Murder in Beautiful British Columbia

Who murdered Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar?  This crime, which occurred last June near Vancouver, British Columbia, has riveted Canada and put Ottawa on a collision course with India, now the world’s most populous nation.

Canada’s amiable prime minister, Justin Trudeau, accused India’s intelligence service of being behind the murder.  Governments rarely speak so candidly and particularly so Canada which tries to be friends with the rest of the world and has long feared being squashed by the mammoth, ten times larger United States.   

But according to key Ottawa sources, the inter-allied Five Eyes intelligence entente (the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain) identified India’s powerful intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing, as the culprit in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.  This accusation was based on electronic intercepts between New Delhi and British Columbia, Canada.  The Indians appear to have been lax in their communications security.  India denies any role in the murder.

Sikhs are a warrior sect that counts for only 2% of India’s billion-plus population.  Sikh farmers are among India’s most productive, growing much of the nation’s wheat crop.

I’ve followed the Sikh struggle for an independent theocratic state called Khalistan for over 20 years.  I met Sikh leaders and priests in Amritsar, Punjab, and was even received at the Sikh’s holiest site, Amritsar’s Golden Temple, shortly after it was stormed by Indian Army troops as part of notorious Operation Blue Star.  I interviewed the fearsome Sikh general KPS Gill who played a key role in crushing the Sikh struggle for independence. 

No other nations that I know of have recognized an independent Sikh state.  Thousands of Sikhs were assassinated, tortured and jailed by India’s central government.  Many sought refuge in Canada’s British Columbia in and around Vancouver.  There, they enjoyed complete freedom and a sort of government in exile. 

Ottawa largely ignored these Sikh political activities, but Delhi was outraged and determined to finish crushing Sikh irredentism. India’s powerful intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) made Canada a key target of its foreign operations just as an anti-Indian independence movement in neighboring Kashmir was erupting, discreetly supported by Pakistan’s crack intelligence outfit, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). 

Beautiful British Columbia became a distant battleground for the two hostile intelligence services. RAW agents assassinated a number of Sikh leaders while Sikh nationalists killed Indian leaders and security officials.  India made widespread use of torture in Sikh Punjab and predominantly Muslim Kashmir.  Other nations avoided criticizing India’s poor human rights record so as not to antagonize the increasingly powerful and commercially attractive India.

Sikhs are well known for their intense rivalries and feuds. So, it’s possibly that Nijjar fell victim to Sikh assassins.  But as a long-time observer of intelligence affairs, Nijjar’s carefully planned murder and the vanishing of the assailants bore the fingerprints of a professional hit job orchestrated from India.

This brazen attack affronted Canada, an ardently peaceful nation.  It likely boosted the Indian Prime Minister’s standing with Hindu voters and was a warning to Kashmiri separatists.  Many Indians asked how the government of Canada could allow violent Sikh separatists to openly operate out of British Columbia.  Even more Sikhs ask how Delhi had the audacity to commit a political murder outside Vancouver. What, they wondered, would Ottawa do?

Given Ottawa’s dovish policies, probably not much. This would be too bad since Canada is one of this world’s calmest, most peaceful nations.  Canada was shocked by the overt refusal of its closet allies, the US and Britain, to back its outrage against India.  After all, the facts about Nijjar’s murder came to Canada from its ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence service, a sort of white man’s intelligence agency that it shares with Australia, New Zealand, the US and UK. 

Violent extremists should not be allowed into Canada which must avoid becoming an outpost for nasty foreign conflicts like Punjab, Bosnia and Palestine.  Add Mali, the Sahara, Haiti, Iraq, and similarly unhappy places.