By Steven Zhou
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
A communique allegedly sent by the High Commission of India (HCI) in Ottawa to Global Affairs Canada draws from sources known for pushing racist and bigoted conspiracy theories against Muslim and Sikhs.
A memo, dated March 2 and bearing the stamp and letterhead of the HCI in Ottawa, India’s primary Canadian diplomatic mission and base for High Commissioner to Canada Ajay Bisaria, was shared via an account called “REACH (U.S. and Canada) Chapter” -- REACH stands for Race, Ethnicity, And Cultural Heritage.
The memo refers to clashes during the “Tiranga-Maple Car Rally'' held on February 28 in Brampton, Ontario, which celebrated India giving Canada COVID-19 vaccine doses and better relations between the two governments. It decries what the text labels as “extremist elements” in Canada abusing peaceful Indo-Canadian demonstrators.
It cites both the REACH account that shared it as well as the anti-Islamic, Hindu nationalist online publication Bharat Marg.
The demonstration was also planned amidst protests by segments of the Indo-Canadian community against the Indian government’s highly controversial slate of proposed agricultural reforms. Many of the bill’s opponents are Sikhs, who make up a large portion of India’s farming sector. The February 28 car rally in support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi triggered the appearance of several counter-demonstrators unhappy with the BJP, at least several of whom were Sikh.
Fights broke out and two counter-demonstrators were eventually charged with assault.
HCI Ottawa Cites Problematic Social Media Accounts
The memo cites a tweeted clip and YouTube video that shows footage of separate Sikh counter-demonstrators intimidating the rally’s attendees. The Twitter and YouTube accounts respectively label the aggressors as “Sikh goons” and “Khalistani extremists.” The latter refers to the separatist movement backed by some Sikhs to break away from India to form an independent Sikh-majority nation.
The seven minute YouTube video titled “Sikh goons attack peaceful pro farmer rally in Brampton, Canada” shows a man ripping an Indian flag off a car and stomping on it, along with other incidents of verbal and physical intimidation by counter-demonstrators. The video was uploaded onto the official YouTube channel of Bharat Marg.
The HCI memo highlights this violence as an example of extremism in Canada against peaceful supporters of the BJP and its policies. It says that the “graphic and disturbing images of assault have caused grave concern in India,” causing its citizens to worry “about the safety of their family and friends in Canada.”
The other cited source is a tweeted clip showing a man in a grey jacket approaching a counter-demonstrator, who then pushes the grey jacket man to the ground. The clip was tweeted a day after the car rally by the “REACH (U.S. and Canada) Chapter” account, which backs the BJP.
Though both pieces of footage legitimately show troubling verbal and physical intimidation of the rally’s attendees, both REACH and Bharat Marg have also published material that paints Sikhs and Muslims as dangerous terrorists.
The BJP, which first arose in 1980 out of the infamous far-right Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has been widely criticized by international human rights organizations for its mistreatment of India’s non-Hindu minorities. Both Bharat Marg and the REACH Twitter account reflect this anti-minority posture, often via rhetoric that antagonizes Muslims and Sikhs.
It was The REACH (USA & CANADA) Chapter Twitter account that released the HCI memo a day after it was sent to Global Affairs Canada, thanking the diplomatic mission for its “prompt action” while asking police to look into the assaults at the rally.
HCI Ottawa did not respond to several requests to comment on its memo; Global Affairs Canada also declined an opportunity to comment.
Pushing Online Hate
Bharat Marg is a e-zine run by Toronto-based computer engineer Sounder Dilipan, who routinely publishes posts on BharatMarg.com that push Islamophobic conspiracy theories like how India’s Muslims are purposely spreading COVID-19 as part of their anti-Hindu jihad. Or that Muslims engage in “population jihad” in order to out-breed other religions in India and elsewhere to establish global dominance.
The REACH (USA & CANADA) Chapter twitter account has been more focused on Sikh opponents of the BJP, particularly by using clips of fisticuffs and intimidation at the February 28 rally to describe Sikh counter-protestors as terrorists. There’s no evidence to suggest that all the Sikh counter-protestors who showed up at the car rally engaged in violent intimidation, let alone to justify the REACH’s liberal use of the “#KhalistaniTerrorists” label.
The account also used the hashtag at least twice to describe Sikhs before the February car rally. Both times, the account accuses Liberal PM Justin Trudeau of either sympathizing or supporting Khalistani extremism.
One (of two) counter-protesters charged with assault at the car rally is 30-year-old Jodhveer Dhaliwal, who’s married to the sister of New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh’s wife, Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu.
The REACH account uses this connection as evidence to say in one tweet that “Khalistanis of Canada” are “led by Jagmeet Singh.” And in another tweet, that “Jagmeet Singh and his family are busy assaulting Indians in Brampton.”
Such posts generate a lot of reaction from both pro and anti-BJP accounts, with the former’s tweets often bringing up how Khalistani extremists were also behind the infamous bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985, which killed all 329 people on board.
By raising this incident — the worst terrorist act in Canadian history — pro-BJP accounts on Twitter (often in direct response to tweets by the REACH account) are conflating counter-protestors at the February 28 rally with those who carried out the airplane bombing.
And since these counter-protestors, some of whom were indeed violent and abusive, also included a relative of Jagmeet Singh, then Singh himself (along with his supporters in Canada) must also at least sympathize with extremist ideology. The REACH Twitter account boldly states such connections.
The HCI Ottawa’s memo makes no explicit mention of Sikhs, but it uses footage of the February 28 provided by both REACH and Bharat Marg as evidence that Canada is essentially a haven to violent “extremist elements” that target Canada’s Hindu Indians.
Follow Steven Zhou on Twitter at @stevenzzhou.