By Dr. Preetam Singh, Quebec, Canada
EITHER because the prejudice against the Sikhs is pervasive since the 1900s or because they are one of the most visible minorities, media and governmental antipathy has cast a shadow over the good that has accrued to Canada by the efforts of its Sikh citizens. So, although one could perceive a pious hope and words of wisdom in the editorial of the Gazette of Montreal, dated 27th May, 1986: it is crucial that the overall public image (of immigrants) remain positive”. The paper has only given evidence of drawing derogatory images of the Sikhs.
For the last few years, they have plagued with references in the media which have given the appearance that the word “Sikh” is synonymous with “terrorism”. Most of them, having taken up Canadian citizenship, especially since 1972, are looking forward to enjoying a quiet and peaceful sojourn. They are very much a visible minority and in spite of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they have begun to find life to be rather uncomfortable. People read the newspapers, watch television, and listen to radio. When they read, hear or see stories about incidents in which Sikhs are described as “terrorists”, it is difficult for the readers to discern whether the references are to Canadians of the Sikh faith, or to foreigners of the Sikh faith. Many of the newspapers do not appear to take the trouble to make the distinction themselves. For example, the editor of one Montreal newspaper wrote:
“If a Sikh were involved in a crime not related 10 the Sikh Hindu strife, we would not report his faith because it would not be relevant, but as long as the wars of India are spilling over onto Canadian soil, we have a responsibility to report it”,
This paragraph has no relevance whatsoever to either the donation of food by the Sikhs for the needy of Montreal, or for the status of Sikh refugees, who are being dealt with according to the immigration laws of Canada. To say the least, it is very unfortunate that on any conceivable occasion that a mischief could be perpetrated on the Sikhs, the media here has either used the headlines or inserted statements in the text, which depict the Sikhs as terrorists. There has not been advanced any proof that Canadian Sikhs have so acted.
Matters of this kind can be looked at:
- from the evaluation of the performance of the Sikh community in Canada, say, during the last 10 years; or
- in retrospect, particularly the spread and progress of Sikhs generally throughout the world.
Taking case (a); We have already noted the civil situation of Canadian Sikhs. In criminal matters, if Canada wise records of convictions for the last 10 years were to be examined, it will be found that hardly any Sikh was convicted for “terrorism” in Canada. And in proportion to their numbers, the criminal record of the Canadian Sikhs is very creditable. Yet, even the Intelligence Services of Canada have jumped on the bandwagon of the Media by labeling Canadian Sikhs as “terrorists”. Their officers persistently seek out the office holders of Sikh gurdwaras and other associations, and announce that the government has asked them “to keep an eye on elements in the local Sikh community” and the office bearers should, therefore, keep the officers informed of the activities of such. If anything, this is a most undesirable activity in a democratic society. Mr. Justice McDonald, head of Royal Commission which investigated RCMP activities, cited that mail tampering, illegal surveillance and other abuses were being carried out by the Mounties. The CSIS was consequently created as a civilian agency in June, 1984, but unfortunately mostly from the remnants of the RCMP. Mr. Justice McDonald had also recommended that judges should be involved in the grant of wiretap authorizations.
It can be safely commented that the editor concerned must have penned these lines with tongue in his cheek. Canadians certainly have not seen any wars of India spill onto Canadian soil. The other notorious case is that of the Air “India 747 flight disaster in 1985.
That case was being reported daily. On occasions when, for example, the newspaper had to report that there was no evidence of a bomb on board, there would still appear a paragraph stating that “originally Sikh political organizations in Canada had telephoned the New York Times, claiming responsibility for placing a bomb on the airplane”. Similarly, in reporting the guilty finding of 2 Montreal men in the issue of December 24, 1986, the Gazette interpolated the following paragraph:
“In June, 1985, Sikh organizations outside Canada claimed responsibility for the bombing of an Air India jumbo jet en route to New Delhi from Montreal to Toronto with 329 people on board. An RCMP investigation has yet to result in any charges being laid on the bombing”.
The case being sub judice, it is not right to comment on its facts and merits, but the inclusion of this paragraph in the case report is totally irrelevant and prejudicial. The hope of the Canadian Sikhs, that after all the passage and representations and with the passage of time, media would at last have learnt to understand the distinction, has not materialized. In its issue of November 9th, 1987, Gazette of Montreal under prominent headlines; “City Sikhs lauded for food donation”, devoted a respectable portion of page A-3 to porting the donation of some $10,000 worth of food to the Sun Youth Organization by the congregation of one Sikh temple. Through sheer force of habit, however, it could not help adding:
“The controversial arrival of the would be (Sikh) refugees (in July 1987) came after the June, 1985 bombing of the Air India jetliner, blamed on Sikh extremists’.
The scandalous activities of both these agencies have come before courts of wiretap authorizations having been obtained on basis of false information and on statements of paid informers who were unreliable.
The result is that some cases have been stayed; others are not being proceeded against. Four separate investigations have been launched into the agencies’ activities. One of these is complete. The SIRC, the Gordon Osbaldeston Management Study group, and Solicitor — General Kelleher’s Inspector — General Richard Gosse, are still going on.
The blatant fact, however, is that the agencies have singled out Sikhs as targets and their approach has undoubtedly been colored by media reporting from India
It may not, therefore, be out of place to mention (if only for the purpose of asserting fairness or otherwise of “the prosecution” towards the Sikhs), the cases of Kashmira Singh Dhillon and Santokh Singh Kela, two Sikhs of Montreal, who have been sentenced to life imprisonment for a conspiracy to bomb an unidentified