ISLAMABAD    -   The Canadian government has refused to stop Canadian Sikhs from expressing their views through holding of Khalistan Referendum and by linking it with a peaceful and democratic process within the legal param­eters of the Canadian laws.

Commenting on the situa­tion which emerged after an at­tack on a Hindu temple and the poster of a revered Khalistan Sikh leader, a Canadian gov­ernment official said that the Canadian nationals had every freedom to express their views under the Canadian laws re­lating to the right to freedom of expression and right to free speech and assembly.

The official views came after lobbying by the Indian govern­ment urging the Canadian gov­ernment to act against the ris­ing pro-Khalistani sentiment in Canada, which is home to over one million Sikhs. A high-pro­file campaign for Khalistan is being run by the pro-Kahlistani and pro-separatist group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ).

According to international media reports, the Indian gov­ernment tried to apply diplo­matic pressure on the Cana­dian government ahead of the Khalistan Referendum voting on 18 September at the Gore Meadows Community Center in Brampton, Ontario. Hundreds of Sikhs gathered at the center on Saturday to make prepara­tions for the voting on Sunday.

The Canadian officials were quoted as saying that it could not take away right of the Ca­nadians to engage in any kind of political activity and demand their rights through peaceful and democratic means.

Canadian parliamentari­an Sukhminder Singh Dhaliw­al also said that constitutional and democratic political ex­pression could not be stopped.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the Counsel General of Sikhs for Justice and a New York At­torney said the Indian govern­ment used every trick to paint Sikhs in a bad light before the West but the democratic gov­ernments had refused to come under the Indian pressure.

They recognized that Khalistan Referendum sought to assess the desire for an inde­pendent Khalistan, he said, add­ing once the voting process was completed then the case would be taken up at the United Na­tions. Gurpatwant Singh Pan­nun reiterated that SFJ and oth­er pro-Khalistan organizations had no links with violence. “We are for ballot, not bullet. India hates our approach to peace,” he maintained.

Jatinder Singh Grewal, the pol­icy director of SFJ, said: “The is­sue of Khalistan Referendum falls well within the right of free­dom of expression, which is a fundamental right enjoyed by all Canadians. India has a dif­ficult time understanding this principle as they have systemat­ically criminalized political de­cent within their state and today countless Sikhs who wish to ex­ercise their right to self-determi­nation are labeled as `terrorists.” 

And now India was trying to export this system to the west. But the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom guaran­teed this right and no amount of Indian pressure would change this reality, he added. Accord­ing to media reports, Modi’s government felt perturbed at the scenes of thousands of Sikhs coming out in the western cap­itals demanding freedom from India and the establishment of an independent state of Khali­satn. The issue of Sikh separat­ism was a major bone of conten­tion of Prime Minister Trudeau’s trip to India a few years ago. The Indian government had open­ly accused the Canadian author­ities of showing leniency to­wards Khalistanis in Canada.

The Indian government de­manded of the Canadian gov­ernment to prevent people from misusing their right to freedom of expression to “incite violence and glorify terrorists as mar­tyrs” which was vehemently de­nied by SFJ. The Indian media said that earlier this week, the Indian authorities launched a strong protest with the Canadi­an counterparts after BAPS Swa­minarayan Mandir in Toronto was vandalized with anti-Indian and pro-Khalistan slogans writ­ten at the entrance ahead of 18 September Khalistan Referen­dum voting which was set to at­tract tens of thousands of Sikhs.