Canada’s arrests of three Indian men after Sikh leader’s death are ‘bittersweet’, says a friend

If Hardeep Singh Nijjar were alive, he and his friend Moninder Singh would probably be chatting in a backyard over milkshakes.

But he isn’t. The Canadian Sikh leader was shot in British Columbia almost a year ago.

Moninder Singh lost his friend of 15 years last June outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh population.

The 45-year-old’s death shocked Canada’s Sikh community. A few months later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sparked a diplomatic crisis with New Delhi when he cited evidence of the Indian government’s involvement in Nijjar’s death.

On Friday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police filed murder charges against three Indian men in connection with Nijjar’s death and said they were investigating possible links to the Indian government.

The Indian mission in Ottawa did not respond to requests for comment.

The arrests are “bittersweet,” Moninder Singh told Reuters on Friday afternoon.

“It is a relief that the research is making progress. At the same time, it still raises a lot of questions,” said Singh, a spokesperson for the BC Gurdwaras Council.

Nijjar was a Canadian citizen who campaigned for the creation of Khalistan, an independent Sikh homeland from India. The presence of Sikh separatist groups in Canada has long frustrated New Delhi, which labeled Nijjar a “terrorist” in 2020.

As Canada scrutinizes foreign interference in its elections, Singh called for a separate investigation focused solely on Indian interference in Canadian affairs.

He and other Canadian Sikh leaders told Reuters that Canada has taken Indian interference more seriously since Nijjar’s death.

“I think Canada has been cautious about Indian interference over the last 40 years. The Canadian Sikh community has had to bear the brunt of this,” said Balpreet Singh, legal advisor to the World Sikh Organization.

But Nijjar’s death represents “the undermining of (Canada’s) sovereignty on a very, very different level,” Moninder Singh said.

Nijjar is missed on a community, family and personal level, his friend said.

“He was such a strong leader and a powerful voice… I’ve accidentally called him and sent him messages since his passing, and it’s taking me a while to realize what I’ve done.”

But Nijjar would not want his community to live in fear, Singh said.

“His death created such a huge push to energize the community,” he said.

“I think his expectation is: Don’t let them scare you.”