A volunteer at the Metro Vancouver Sikh temple whose president was gunned down a week ago said Hardeep Singh Nijjar knew his life may have been in danger.
Gurkeerat Singh said Nijjar gave a speech at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara on the day of his death just hours before the shooting in the temple’s parking lot that claimed his life, noting he had been warned by Canadian intelligence officials.
Singh, who attended a protest Saturday (June 24) in front of Vancouver’s Indian consulate along with 200 others from Canada’s Sikh community, said temple members firmly believe Nijjar’s death was a result of foreign interference.
“When they are informing our leaders that their lives may be in danger, we have all the right to believe that it could be foreign interference involved in this,” Singh said.
Nijjar was gunned down in his vehicle while leaving the temple parking lot at around 8:30 p.m. on June 18, and homicide investigators said they are looking for two “heavy-set” suspects seen leaving the scene, likely to a getaway car parked a few blocks away.
While police have acknowledged that there is fear and speculation stemming from the attack, investigators say they have not linked the shooting to foreign interference and there are no reasons to believe the Sikh community in Canada is at risk.
Protesters, however, say they are convinced the killing was linked to Nijjar’s active role in advocating for an independent Sikh state of Khalistan in India.
Nijjar was organizing an unofficial referendum in India for an independent Sikh state at the time of this death.
The Indian government had offered a reward of 1 million rupees, or about $16,000, last July for information that could lead to Nijjar’s arrest or apprehension, and the country’s counterterrorism body referred to him as a “fugitive terrorist” who led a conspiracy to murder a Hindu priest.
Protesters, however, described Nijjar as “peaceful,” “humble” and “loved in the community” for his outreach efforts. Those included offering free meals to people in need and travelling to Kamloops in 2021 to offer support to First Nations groups after the discovery of unmarked graves at a residential school site.
“He was a loving man, a hard-working man, a family man,” Singh said. “He worked as a plumber, so he’s well respected in the community, and he was someone that always the community looked up to.”
Protesters on Saturday mostly wore orange headwear and carried large yellow flags displaying the word “Khalistan,” chanting loudly as many stepped on an Indian flag they brought to the scene.
The crowd consisted of Sikh community members covering the full gamut of demographics from young children to the elderly, and some said they travelled from cities such as Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal.
“I am overwhelmed by the response of the Sikh community,” said Jatinder Singh Grewal, a director with Sikhs for Justice, a group that helped organize the protest. “The Sikhs all around the world, not only from B.C. but from all over the world have outpoured their support for Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
“People who can come out, have come out in support of this.”
Singh said he hopes the protest further opens Canadians’ eyes to not only Nijjar’s death, but also the possibility of foreign interference on home soil.
“Canada is someone who prides itself in human rights and leading in freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom overall,” he said. “So if Canada is someone who advocates for this… It’s definitely a Canadian issue, and Canadians should be concerned about this.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2023.
Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press