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India warns its citizens about hate crimes, 'sectarian violence' in Canada

India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar answers a question from a reporter during a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. India's government is warning its citizens in Canada of a sharp increase in hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Sakchai Lalit

The government of India is warning its citizens in Canada about what it calls a sharp increase in hate crimes, sectarian violence and "anti-India activities."

But the head of a Sikh group based in Mississauga, Ont., said the allegations in a statement issued Friday by India's External Affairs Ministry were directed at peaceful Sikh political activism in Canada, and were baseless.

The Indian government said in the statement that it has taken upthe alleged incidents with Canadian authorities and requested an investigation. 

"The perpetrators of these crimes have not been brought to justice so far in Canada," said the statement, which does not provide information on where the alleged incidents occurred.

It said that in view of the "increasing incidences of crimes," Indian nationals and students in Canada are advised to exercise due caution and remain vigilant. 

No one from Global Affairs Canada was available to respond to a request for comment on the claim from India's government, and RCMP headquarters in Ottawa did not immediately provide a response.

Balpreet Singh, spokesman for the World Sikh Organization, said the statement is "completely political" and there is no evidence of any rise in sectarian violence or extremism targeting Indian nationals or students in Canada.

He said a Hindu temple was vandalized with graffiti in Toronto last week, but police there have so far not linked that incident to "anti-India activities."

"My organization and other organizations condemn any vandalism of any place of worship. It's unacceptable, so we hope that whoever is responsible is brought to justice," Singh said.

He said the Indian government's claims may be in response to a so-called "Khalistan referendum" held in Brampton, Ont., on the creation of an independent Sikh homeland.

Singh said tens of thousands of Sikhs cast their votes in that effort, organized by Sikhs for Justice.

Similar referendums are being held around the world, he said, with votes expected to take place in Vancouver and Calgary.

Singh said the referendums were a threat to the Indian government as Sikhs gathered to support their goal of an independent homeland.

"Jews in America played a key role in the formation and support of Israel," he said, adding that India broke from British rule following activism that involved people in North America in the early 1900s.

Singh said other recent gatherings organized by Sikhs have been maligned.

In June, members of Ottawa's Sikh community called for an investigation after Parliament Hill was evacuated and two men were arrested at an event to commemorate the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India. 

Police apologized and released the members of a group that organized the event after concluding no public safety threat had been made.

The massacre of Sikhs in India was linked to the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, after the Indian army raided the Golden Temple in Amritsar, where militants had occupied Sikhism's holiest shrine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press