Nijjar allegation: How mayors with large Sikh populations are reacting

For hundreds of thousands of Canadian Sikhs, the allegation of potential involvement by Indian agents in the murder of a prominent leader has brought anxiety and fear.

On Monday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there is “credible” evidence that agents of the India government are potentially linked to the killing of a Sikh man and Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, outside a temple, last June.

The Indian government called the accusation “absurd,” and the fallout has since soured trade and diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Nearly 772,000 Sikh people live in Canada, according to government data, making the country home to the second largest Sikh population outside of India. More than half live in just four cities – Brampton, Ont., Surrey, B.C., Calgary and Edmonton.

The mayors’ responses to the allegations have ranged from urging the federal government to keep people safe to silence, at least publicly.

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More than 163,000 Sikh people live in the Brampton, according to 2021 Statistics Canada census data. It is the largest Sikh hub in the country.

“I had members of a local gurdwara reach out to me to say they were worried they were on some lists that could be targeted,” Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown told a city council committee on Wednesday.

The council voted unanimously to send a letter to the federal public safety minister, federal security agencies as well as provincial and local police asking them to ensure “the safety of all Canadians in places of worship.”

They also voted to send a letter of support to the prime minister and federal government.

Click to play video: 'India shuts visa offices in Canada'

India shuts visa offices in Canada

Brown, a former member of Parliament and Ontario member of provincial parliament, has had a close relationship with India.

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He said in a video posted to X (formerly Twitter) in August that he had visited India 21 times.

The Globe and Mail reported in 2015 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended one of Brown’s leadership rallies when the now-mayor was running to be leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

Global News asked for an interview with Brown. A spokesperson said he was busy attending city meetings.

Global also asked when Brown had last spoken to Modi and what message the mayor had for the Indian prime minister regarding Trudeau’s allegation.

No response was received by deadline.

Click to play video: 'Albertan concerned about India’s travel visa halt'

Albertan concerned about India’s travel visa halt

Surrey, B.C., a suburb of Vancouver, is home to the next largest Sikh community in Canada, with 154,000 people.

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It’s also where Nijjar was gunned down.

Global News reached out to Mayor Brenda Locke but did not receive a response by deadline.

In a statement posted to X, she said she will monitor “this very serious incident,” saying she is confident law enforcement agencies, who are investigating, “will ensure the integrity of Canadian democracy and the safety of our citizens are protected. I hope this investigation provides Mr. Nijjar’s family with the closure I am sure they seek.”

The cities with the next largest Sikh populations are Calgary and Edmonton, with 49,000 and 41,000 Sikh-Canadians respectively.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek did not respond to interview requests. A spokesperson for Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he was busy in meetings.

World Sikh Organization of Canada spokesperson Balpreet Singh told Global News it’s important for mayors of cities with large Sikh populations to acknowledge what happened in public statements but “the first thing that they need to do is make sure that Sikhs in their cities are receiving support.”

“It’s going to be important to have elected officials meet with the community and the gurdwaras over the weekend,” he said, speaking from Mississauga, Ont.

He also said Sohi, who is Sikh and who the Edmonton Journal reported was imprisoned in India in the 1980s, and Gondek, whose parents are from India, are likely in “a little bit” of a different situation from other mayors.

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“That having been said… I do think they need to say something. They are well-positioned to comment on this issue and I’m hopeful they’ll make a contribution,” he said.

He also welcomed Brampton’s letter and call for security agencies to ensure people are safe.

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