Khalistan: The Canadian connection

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s accusations against India have only exposed the fact that the Western nation has become a safe haven for Khalistani terrorists, openly calling for a separate state.
Khalistan supporters protest in front of the Indian Consulate in Toronto on July 8, 2023
Khalistan supporters protest in front of the Indian Consulate in Toronto on July 8, 2023

The meek Canadian response to the Khalistani challenge was a frequent target of Indian politicians as far back as 1982, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi complained about it to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Not much came of it. Quite the reverse, in fact. It was Pierre Trudeau’s government which refused the 1982 Indian request to extradite Talwinder Parmar to India for murder, on the quaint grounds that India was insufficiently deferential to the Queen.

That is not a joke. Canadian diplomats had to tell their Indian counterparts that the extradition protocols between Commonwealth countries would not apply because India only recognized Her Majesty as Head of the Commonwealth, and not as Head of State.

Case closed! It was exquisite. Canada didn’t have to ponder the evidence against Parmar or keep him locked up, as Germany did for a year while considering another Indian bid to extradite him in 1983. When the Germans finally let him go in 1984, Parmar came back to Canada a free man and a hero to boot.

Canadian Khalistanis have made it normal to celebrate murders of the right sort. An example is the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. A Toronto weekly, Sanjh Savera, greeted the anniversary in 2002 with a cover illustration of Indira Gandhi’s murder and a headline urging readers to ‘Honour the martyrs who killed the sinner’. At the time, Sanjh Savera was firmly identified with the World Sikh Organization (WSO), whose president and ex-president were on its board. The explicit endorsement of political murder did not produce any complaint from Canadian politicians.

Instead, the weekly Sanjh Savera made money from government advertising and grew to become a daily. This collective shrug from the Canadian political class inevitably emboldened the separatist lobby—and the acquittals in the Air India trial, in 2005, doubled the effect. The Khalistanis had won a victory and began to reap the benefits. The veneration of terrorist martyrs was no longer confined to Punjabi-language media alone…

The court victory led Canadian Khalistanis to push the envelope, most notably at the 2007 Vaisakhi parade in Surrey, British Columbia, where the boundaries of what is acceptable in Canada were decisively expanded… The Conservative Party, led by Stephen Harper, held power as the parade set out as usual from the Dasmesh Darbar gurdwara… What they had not foreseen was the provocative display of ‘martyr’ portraits, garlanded with gold tinsel, on the parade floats. These included various assassins and, remarkably, several portraits of a mass killer of innocent civilians—Talwinder Singh Parmar.

New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh
(left) with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau


In the fall of 2017, Jagmeet Singh, at the age of thirty-nine, became the first Sikh to lead a Canadian political party—the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP). Singh had made his name alongside his brother, Gurratan, and his leadership campaign spokesman, Amneet Bali, in the Sikh Activist Network (SAN), which they called ‘a previously underground network’... of Sikh activists working for social justice while resisting the poisonous exploitative and murderous powers of neo-imperialism.’

Their literature pledged to fight the ‘Oppressive Domination of the Fascist Indian Machinery’. They called it an ‘activist’ network for a reason. Jagmeet Singh appeared at Khalistani events in California and London, was denied a visa to visit India, and campaigned for clemency for Balwant Singh Rajoana, the terrorist who directed the 1995 assassination of Beant Singh, the chief minister of Punjab. On being elected to the Ontario legislature, Jagmeet Singh had worked to have the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India deemed a ‘genocide’… But in the wider world, and within his party, refusing to object to a terrorist’s glorification was a serious political liability.

Although it took five months, he finally did revise his position, and forthrightly, saying it was a ‘very fair question’ and that he now accepted the judicial findings that Parmar was, indeed, the Air India bomber. This conclusion, though, did not erase the conundrum at the heart of the story: a young, progressive political leader in the twenty-first century had repeatedly declined to object to the public veneration of a mass-murderer—and his supporters were outraged by the question.


Going into a pivotal meeting in New Delhi with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trudeau sounded all the right notes. He strongly endorsed a united India and, when pressed to repudiate the Parmar posters back home, he said what NDP leader Jagmeet Singh had failed to say: ‘I do not think we should ever be glorifying mass-murderers, and I’m happy to condemn that.’ So far, so good. But all of that was forgotten in the furore that unfolded next. It began with a buzz on my phone, signalling a new arrival in my inbox. 

I glanced at it, then gaped in wonder. Could it be real? It was a snapshot from a posh diplomatic reception in Mumbai, showing Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, posing in a sari with a convicted Khalistani hitman… It was Jaspal Atwal who was accused by Ujjal Dosanjh of trying to beat his head in with an iron bar in 1985; and the same Jaspal Atwal who was convicted for shooting Malkiat Sidhu, the Punjab cabinet minister, on Vancouver Island in 1986. (Sidhu survived, but was assassinated in Punjab five years later.) Yes, the picture was real and more pictures arrived showing Atwal with other members of Trudeau’s entourage.

Talwinder Singh Parmar
Talwinder Singh Parmar

Another showed an invitation to the next day’s dinner for the Trudeaus in New Delhi. The host: Canada’s high commissioner. The guest: Jaspal Atwal. A convicted terrorist had the inside track on Trudeau’s Indian junket. He was dining with the Trudeaus in both Mumbai and New Delhi… Of course, the story was popular in part because it confirmed what many Indians already thought—namely, that Canada was soft on Khalistanis… To rub salt in the wound, it soon emerged that Atwal had been a fixture at Liberal events and fundraisers, both federal and provincial, for years.

There had even been a similar embarrassment before, when Atwal got himself invited to an event at the British Columbia legislature. Then it emerged that this convicted terrorist had served on the Liberal executive board for a federal electoral district. It never seemed to occur to anyone that this was likely to create a scandal. In that sense, it was another indication, like the Jagmeet Singh story, that the norms had silently shifted under the steady pressure of the Khalistan movement and the shift wasn’t noticed until the lights went on. Until then—terrorist on the martyr poster? No big deal. Terrorist on the guest list? No problem.


In August of 1984, a French-Canadian criminal named Gerry Boudreault told the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) that some Vancouver Sikhs offered him $200,000 in cash to smuggle a bomb onto Air India’s flight from Montreal to London—Flight 182. ‘This guy met me with a suitcase,’ Boudreault recalled, fifteen years later. ‘A Sikh. He opened it up and there it was stuffed with $200,000, and all I had to do was put a bomb on an Air India plane. I’d done some bad things in my time, done my time in jail, but putting a bomb on a plane—not me. I went to the police.’

The police didn’t trust Boudreault and didn’t buy his story. But eyebrows went up a month later, when another man independently revealed the very same plot. This time, it was a Sikh, Harmail Singh Grewal, who was trying to bargain down some criminal charges for robbery. Grewal told the Vancouver police that his fellow Sikhs planned to use a French-Canadian—that was Gerry Boudreault—to blow up an Indian plane. In fact, Grewal said the plan involved two planes and two bombs, which proved to be correct:

Irish naval authorities bring ashore debris from the Air India Flight 182
that crashed off the west Cork coast on June 23, 1985

Officer: ‘There’s a plot to put a bomb on an airplane right?’
Grewal: ‘They said, yeah.’
Officer: ‘OK.’
Grewal: ‘Maybe two.’
Officer: ‘Maybe two airplanes?’
Grewal: ‘Well is it two, two, two, yeah. I heard their problem, they
say if it doesn’t blow, what happens? They said... some extra ...’
Officer: ‘A backup bomb?’
Grewal: ‘Yeah.’
Officer: ‘What kind of airplane?’
Grewal: ‘Air India 747.’
Officer: ‘Air India 747. Is this going to be leaving from Montreal?’
Grewal: ‘Yes.’
Officer: ‘And it’s going to be, when?’
Grewal: ‘Well I don’t know the exact date, you know, the time. A flight leaves only from Montreal in Canada.’

Nothing was done to investigate this plot, but it’s worth pausing to notice that final phrase—that Air India flies, ‘only from Montreal in Canada’. A Toronto-to-Montreal leg was added to that flight in January of 1985, but the important issue is that, for years, Canadian officials kept insisting that there was ‘no specific warning’ about Flight 182. The problem?

There was no other Air India flight to attack. Air India’s flight from Toronto to Montreal and London, once a week, was the only flight the airline operated in Canada. You didn’t have to be an ace detective to know which flight to watch if Air India was threatened. That one fact debunks decades of official claims about this case. Any threat to an Air India jet in Canada was specific to Flight 182, because it was the only available target.

Besides that, it became clear at the judicial inquiry that both Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and RCMP knew what the Vancouver Police knew about the plot described by Grewal. On 26 October 1984, CSIS reported to the RCMP that Grewal ‘disclosed knowledge of plans to blow up an AI 747 aircraft in November en route to India from Montreal’. That was a specific warning that Flight 182 would be bombed.

Canadian PM’s wife Sophie Grégoire
Trudeau with Khalistani hitman Jaspal
Atwal, at a reception for the Trudeaus
in Mumbai, February 20, 2018

True, November came and went—but there was nothing done about it in November, either. After digging into this episode at his judicial inquiry, retired Supreme Court Justice John Major found that, ‘There is no evidence of any RCMP follow-up.’ In fact, it was not until nine months after the bombing that investigators grasped the significance of Boudreault and Grewal independently revealing the same plot.

What’s more, the suspects they both identified were the same as the RCMP’s suspects in the actual bombing—Talwinder Parmar, Ajaib Bagri, Surjan Gill and Inderjit Reyat. Despite that, apparently to explain its failure to follow up, the RCMP kept insisting that the tips from Boudreault and Grewal were ‘totally unrelated’ to the actual Air India bomb plot. Justice Major observed that, ‘This conclusion defies reasonable explanation.’

But those were just the early warnings. A crescendo of increasingly urgent alarms came in during the weeks and months before Flight 182 exploded. Evidence of this was inadvertently revealed by a parliamentary committee which oversaw CSIS. Following the conviction of the Air India bomb-maker, Inderjit Reyat, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, known as SIRC, triumphantly reported in 1992 that it had reviewed the warnings and that CSIS had done a fine job.

It was telling, though, that the committee censored the details of those warnings, leaving only the subject headings visible to the public—and even those showed that warnings came thick and fast. Referring to the year before the bombing, one heading said, ‘Air India Threatened’. Then, ‘More Threats to Air India’ … then, in 1985, ‘Air India Again Threatened’ … ‘CSIS warns of Very High Potential for Serious Incidents’ … and finally, this: ‘Something Big to Happen!’

(Excerpted from Blood for Blood: Fifty Years of the Khalistan Project by Terry Milewski, with permission from HarperCollins)

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