Saturday, October 14, 2017

Why a journalist's question to Jagmeet Singh about an Air India bombing made them both targets of criticism

It was his first day on the job as federal NDP leader, and in a television interview last week with the CBC’s Terry Milewski, Jagmeet Singh faced a question that on the surface seemed to have an obvious response.

Is it appropriate for Sikh temples in Canada to display posters hailing the alleged architect of the 1985 Air India bombing as a martyr?

The bombing of Air India Flight 182 killed 329 people — 280 of them Canadians. Talwinder Singh Parmar was killed in India by police in 1992 and never brought to trial for his alleged role in the plot, but subsequent inquiries into the bombing identified him as the leader of a conspiracy hatched in British Columbia to bring down the plane.
Singh, who is an observant Sikh, danced around the question. His first response was to caution against exaggerating the conflict between Sikhs and Hindus. He then condemned the “heinous massacre” of people aboard Flight 182, calling it a terrorist act.

Pressed a fourth time by Milewski to denounce the posters of Parmar, Singh replied, “I don’t know who was responsible, but I think we need to find out who’s truly responsible. We need to make sure that the investigation actually results in a conviction of someone who is actually responsible.”

Some commentators have argued it was unfair, even racist of Milewski to ask the question. Writing in Maclean’s, Arshy Mann said the question reflected “a double standard that a white, non-Sikh politician would never have to face.” He noted that when Patrick Brown was elected leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, the CBC did not challenge him over his friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That friendship was forged at a time when Modi was an international pariah, accused of failing to stop the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim riots that left more than 1,000 people dead when he was chief minister for the state.

But for Bal Gupta, chairman of the Air India 182 Victims Families Association, Singh’s non-answer was a missed opportunity. “If leaders in Canada don’t disown terrorists and terrorism, then who would?” asked Gupta, whose wife Ramwati was killed in the bombing. He said families of the victims were very upset by Singh’s reply.

“You have to ask him whether he is representing all the Canadians or just one particular interest. I don’t know what is in his mind,” he said.

During his six years in the Ontario legislature, Singh occasionally took up Sikh causes. In 2012 he spoke in the legislature against the death penalty imposed on Balwant Singh Rajoana, a member of the Sikh terrorist group Babbar Khalsa who masterminded the 1995 killing of a Punjab politician. He has argued in favour of labelling as “genocide” the 1984 mass killings of Sikhs in India following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and last April the Ontario legislature adopted a motion to that effect. Singh’s positions have landed him on the bad books of the Indian government, which in 2013 denied him a visa to enter the country.

But it remains a mystery why he would be reluctant to speak out against the glorification of Parmar. Singh has not elaborated, and though the National Post left several messages with his office over the course of the last week, they did not receive a response.
13/10/17 Graeme Hamilton/National Post
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