Religiously-motivated brawls have highlighted Canada's immigration failures
On Sunday, Diwali celebrations in Mississauaga — a Toronto suburb with a significant South Asian population — saw a brawl break out between Indian Hindus and Sikhs wielding pro-Khalistan flags. A video of the incident has gone viral on social media, and is adding fuel to growing tensions between India and Canada. The relationship between the two countries had taken a downward turn after Justin Trudeau accused the Modi government of assassinating prominent Sikh activist Hardeep Nijjar Singh back in September.
The clash has also drawn renewed focus to the accusation that Canada has long been a safe haven for terrorists and extremists. Canada’s first wave of Sikh separatist activism came in the 1980s, when a Khalistan separatist group was implicated in the bombing of a flight which resulted in the deaths of 329 people — the largest loss of life in a terrorist attack in Canadian history.
Yet the recent streak of Sikh separatist violence in Canada is rooted in a 2014 political movement called Referendum 2020, which coalesced around the idea of a global, independent Sikh homeland in Northern India. The movement picked up steam in Canada, where numerous Sikh activists deemed to be terrorists by the Indian government had immigrated in the preceding decades, setting up gurdwaras and fuelling pro-separatist sentiments in Sikh and Punjabi communities nationwide.
Canada’s immigration, asylum and border control policies have exacerbated the extremist threat in recent years. A 2008 report by the Fraser Institute — a libertarian Canadian public policy think tank — highlighted that Canada’s mass immigration was incompatible with effective security as it overwhelmed efforts by the authorities to screen out threats. In “large immigrant communities that serve as the sea, terrorists swim as fish,” the report claimed. It recommended better screening of potential immigrants, as well as reducing the total number admitted, but events have moved in the opposite direction since.
The country is expected to welcome 1.5 million newcomers over the next three years. Such relentlessly high immigration levels end up creating large, self-contained communities which are constantly replenished, thereby reducing the need and opportunities for integration into the mainstream.
This process of self-ghettoisation is evident in cities such as Mississauga and Brampton, which serve as destinations for most newcomers from India and Pakistan. Couple that with an explosion in international students coming to the country year after year — over 50% of whom are from Punjab and Haryana in India — and one is left with an overwhelmed security apparatus that can’t possibly keep up with the demands of preventing violent and extremist threats from taking root in cities across Canada.
The charge that the Canadian government has become a “nexus of terrorism”, or at least that it has turned a blind eye to extremism in immigrant communities, can no longer be ignored. From accusations of protecting members of Hezbollah due to the Lebanese group being a “legitimate charity”, to applauding Ukrainian Nazis in Parliament, the government has failed to dispel the claim that Canada has been uncomfortably hospitable to violent terrorists. Massive pro-Palestine rallies across the country and a tenfold increase in hate crimes against Jews since the beginning of the Hamas-Israel conflict are putting a spotlight on Islamist extremism in the nation, too.
Picking sides in international conflicts hasn’t been a winning strategy for Trudeau, but he’s yet to learn his lesson and seems committed to playing partisan politics, deciding which aggrieved party deserves special treatment. This past May, the Prime Minister was criticised by Sri Lankan authorities for commemorating “Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day” to honour the lives lost during the country’s decades-long civil war which came to an end in 2009.
It’s too early to tell whether Canada — home to a large Sri Lankan diaspora — will see tensions rise between Tamils and Sinhalese as memories of the civil war find a new breeding ground among younger generations. But Trudeau’s cherry-picking of victims will not ensure that Canadians of all stripes live peacefully side by side.