Since literally his first day on the job as head of the New Democrat Party, Jagmeet Singh has been dogged by questions about his position on Sikh separatism — and videos that resurfaced this week of his appearances at Sikh separatist meetings have caused the rookie leader more headaches.
The issue has long simmered in the background of Canadian politics but with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s widely criticized trip to India and Singh’s arrival as the first Sikh party leader, it’s once again taken centre stage.
Here’s what you need to know about the Khalistan movement and how it has influenced Canadian politics.
What is the Khalistan movement?
It’s a movement that aspires to create an independent Sikh state — called Khalistan — in the Punjab region of India.
Sikh separatism has been active since the 1940s, but the issue reached a boiling point in the 1980s with some extremist factions committing assassinations, bombings and subsequent retaliatory killings against Sikhs. Since then, separatist support has appeared to be in decline in India, but the issue remains a flashpoint — especially in some quarters in Canada, where in 1985 it inspired the deadliest terror attack in Canadian history: the Sikh militant group Babbar Khalsa’s bombing of Air India Flight 182, which killed 329 people.
The investigation and prosecutions that followed the bombing lasted nearly two decades, and a public inquiry into the attack then lasted from 2006 until 2010.
Meanwhile, some Sikhs have complained that in India and in Canada, all Sikh Canadians are seen as separatists, and that all separatists are considered extremists.