Academics call for retraction of “vitriolic” Khalistan report by former CBC journalist

A group of almost 50 academics, who work closely with the Sikh community or in the area of Sikh studies, has co-signed a letter calling for a retraction of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) report titled “Khalistan: A project of Pakistan”.

The report, authored by former CBC journalist Terry Milewski with a foreword by former Conservative political staffer Shuvaloy Majumdar and former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh, was released by the Institute on September 9.  

The academics are sounding alarm bells around MLI’s decision to publish “such a poorly researched, unfounded and uncritical analysis of a significant issue”. The letter goes on to highlight  that the report “contains a litany of conclusory statements and allegations without any substantiation”, “casts wide aspersions on a highly visible, racialized community, engaged in legitimate advocacy”, and that “the “reference” section is one-sided, showing a lack of literature review or effort to triangulate claims.”

The controversial Milewski report, which attempts to probe the link between the Khalistan movement and Pakistan, has been criticized as lacking “adequate academic rigour, journalistic neutrality, and balance”.

The letter has been signed by professors and academics from across North America and the United Kingdom, including four chairs of Sikh studies.

The letter in its entirety is reproduced below and can be seen here (https://www.sikhscholarsresponse.com/): 

September 15, 2020

Macdonald-Laurier Institute

323 Chapel Street

Suite 300

Ottawa, Ontario

K1N 7Z2

To the board of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, 

We are writing to you with regard to a report recently published by your Institute under the title, “Khalistan: a project of Pakistan.” We are asking that you reevaluate your decision to publish such vitriolic content under your institute’s name.

As academics who work closely with the Sikh community, we are concerned to read a report that contains a litany of conclusory statements and allegations without any substantiation. We are particularly concerned with the manner in which the report casts wide aspersions on a highly visible, racialized community, engaged in legitimate advocacy. The report maligns all Sikh-Canadians engaging in advocacy as extremist and foreign-influenced actors. This is especially concerning as so many of these advocates and activists are rigorous critics of both India and Pakistan’s record regarding minority rights.

The report also damages the credibility of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute as it lacks adequate academic rigour, historical and contextually-based journalistic analysis, and balance. As academics, writers, and professors, we regularly evaluate work for peer review and have our own work assessed for accuracy as well. The report is sparsely referenced and the few claims that are made seem to not have been fact-checked. The “reference” section is one-sided showing a lack of literature review or effort to triangulate claims. While the writing is presented as objective policy analysis, it actually reads as a scattered collection of opinions and vague allegations; it is a simplistic and single worldview. The report is shockingly un-Canadian in every aspect, from a lack of respect for free speech to a parroting of a foreign, Indian government narrative on Khalistani activism. Without any critical analysis, the author completely disregards the valid grievances and grassroots advocacy of the Sikh community. 

Mr. Milewski misses the opportunity to provide a meaningful policy analysis based on facts that would further the Institute’s aims of making “poor quality public policy in Ottawa unacceptable.” The following are some examples.

  1. The very introduction to the report sets the tone for what is to follow by callously characterizing Sikh advocacy as a “steady and predictable drumbeat of victimization, persecution and genocide commemoration, presented as steps to assist a community in need of healing.” Since when are political grievances of a community, the commemoration of mass atrocities, or the advocacy for human rights and justice, proof of something sinister? That too in a country with unique genocide legislation.
  1. The report’s characterization of the Khalistan movement is also surprisingly simplistic and incomplete. The author’s narrative completely erases the political context in which the Khalistani struggle for self-determination took place in the 1980 and 1990s—a struggle no international group, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, cast aside as simply “terrorist.” Instead, like all militant movements and armed conflicts across the world, serious questions under humanitarian law and human rights law were raised.
  1. The report neither cites nor explains that simply holding a political opinion for “Khalistan” is not illegal even under India’s own laws that allow demanding separation from the country, as long as the demand does not call for arms or incite violence. (See section 124A on “sedition”). That the Indian government fails to follow its own laws is often the crux of Sikh advocacy in Punjab and outside. Also, holding political opinions is squarely protected under Canadian law. Why then the Institute would allow for this incomplete and unsubstantiated report, is puzzling. The erasure of well-documented violence at the hands of the Indian State is telling. The author repeatedly demonstrates a commitment to telling only one side of the story.

We hope that you carefully consider our concerns and reevaluate your decision to publish such vitriolic content under your institute’s name, particularly considering the lack of academic integrity and the gravity of the accusations being leveled against a highly visible, racialized community. This report has already been circulated in Sikh studies circles damaging the credibility and reputation of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Your institute lays claim to policy analysis produced with integrity that is evidence-based and without bias. The basic premise of this report, however, undermines your own mission.

If you do truly wish to engage in producing reports on Sikh-Canadians in the unbiased spirit of your institute, we are happy to provide peer-review and reference to triangulate and balance such reports. There is a body of extant writing that shows a diversity of Sikh views and debates about Khalistan which documents the abuses by both Pakistan and India that are ignored. Canada, as a non-aligned state in terms of regional geopolitics, is meaningfully positioned to benefit marginalized groups in both countries. For now, we look forward to your response and the timely retraction of this report.

Kindest regards,

  1. Dr. Amrita Kaur Sukhi, Lecturer, University of Toronto
  2. Dr. Anneeth Kaur Hundle, Dhan Kaur Sahota Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies at the University of California, Irvine School of Social Sciences
  3. Dr. Arvind-Pal S. Mandair, Associate Professor of Sikh Studies, University of Michigan
  4. Dr. Balbinder Bhogal, The Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Endowed Chair in Sikh Studies and Professor of Religion, Hofstra University
  5. Dr. Bhavjinder Kaur Dhillon, Faculty of Science, University of British Columbia
  6. Dipin Kaur, Yale University
  7. Gurbeer Singh, PhD Student, University of California, Riverside 
  8. Dr. Gurcharan  Singh, Adjunct Research Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa
  9. Prof Gurnam Singh, University of Warwick, UK
  10. Dr. Gurnam Singh Sanghera, Visiting Professor, ‘Centre for Studies on Sri Guru Granth Sahib,’ at Guru Nanak Dev University.
  11. Harinder Singh, Senior Fellow, Research & Policy, Sikh Research Institute
  12. Dr. Harjeet Singh Grewal, Instructor of Sikh Studies, Department of Classics and Religion, University of Calgary
  13. Dr. Hafsa Kanjwal, Department of History, Lafayette College
  14. Harleen Kaur, PhD candidate, UCLA
  15. Dr. Harpreet Singh, Sikhism Scholar, Harvard University
  16. H Bindy Kaur Kang-Dhillon, PfD Candidate, Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program, UBC
  17. Dr, Indira Prahst, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Langara College
  18. Dr. Inderpal Grewal, Yale university
  19. Dr. Idrisa Pandit, Director of Studies in Islam, University of Waterloo
  20. Honorary Fellow, Edward Cadbury Centre
  21. Dr. Jagdeep Singh Walia, Department of Pediatrics, Queen’s University 
  22. Dr. Jakeet Singh, Department of Politics, York University
  23. Dr Jasjit Singh, Associate Professor, University of Leeds (UK)
  24. Jasleen Singh, PhD (c), University of Michigan
  25. Dr. Jaspreet Bal, Professor, Humber College
  26. Dr. Jugdep Singh Chima, Hiram College
  27. Dr. Kamal Arora, Instructor, University of the Fraser Valley
  28. Kiranjot Chahal, PhD Humanities, York University
  29. Khushdeep Kaur, PhD Candidate, Temple University
  30. Dr. Simran Jeet Singh, Union Seminary
  31. Mallika Kaur, UC Berkeley School of Law
  32. Dr. Manpreet Kaur, MD MS, Associate Professor, Stanford University
  33. Dr. Michael Hawley, Associate Professor of Sikh History, Mount Royal University
  34. Narinder Kaur, University College London, UK
  35. Dr. Nirvikar Singh, Distinguished Professor of Economics, University of California, Santa Cruz
  36. Prabhdeep Singh Kehal, PhD Candidate, Brown University
  37. Prabhsharanbir Singh, Instructor, Department of Sociology, UBC
  38. Rajbir Singh Judge, Assistant Professor, Department of History, California State University
  39. Dr. Sara Grewal, Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Studies, Gender and Race, MacEwan University
  40. Sasha Sabherwal, PhD (c), Yale University
  41. Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, PhD (c), University of the Fraser Valley History
  42. Dr. Shruti Devgan, Bowdoin College
  43. Simran Kaur Saini, PhD (c), York University
  44. Simratpal Singh, Ph.D Candidate, University of Manitoba
  45. Sonia Aujla-Bhullar PhD (c), University of Calgary
  46. Tejpaul Bainiwal, PhD. Candidate Sikh Studies, UC Riverside
  47. Dr. Tarnjit Kaur, PhD Physics 
  48. Dr. Tavleen Kaur, University of Wolverhampton
  49. Dr. Pashaura Singh, Distinguished Professor and Saini Chair in Sikh Studies, University of California, Riverside
  50. Dr. Preet Kaur Virdi, Adjunct Assistant Professor, CUNY
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