Canadian Sikh blacklist blasted

More than 100 UK-based Sikhs are said to be on a Canadian “blacklist”, unable to visit the country even though they travelled here several times in the past, The Hindustan Times is reporting.

Among the UK-based Sikhs who previously travelled freely to Canada but were recently denied electronic travel authorisation (ETA) is Jasdev Singh Rai, director of the Sikh Human Rights Forum.

 “It is astonishing that there is a ‘blacklist’ of Sikhs in Canada since 2016 while India is taking its own list down. Does Canada know more about us than India?

“It is even more shocking that this list has been formed when, for the first time, four Sikhs are in the Canada government, including the defence minister, a position that is part of the security group,” Rai told the Hindustan Times.

“Those denied entry, including myself, have been labelled as ‘terrorists’. It is widely suspected this list has been influenced by some Canadian Sikh politicians exploiting state power for advantage in internal Sikh politics. Our friends in Canada are seeking an inquiry.”

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said on the issue of Rai being denied the ETA: “Due to privacy laws, we are unable to provide you with details of individual cases. Applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis, based on the specific facts of each case.”

Parminder Bal, a former International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) functionary based at Slough in the UK who was denied the ETA in recent years, said: “There were three factions of the ISYF. Over 100 of us are affected by the Canadian ‘blacklist’. Our families, friends are there. They are violating the human rights of UK and European Sikhs.”

Rai has faced opposition from sections of the Sikh community in Canada. During an earlier visit, campaign group Sikhs for Justice challenged his claim that the Canadian Sikh community is ready for talks with the Modi government. “The Sikh cause cannot be undermined by the raising of non-issues by individuals like London-based Jasdev Rai,” the group had said.

A spokesman for the UK-based Sikh Federation alleged that Indian authorities had pressured foreign governments to stop some Sikhs travelling between the UK, the US and Canada to lobby for an independent Sikh homeland.

“We have established through a number of cases that increased pressure has been put on the Canadian authorities to target all those previously associated with the organisation (ISYF) even though it had not existed in the UK for 15 years since the ban in March 2001,” he said.

“Ironically we also know the Canadians have excluded some who were previously deemed ‘anti-national’ by India, but have subsequently become pro-Indian or become Indian government agents and been regularly travelling to India.

The spokesman said such blacklists of Sikhs who had “committed no crimes” are totally unacceptable. “Law-abiding Sikhs are being denied basic civil liberties of free movement to meet friends and relatives. It is disgraceful some Sikhs have been prevented from seeing loved ones who are poorly or attend family funerals or weddings in other countries,” he said.

The Indian government blacklisted many Sikhs involved in anti-India propaganda and vandalism following the infamous Operation Bluestar of 1984. The Indian army at that time stormed the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar, Punjab, to flush out the armed religious extremists, who had fortified the place of worship.

The operation infuriated Sikhs across the world, compelling idealistic, emotional youths to join militant ranks. There were angry protests in Vancouver as well, where several men vandalized the Indian consulate office. Subsequently, the government of India blacklisted Sikhs involved in separatist activities, citing security concerns.

Others on the blacklist were linked to the bombing of Air India flight 182 which was flying over the Atlantic Ocean en route New Delhi from Montreal via London on June 23, 1985 when it exploded in mid-air, killing all 329 people on board, including 22 crew members.

The blacklist imposed by the Congress Party, banned India visits by Sikh Non-Resident Indians from 212 families in the United States, UK and Canada after

Many of the blacklisted names were arbitrary. Entire families had been blacklisted on grounds that did not bear up to close scrutiny. The blacklist was never publicly acknowledged. But following several visa denials over the years, Sikh groups started voicing opposition to what they described as systematic discrimination.

However, over the past two years, the Modi administration has been removing names from the Indian blacklist.

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