Sikh independence vote takes place in B.C. amid Canada-India tensions

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A photograph of late temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar is seen on a banner outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. Organizers of an upcoming vote on an independent Sikh state say Canada's allegations of India's links to the killing of Nijjar have significantly bolstered vocal support for their cause. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

SURREY, B.C: Canada-India – Thousands of Sikh voters are expected to turn out today in the Metro Vancouver municipality of Surrey, to vote in an unofficial referendum at the centre of Canada’s ongoing tensions with India.

Organizers say the referendum on Khalistan — an independent state in India proposed by some Sikhs — is taking place at the same Surrey gurdwara where activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot dead in June.

Today’s vote is the second round of the referendum in British Columbia, after organizers said the first ballot on Sept. 10 was so popular that voting couldn’t be completed in one day.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in the House of Commons on Sept. 18 that there were “credible allegations” potentially linking India’s government to Nijjar’s killing.

Ballot spokesman Gurpatwant Singh Pannun says Trudeau’s statement has created more open conversations around India and its handling of the Khalistani independence movement, while allowing its supporters to become more vocal without fear of retribution.

Nijjar was an organizer of the Khalistan referendum in Canada, and votes have also been held in several other locations around the world.

The Indian government has denied involvement in Nijjar’s death and has long maintained that the Punjabi independence movement undermines India’s national security.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2023.

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