Minister Goodale says report on terror threats unfairly targeted sections of Sikh community

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale stands during question period in the House of Commons in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says future reports on terrorist threats to Canada will not refer to Sikh extremism and instead use "extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India." THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA:  Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says future reports on terrorist threats in Canada will have to speak to the ideologies or intentions of extremists, not their religions.

The change comes a few months after Sikh leaders criticized the 2018 report to Parliament on the biggest threats facing Canada, which mentioned “Sikh extremism” for the first time.

“Unfortunately, the language used to describe some threats unintentionally maligned certain communities,”Goodale said in a statement. “This is contrary to the intended purpose of the report, and is not in line with the values of the Government of Canada.”

Goodale is not amending the report to reflect the new language, though an update has been added to the beginning to explain the problem and what will be done in the future.

In the future, when outlining a specific threat, it will be linked to an ideology instead of a community, Goodale said.

For example, instead of “Sikh extremism,” a report will might talk about “extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India.

Balpreet Singh, the lawyer representing the World Sikh Organization in Canada, said the 2018 language is “deeply hurtful and insensitive” and that the promised change is a “step forward.” However he said if Goodale truly believes the language is wrong, the existing report should be changed.

The bigger problem for him was that the government listed Sikh terrorism as a threat without providing evidence.

“Prove it or remove it,” said Boparai.

Sikhs might be targeted for revenge in Canada if they are all tainted by allegations of extremism, he said..

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will likely hear the concerns directly Saturday when he visits one of the biggest gurdwaras in Vancouver and marches in the city’s Vaisakhi parade.

With 16 Sikhs elected as Liberal MPs in 2015, and four in Trudeau’s cabinet, the connection between the party and the community was strong. However the relationship fractured last year after Trudeau’s troubled trip to India, where he signed an agreement to co-operate with the Indian government to fight terror threats, including from Sikh extremist groups Babbar Khalsa and the International Sikh Youth Association.

Those fractures deepened in the fall when the report came out. Sikh leaders, including Liberal MP Randeep Sarai, were publicly critical of the inclusion, saying the only incident the report could give was the Air India bombing in 1985, which was organized by members of the Babbar Khalsa group in Canada.

Singh said some believe Trudeau only signed the agreement with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu, to try to salvage the trip. It had gone off the rails when word got out that Canada had invited, to two receptions, a Canadian man convicted in 1986 of attempting to murder an Indian politician who was visiting Vancouver Island.

Singh said when the report was released with no evidence it added to the belief that Trudeau is under pressure from India, which has been critical of any push for an independent Khalistan, peaceful or not.

Goodale could be asked to give a fuller explanation for the report at a House of Commons committee later this spring. The public-safety committee unanimously agreed this week to a motion from NDP MP Matthew Dube to ask Goodale to come to the committee to discuss the report.

Dube said Friday that Goodale’s statement on the language is “wishy washy” and that the government needs to give some thought to the effect that listing specific communities in the terror report can have on safety and security.

He said if there is an incident or a specific plot that can help Canadians understand a threat or protect themselves, describing it is justified, but merely saying there are threats from specific communities can do more harm than good.

“If you can’t provide proper evidence, if it’s for security reasons or otherwise, then perhaps some thought should be given to not including it,” said Dube.