The World Sikh Organization is deeply concerned by the recent announcement of the Framework for Cooperation on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism between Canada and India (‘Framework’). The Framework, announced on Friday after the meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, formalizes “increased collaboration between the law enforcement and security agencies of both countries” and will “develop exchanges and facilitate effective cooperation in the fields of security, finance, justice, and law enforcement, including, where appropriate, at the operational level.”
Indian security and intelligence agencies are regularly implicated in the serious violation of human rights and the WSO fears that increased collaboration between Canadian and Indian counterparts may jeopardise the lives of Canadian Sikhs or their family and friends in India.
While many of the agreements and Memorandums of Understanding signed between Canada and India are important steps forward in strengthening bilateral relations, the Framework has been met with considerable concern within the Canadian Sikh community.
Canada and India had an intelligence sharing arrangement before, during the height of the insurgency in Punjab in the 80s and 90s. That arrangement, however, was stopped after Indian police and paramilitary were found to be targeting the Indian relatives of Canadian Sikhs whose names appeared in intelligence reports shared by Canada. The targeting had resulted in the abduction, torture and, in some cases, even killing of those relatives by Indian authorities.
Indian security forces have regularly been implicated in the flagrant violation of human rights, particularly with respect to minority communities in India. Both the Amnesty International 2017/18 report and Human Rights Watch 2018 report set out ongoing excesses committed by Indian forces.
In September 2017, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale released the Ministerial Direction to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service: Avoiding Complicity in Mistreatment by Foreign Entities. The Direction prohibits:
- the disclosure of information that would result in a substantial risk of mistreatment of an individual by a foreign entity;
- the making of requests for information that would result in a substantial risk of mistreatment of an individual by a foreign entity; and
- certain uses of information that was likely obtained through the mistreatment of an individual by a foreign entity.
It is unclear how the Framework will be in compliance with this Ministerial Direction.
WSO President Mukhbir Singh said today, “we are concerned that the establishment of the Framework, without adequate safeguards for the protection of human rights will have a serious negative impact on Canadian Sikhs and we fear it may even result in serious harm or death of Sikhs in India. Canadian Sikhs remember that intelligence sharing by Canada and India in the 80s and 90s lead to the abduction, torture and even killing of Sikhs in Punjab. It is far from clear how intelligence sharing with India will be in compliance with the Ministerial Direction to CSIS on Avoiding Complicity in Mistreatment by Foreign Entities released by this government just last fall. ”
Furthermore, in Canada, members of the Sikh community have repeatedly accused Indian intelligence agencies of ongoing interference in community affairs.
Maloy Krishna Dhar, a former Joint Director and a 29 year veteran of the Indian Intelligence Bureau, who was in Ottawa on a diplomatic posting from 1983-87, confirmed in his book “Open Secrets” that his mission was to penetrate Gurdwaras, Punjabi media, create assets in the Sikh community and also to cultivate “a few friends amongst the Canadian Members of Parliament”
Dhar wrote, “I do not intend to disclose the details of the intelligence operations that were carried out between Mani, Shashi and me in deference to the niceties of diplomatic protocol. But we did a lot and reached appreciable penetration in the key Sikh inhabited cities in Canada.”
Members of the Canadian Sikh community have continued to allege interference of Indian intelligence agencies in community affairs, media and events and have faced ongoing pressure and coercion by Indian officials in Canada. Prominent members of the Canadian Sikh community, including media personalities and politicians have been denied visas to India due to their expression of views objectionable to India.
Most recently, organizers of the 2017 Carabram Punjab pavilion in Brampton reported last summer, being pressured by Indian diplomats in Toronto to cancel or merge their pavilion with the India pavilion as a separate Punjab pavilion was considered an affront to India’s unity and integrity.
WSO Senior Vice President Bhavjinder Kaur said, “Indian intelligence bodies continue to be accused of interfering in the affairs of Sikhs in Canada. While increased trade between Canada and India is beneficial to both countries, it cannot be at the expense of our human rights principles or by compromising the safety and security of individuals, as may happen with this Framework. Without dramatic improvements to their human rights records, increased cooperation with Indian security and intelligence bodies is very problematic.”
The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) is a non-profit organization with a mandate to promote and protect the interests of Canadian Sikhs, as well as to promote and advocate for the protection of human rights for all individuals, irrespective of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and social and economic status.