WSO expresses concern regarding visit of India’s National Investigation Agency members

THE World Sikh Organization of Canada has written to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino with respect to recent news that members of India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) visited Canada on November 4-5 at the invitation of the RCMP.

Copies of the letter were also sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly

The letter by Tejinder Singh Sidhu, WSO President, states: “We are writing to express our concern with respect to a press release by the High Commission of India in Ottawa announcing that a “high-level” team from India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) visited Canada last week at the invitation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The purpose of the visit was reported to have been to better coordinate investigations against entities and individuals suspected of terrorism and other criminal matters. 

“The announcement of the NIA visit to Canada was widely covered by Indian media.  The coverage included details that the NIA and RCMP met to increase cooperation to counter Sikh groups active in Canada.  The media coverage in fact preceded the press release by the High Commission of India and news of the visit was clearly leaked to Indian media.  It is clear that news of the visit and purported ‘increased collaboration’ between Canadian and Indian authorities have been used as a propaganda tool and publicized with the intention of intimidating Sikhs in Canada

“The Sikh community in Canada and our organization have repeatedly expressed concerns that Canadian cooperation with Indian security agencies and forces is deeply troubling given the serious and habitual human rights violations reported against them.  There are real concerns that increased visits by and collaboration with Indian intelligence and security forces will have a serious negative impact on Sikhs in Canada and may even jeopardize the lives of Canadian Sikhs or their family and friends in India.”

Sidhu pointed out that in September 2017, then-Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale released the Ministerial Direction to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service: Avoiding Complicity in Mistreatment by Foreign Entities that prohibits:

  1. the disclosure of information that would result in a substantial risk of mistreatment of an individual by a foreign entity;
  2. the making of requests for information that would result in a substantial risk of mistreatment of an individual by a foreign entity; and
  3. certain uses of information that was likely obtained through the mistreatment of an individual by a foreign entity.

Sidhu added: “It is clear that cooperation with Indian intelligence and security agencies, and specifically the NIA, will be in clear violation of this Ministerial Direction given India’s decades-long track record of human rights abuses.”

He said that “just since the beginning of 2020, numerous cases of alleged torture in NIA custody have come to light.

In one prominent case, “a Jesuit priest passed away due to COVID after ill-treatment and grossly negligent care by the NIA. Known popularly as Father Stan Swamy, his death was widely condemned as an atrocious act of extra-judicial custodial killing by the State.”

He went on to allege that lawyers had been denied access during interrogation. 

Sidhu wrote: “On 31 March 2021, the Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations sought a response from the Government of India on alleged series of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. Their letter described how Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, youth president of the PDP, received threats from the NIA for his participation in a virtual meeting with diplomats from the UN Security Council (UNSC) members.”

He added: “It is not uncommon for the NIA to raid offices of journalists, NGOs and activists in order to suppress dissent and criticism of the Government of India.”

He said: “Human Rights Watch also criticized the NIA raids in Kashmir and expressed concerns that the “Indian government is using counterterrorism operations to silence peaceful dissenters, human rights activists, and journalists.”

Sidhu wrote: “We are concerned that the NIA will attempt to target  and silence Canadian Sikhs and Kashmiris with investigations and extradition requests through their increased collaboration with Canadian law enforcement agencies There is also concern that any information provided by authorities in Canada could lead to the arbitrary arrest and torture of Indian citizens.

“Canada and India have had an intelligence sharing arrangement in the past during the height of the insurgency in Punjab in the 80s and 90s.  That arrangement, however, was stopped after Indian police and paramilitary were found to be targeting the Indian relatives of Canadian Sikhs whose names appeared in intelligence reports shared by Canada.  The targeting resulted in the abduction, torture and, in some cases, even killing of those relatives by Indian authorities.”

Sidhu noted: “In April 2020, a report published by Global News revealed that Indian intelligence agencies “attempted to use money and disinformation to “covertly influence” Canadian politicians”.  The editor-in-chief of an unnamed Indian newspaper, identified only as “A.B”, met with Indian intelligence over 25 times in five years and was as a result, refused permanent residency in Canada.” 

He also claimed: “There are several well-known and reported examples of Indian consular officials in Canada interfering in matters here such as attempts to cancel the Punjab Pavilion at the Brampton Carabram festival in 2017 or more recently this year, pressuring Canadian school boards to stop teaching about the Indian farmers protests as it would pose a security threat and could “poison” relations between India and Canada.”

Sidhu wrote: “Many Sikhs, including current and former elected officials, have been denied visas to visit India due to their having spoken out about human rights abuses in India. Many other Sikhs who wish to visit their families in India are either restricted from doing so due to a ‘blacklist’ or forced to sign documents affirming their commitment to India’s “unity and territorial integrity” and agreeing to remain silent on India’s human rights record.”

Sidhu said: “We expect the Government of Canada to respect international human rights and democratic values and not collaborate with Indian authorities in attempts to suppress dissent and criticism.”