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Canadian Sikhs to protest visit by Indian cabinet minister

March 22, 2010 | By

Canada (March 22, 2010): As per a Globe and Mail news Published on March 22, 2010; thousands of Canadian Sikhs plan to gather in Toronto Tuesday to protest the presence of an Indian cabinet minister who they say incited a deadly massacre in 1984.

Groups from across the country have been pressuring the Conservative government to have Kamal Nath, the Indian minister of highways and roads, kicked out of the country for human-rights abuses.

Mr. Nath arrived in Canada last week, and has been speaking to foreign investors in an effort to drum up $41-billion in private-sector funding for Indian road projects.

“Tonight he will address the Canada-India Business Council at Toronto’s King Edward Hotel, where Gurpatwant Pannu, of Sikhs for Justice, said he will be greeted by thousands of demonstrators.” says the report.

“They have to tell him to leave the country,” Mr. Pannu said. “If a human-rights violator has come to the country, what should we do? Shouldn’t we act?” it added.

In 1984, Mr. Nath was placed at the scene of an anti-Sikh riot in New Delhi, triggered by the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. More than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in the violence, including some who were burned alive, and Mr. Nath, who was in government at the time, was accused by some witnesses of inciting the violence. He claims to have been there to disperse the crowds and a government commission into the event found no evidence to the contrary.

But Mr. Pannu said the foreign politician should be inadmissible to Canada because of immigration laws that bar entry to anyone involved in human-rights abuses, even if they have not been formally charged or convicted.

And he said the country’s large Sikh community is prepared to put its substantial voting power behind the cause.

“I think this is going to go a long way to shape the political future and who Sikhs as a community will be aligned with,” he said.

Inquiries about the decision by the federal Conservative government to allow Mr. Nath into the country were directed yesterday to the officer of Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

Mr. Cannon’s spokeswoman pointed out that Mr. Nath is a long-serving elected representative in India and a key member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet.

“Minister Nath has visited Canada on past occasions beginning in 2001 and several Canadian ministers and premiers have met with him in India,” said Catherine Loubier.

Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal, who represents a Vancouver riding that is home to many members of his own Sikh community, wrote to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney asking that Mr. Nath’s human-rights record be taken into consideration before the government granted him a visa to enter Canada.

“I can tell you a large number of my constituents have voiced their opinions regarding Mr. Nath and his human-rights record,” Mr. Dhaliwal said.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said he understood the emotions being expressed by the Sikh community.

“I will just point out that this man is a duly elected parliamentarian who serves in a government that happens to be presided over by a person of Sikh faith and origins,” Mr. Ignatieff said.

Sikh media reports condemning Mr. Nath’s visit said Liberal MPs Bob Rae and Andrew Kania had expressed their support for the community. But Mr. Rae said yesterday that does not mean there is a legal reason for denying Mr. Nath a visa.

“We have to be firmly against violence, we have to be in favour of truth and reconciliation,” he said. “But it would be incorrect to say that I am opposed to the visit because, under the current circumstances, I don’t see a basis upon which to say that he can’t come.”

Sukhminder Hansra, editor of the Toronto-based Punjabi Daily Newspaper, said the Canadian government could have easily requested that Mr. Nath be sidelined and another member of the Indian parliament sent as a trade representative.

“If the government of Canada chooses to do business with India, they should do so with people who have a clean record on their own personal balance sheet,” he said. “We can not publicly afford to meet with someone who is implicated in human-rights violations.”

He does not believe it would have negatively impacted trade relations between the two countries, and said that human rights issues are regularly raised in Canada’s dealings with China.

“It’s not that we only need India, India needs us. The door swings both ways,” he said. “We choose who to do business with.”

The Canadian government has refused entry to foreign dignitaries in the past.

In 2008, Canada turned down a visa application from the foreign minister of Eritrea on the grounds that he took part in the country’s war for independence from Ethiopia. Eritrea’s Foreign Ministry called the decision an “embarrassing aberration” and “provocative act.”

And last March, British MP George Galloway was barred from entering Canada based on the fact that he had delivered humanitarian goods to war-torn Gaza and gave $45,000 to the Hamas government, which is a banned terrorist organization in Canada.

Mr. Nath’s role in the anti-Sikh violence is unclear.

In 2000, he told the Nanavati Commission that he arrived at the scene of the riot after learning of escalating violence. But he claims to have left when the police commissioner arrived; satisfied the situation was under control.

He denied leading the mob or inciting it to violence. A photographer with the Indian Express, Monish Sanjay Suri, told the commission that he saw Mr. Nath there, but said the politician was not controlling the crowd.

The High Commission of India in Ottawa referred phone calls to the Consulate General of India in Toronto, who did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the Canada-India Business Council said tonight’s event is non-partisan and would not comment on the controversy surrounding Mr. Nath.

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