The high-profile killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an advocate for an independent Sikh homeland, has prompted revelations from fellow activists that they, too, were warned about threats to their lives.
Law enforcement officials advised vigilance, didn’t say where threats originated
The high-profile killing of a Canadian citizen who advocated for an independent Sikh homeland has prompted revelations from fellow activists that police warned them of threats to their own lives in the wake of his death.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot to death in Surrey, B.C., on June 18. Three months later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an explosive allegation when he said Ottawa believed the Indian government had involvement in Nijjar’s killing.
India publicly denied any involvement, prompting deteriorating relations between the two countries.
Since then, stories have emerged from Sikh activists in Canada and the U.S. who say law enforcement officials warned them they were in danger after Nijjar was killed. The suspected source of the threats wasn’t identified.
‘A danger to your life’
In Canada, Gurmeet Singh Toor — described as a close associate of Niijar — was notified in late August that his life could be in jeopardy. After Niijar’s death, Toor began actively campaigning to secure votes in a non-binding vote in B.C. in support of an independent Sikh state, also known as Khalistan.
WATCH | The Canadian allegations and the U.S.-India relationship:
U.S. Secretary of State will raise Nijjar allegation with Indian foreign minister, Canada says
As U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken meets with his Indian counterpart, Canada says it has been given assurances that the U.S. will bring up the need for Indian co-operation over allegations its agents were behind the killing of Canadian Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Meanwhile, American Sikhs raise safety concerns of their own.
The police-delivered warning to Toor was made public by Sikhs For Justice, a pro-Khalistan activist group.
On Wednesday, Toor confirmed the information to CBC News. He said the warning has left him worried for his safety and hyper-vigilant of his surroundings.
Pritpal Singh, an activist who lives in California, received his warning in the days following Nijjar’s death via a phone call from the FBI.
The call was brief and conveyed there was “a danger to your life,” Singh told CBC News in a recent interview.
He later met with two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, who repeated the warning and advised him to keep security top of mind.
Agents did not say where the threat originated, Singh said. He added: “We have no enmity locally or anything like that.”
According to a story published by The Guardian, New York-based journalist Amarjit Singh also received an FBI warning days after Nijjar’s death.
“It was a warning. They said no travel, just keep yourself safe,” he told the newspaper.
Douglas C. Ligor, a behavioural and social scientist at the RAND Corporation, said that when U.S. authorities share this type of information, they must balance national security interests with the need to protect people under threat.
“They have to make sure that they don’t disclose sources and methods … of how they came to gain this information, that might put their operations and their personnel in jeopardy,” said Ligor, who previously worked as an attorney for both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
But he said the FBI and other members of the U.S. intelligence community have a “duty to warn” individuals — with limited exceptions — when a threat emerges that is relatively imminent and could result in a killing, serious injury or kidnapping.
A need to ‘dig it up’
These stories have caught the attention of some U.S. legislators who want answers about what happened in Canada and the threats their own citizens may be facing.
WATCH | The Khalistan issue in India:
Why Sikhs in India fear Khalistan support is being exaggerated
On the streets of Punjab, many Sikhs reject the idea of a separate Khalistan and fear the idea is being exaggerated on social media. CBC’s South Asia correspondent Salimah Shivji breaks down why.
“I’m concerned by reports that India’s government is targeting Sikh activists abroad,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, posted earlier this week on X, formerly Twitter.
Swalwell said he would work with relevant officials “to ensure necessary actions are undertaken to protect the Sikh community.”
David Valadao, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, has signalled support for the Canadian government and the need to fully investigate the killing of Nijjar.
Pritpal Singh wants the U.S. government to support its neighbour to the north “to dig it up” — get at the truth of what happened to Nijjar on Canadian soil.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Indian counterpart, Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in Washington on Thursday, where the Niijar case was raised.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Friday that Blinken had urged India to co-operate with Canada’s investigation into Nijjar’s death.
With files from the CBC’s Michelle Ghoussoub, Katie Simpson and Reuters