By Phil Gurski in Ottawa, ON
In the lead-up to an election politicians pander to certain constituencies. That is just what they do. It is all in the context of getting votes. Even if the concessions granted go against longstanding policies or are baldly contradictory, a vote is a vote.
In some ridings in our country there are noteworthy concentrations of certain ethnic groups: Chinese in parts of the GTA and on the West Coast for example. Another good example is that of the location of Canadian Sikhs. Some areas of Canada have critical masses of Sikhs and these areas can play a role in elections, especially tight ones.
What then to make of a recent statement by the Public Safety Minister, Ralph Goodale, regarding changes to the government’s annual Public Annual Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada, where he stated that the word ‘religion’ would be modified to now read ‘ideology’? This is all due to reaction to a section on Sikh extremism, which reads as follows:
“Some individuals in Canada continue to support violent means to establish an independent state within India…While attacks around the world in support of this movement have declined, support for the extreme ideologies of such groups remains. For example, in Canada, two organizations, Babbar Khalsa International and the International Sikh Youth Federation, have been identified as being associated with terrorism and remain listed terrorist entities under the Criminal Code.”
Reaction from Canadian Sikhs was swift and harsh. They accused the government of ‘capitulating’ to the Indian government and maligning Canadian Sikhs with ‘baseless’ allegations of violent intent. Some advocates demanded that the portion of the 2018 threat overview that dealt with Sikh extremism be excised completely.
There is so much that stinks in the government reaction that I scarcely know where to begin. How about with the Canadian Criminal Code, where terrorist activity is defined in part as a criminal act carried out “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause.” Yes, religion can lead to terrorism: we certainly have seen this with Islamist extremism for decades. This clause does not imply normative religion or that the majority of believers are terrorists.
Secondly, there is no question that some, probably (?) a tiny number, in Canada’s Sikh community still support terrorism movements. Why else would some gurdwaras still feature the photos of those behind the 1985 Air India attack, the largest one in history prior to 9/11? As to accusations that the 2018 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada inserted a section on Sikh extremism under pressure from India is laughable. This report is written based on the advice given to the Minister by Canada’s security intelligence and law enforcement agencies (CSIS, CSE and the RCMP), not from the Modi government.
I have long known that the Canadian government has an on-again off-again relationship with intelligence. We certainly do not have the ‘intelligence culture’ that others in the ‘5 Eyes’ alliance do. But can it not at least take what its protectors give it at face value and use it to craft policies that make sense? Instead of giving in to partisan/ethnic pressure to pooh-pooh real threats?
Or is that asking too much?
Re-published with permission from the author, and modified by author for NCM. The original article is available here.
Phil Gurski is a former terrorism analyst at CSIS. His latest book “God made me do it: how extremists justify violence through faith” will be published later this fall.