly manipulating Canada to malign a diaspora fixated on Punjab separation. The government says that’s hogwash, while others warn against politicians meddling in a report penned by independent security agencies. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has apologized for language that he says inadvertently disparaged Sikhs.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale waits to appear before the Public Safety and National Security committee, Monday, February 25, 2019, in Ottawa. ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Regardless, community activists say the issue could have major implications for Canadian politics, setting off a potentially seismic shift in a minority group with wildly disproportionate political muscle.

At stake are nine Sikh-dominated ridings – in the Toronto-area suburbs, Calgary and lower-mainland B.C. — all of which went Liberal in the 2015 election, many flipping from the Conservatives.

Another eight, mostly Liberal seats across the country could be decided by the Sikh vote if the races are “competitive,” says Jaskaran Singh Sandhu, executive director of the World Sikh Organization (WSO), while 18 more are susceptible to Sikh influence if particularly close.