Ottawa (November 9, 2021): The World Sikh Organization of Canada has written to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino with respect to recent news that India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) visited Canada on November 4-5 at the invitation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
A copy of the letter is below:
November 9, 2021
The Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness
House of Commons
Dear Minister Mendicino,
Re. Visit of Indian NIA to Canada
We are writing to express our concern with respect to a press release by the High Commission of India in Ottawa announcing that a “high-level” team from India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) visited Canada last week at the invitation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The purpose of the visit was reported to have been to better coordinate investigations against entities and individuals suspected of terrorism and other criminal matters.
The announcement of the NIA visit to Canada was widely covered by Indian media. The coverage included details that the NIA and RCMP met to increase cooperation to counter Sikh groups active in Canada. The media coverage in fact preceded the press release by the High Commission of India and news of the visit was clearly leaked to Indian media. It is clear that news of the visit and purported ‘increased collaboration’ between Canadian and Indian authorities have been used as a propaganda tool and publicized with the intention of intimidating Sikhs in Canada
The Sikh community in Canada and our organization have repeatedly expressed concerns that Canadian cooperation with Indian security agencies and forces is deeply troubling given the serious and habitual human rights violations reported against them. There are real concerns that increased visits by and collaboration with Indian intelligence and security forces will have a serious negative impact on Sikhs in Canada and may even jeopardize the lives of Canadian Sikhs or their family and friends in India.
In September 2017, then Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale released the Ministerial Direction to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service: Avoiding Complicity in Mistreatment by Foreign Entities. The Direction prohibits:
It is clear that cooperation with Indian intelligence and security agencies, and specifically the NIA, will be in clear violation of this Ministerial Direction given India’s decades-long track record of human rights abuses.
Allegations of Torture while in NIA custody
Although Indian security and intelligence agencies, including the NIA, have for years been criticized by human rights groups, just since the beginning of 2020, numerous cases of alleged torture in NIA custody have come to light.
Earlier this year, a 31-year-old Sikh man, Jugraj Singh, alleged torture at the hands of the NIA. Sewak Singh, maternal uncle of the victim and a retired police officer, claimed that his nephew was abused by the NIA officials for wearing a kirpan, a Sikh article of faith. Sewak Singh told the media,
“He wears a kirpan as it is part of the religious attire of the Sikhs. The NIA officer asked why he was wearing a long kirpan. When he replied that it was a religious symbol, the officer abused his mother and thrashed him. What is his crime that he has a long beard?”
The family released a video of Mr. Singh from the hospital which showed severe injuries on his back, legs and hands.
In another prominent case, a Jesuit priest passed away due to COVID after ill-treatment and grossly negligent care by the NIA. Known popularly as Father Stan Swamy, his death was widely condemned as an atrocious act of extra-judicial custodial killing by the State.
Lawyers denied access during interrogation
In March 2021, The NIA told a special court in Mumbai that an arrested police inspector, Sachin Waze, was not cooperating in a probe against him and insisting on his lawyer being present during interrogation as well as wanting his lawyer to be able to meet him in private. The NIA opposed the lawyer’s presence claiming it would ‘frustrate’ the basic purpose of police custody and that access to legal counsel in private could not be claimed to be a general right. The special court allowed the lawyer to be present during interrogation but separated by a glass partition.
UN Rights Body Seek Response on NIA Threats
On 31st March 2021, the Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations sought a response from the Government of India on alleged series of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. Their letter described how Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, youth president of the PDP, received threats from the NIA for his participation in a virtual meeting with diplomats from the UN Security Council (UNSC) members.
Simultaneous Raids on Activists, Journalists, and NGOs
It is not uncommon for the NIA to raid offices of journalists, NGOs and activists in order to suppress dissent and criticism of the Government of India. In October 2020, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requested urgent intervention after being informed by reliable sources of simultaneous raids conducted by the NIA on the houses and offices of several human rights defenders, non-governmental organisations, and newspaper in Srinagar and Bandipora, in Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory. The NIA has also often been used to counter political dissent, whether it is opposition party members or protestors.
Human Rights Watch also criticized the NIA raids in Kashmir and expressed concerns that the “Indian government is using counterterrorism operations to silence peaceful dissenters, human rights activists, and journalists.”
West Midlands 3
In September 2021, India’s attempt to extradite three Sikhs from the UK was dismissed by the Court due to insufficient evidence. The case against them had been ongoing since 2011 and was driven by the NIA. Mark Summers QC said the allegations against the three Sikhs were ‘wholly unjust’ and that they had been ‘pursued for 11 years without evidential basis’.
It was also widely reported in India that British Police raids on these three Sikhs’ homes in 2018 were at the behest of the NIA.
India under the current Hindutva-inspired BJP Government has seen an alarming shift towards authoritarianism. Legitimate criticism of the state and dissent is now regularly labeled extremist and anti-national. Indian security and intelligence agencies are being used to crack down on those exercising basic democratic freedoms such as a freedom of expression.
We are concerned that the NIA will attempt to target and silence Canadian Sikhs and Kashmiris with investigations and extradition requests through their increased collaboration with Canadian law enforcement agencies There is also concern that any information provided by authorities in Canada could lead to the arbitrary arrest and torture of Indian citizens.
Canada and India have had an intelligence sharing arrangement in the past during the height of the insurgency in Punjab in the 80s and 90s. That arrangement, however, was stopped after Indian police and paramilitary were found to be targeting the Indian relatives of Canadian Sikhs whose names appeared in intelligence reports shared by Canada. The targeting resulted in the abduction, torture and, in some cases, even killing of those relatives by Indian authorities.
The Sikh community is also concerned that India’s interference and intimidation of activists in Canada is increasing without any meaningful restraint.
In April 2020, a report published by Global News revealed that Indian intelligence agencies “attempted to use money and disinformation to “covertly influence” Canadian politicians”. The editor-in-chief of an unnamed Indian newspaper, identified only as “A.B”, met with Indian intelligence over 25 times in five years and was as a result, refused permanent residency in Canada.
The editor referenced in the report is known by the Sikh community and continues to write pieces that are transparently Indian propaganda.
There are several well-known and reported examples of Indian consular officials in Canada interfering in matters here such as attempts to cancel the Punjab Pavilion at the Brampton Carabram festival in 2017 or more recently this year, pressuring Canadian school boards to stop teaching about the Indian farmers protests as it would pose a security threat and could “poison” relations between India and Canada.
In many cases, Canadian Sikhs have been subject to intimidation and coercion by Indian officials. Many Sikhs, including current and former elected officials, have been denied visas to visit India due to their having spoken out about human rights abuses in India. Many other Sikhs who wish to visit their families in India are either restricted from doing so due to a ‘blacklist’ or forced to sign documents affirming their commitment to India’s “unity and territorial integrity” and agreeing to remain silent on India’s human rights record.
Overall, we are deeply concerned that India is attempting to intimidate and silence Sikhs in Canada. We expect the Government of Canada to respect international human rights and democratic values and not collaborate with Indian authorities in attempts to suppress dissent and criticism.
Tejinder Singh Sidhu
World Sikh Organization of Canada