Canada-based Khalistani Elements: A Continuing Concern for Bharat
Anurag Sharma, Senior Research Associate, VIF

धर्मं चर। धर्मान्न प्रमदितव्यम्।
- तैत्तिरीय उपनिषद् 1.11

[English Translation: Practice righteousness (Dharma). Do not swerve from righteousness (Dharma).
Source: Taittiriya Upanishad 1.11]

The G20 Summit held in September 2023 in New Delhi marked Bharat’s diplomatic success. The success of the G20 itself spoke about Bharat’s capabilities to organise and handle such large diplomatic gatherings. However, during the event, Canadian Prime Minister (PM) — Justine Trudeau was covertly meeting his counterparts of Five Eye Alliance, consisting of the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US), Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. As per the news report, PM Trudeau proposed to members of Five Eye alliance to issue a joint statement criticising Bharat.[1] Canadian PM sought to accuse Bharat of killing a Khalistani terrorist— Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, outside a Gurdwara in Surrey, Canada. However, Trudeau’s Five Eyes allies rejected his plea for raising this issue at the G20 Summit.

This write-up discusses various factors that have emerged during a recent standoff in Bharat-Canada bilateral relations. Despite strong concerns raised by Bharat on several occasions, Trudeau-led Canadian government has ignored those concerns and continues to shelter Khalistani terrorists and overlooks the Pakistani-Khalistani nexus which has been instrumental in giving rise to anti-Bharat activities.

Nijjar’s Killing & Bharat-Canada Diplomatic Row

On 19 June 2023, Canada-based Khalistani terrorist and chief of Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) — Hardeep Singh Nijjar, was killed outside the Gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia (BC) province. Nijjar moved to Canada in the 1990s but gained prominence by associating himself with Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) during the ‘Khalistan Referendum 2020’ campaign in 2019. The ‘Khalistan Referendum 2020’ was held in November 2020 in various cities of Canada, including Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.[2] Hardeep Singh Nijjar was no ordinary figure but one of the most wanted Khalistani terrorists declared by Bharat and had an Interpol notice against him. Despite being in Canada, Nijjar attempted to revive the ‘dead’ terrorist group— Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) and was responsible for several killings in Punjab.

Surprisingly, almost three months later, Canadian PM Trudeau portrayed the killing of Nijjar as an international issue at the G20 Summit in September 2023, causing Bharat-Canada relations to reach their lowest point. Upon his return to Canada, Trudeau accused Bharat of killing Nijjar on Canadian soil.

PM Trudeau’s baseless allegation led to diplomatic tensions between Bharat and Canada, where the former nation (Bharat) suspended visa services for Canadian nationals till further notice due to operational reasons. The announcement on suspending visa services to Canadian citizens came a day after Bharat issued an advisory to Bharatiya nationals in Canada. The advisory warned and urged Bharatiya to exercise caution against growing anti-Bharat activities and politically condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada.[3]

Pakistan’s “Project Khalistan”

Pakistan has had historical ties with the Sikh community, as the foundation of the Sikh religion originated in the Punjab region of undivided and pre-independence Bharat. There are several historic Sikh Gurdwaras in Pakistan, including the revered Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib and Gurdwara Janam Asthan/Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Shri Guru Nanak Dev. Despite the religious link between Pakistan and Sikh, the latter are minorities and have been subject to oppression in the form of forceful conversions and inter-religious marriages.

The Pakistani-Khalistani relationship is a strange marriage. For Pakistani Muslims, Sikhs are minorities and infidels, but Khalistanis are welcome in Pakistan. One of the prominent Khalistani terrorists— Gopal Singh Chawla, based in Pakistan, boasted about his connections with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Saeed and also told an Indian reporter that “Hafiz Saeed is my ideal person.”[4] Pakistan lured the pro-Khalistani diaspora worldwide in recent years through initiatives like the Kartarpur Corridor. In November 2019, Pakistan opened the Kartarpur Corridor, a border crossing that allows Sikh pilgrims from Bharat to visit this gurdwara without needing a visa. Though the Kartarpur Corridor was seen as a progressive development by the Sikh community on both sides, it raised some security concerns, such as proximity to the Bharat-Pakistan International Border (IB), infiltration and terrorism. Given the unfriendly history between the two nations, Bharat put in place a number of measures to address these concerns.

Pakistan has been pushing Khalistan propaganda as part of its “Kashmir-Khalistan” theory for geopolitical reasons; mainly avenging the loss of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh —an independent nation) in the 1971 war with Bharat. Along with safe-havens, Pakistan has provided Khalistani terrorists with weapon training and logistical support. Even though Lahore was the capital city of the Punjab region during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule, it is likely that Khalistanis are remaining silent and not demanding even an inch of Pakistan’s Punjab province to form Khalistan. It is difficult for them to ignore Pakistan’s strategic generosity that has sustained and fuelled Khalistan propaganda for five decades— aligning with the philosophy that ‘you do not bite the hand that feeds you’.

The nexus of pro-Kashmiri separatist groups with pro-Khalistani individuals in Canada, the US, and the UK demonstrates Pakistan’s ISI’s hand in propagating anti-Bharat activities. For example, in September 2019, Khalistanis and pro-Kashmiri separatists protested in Washington DC, Ottawa, London, Brussels, and Geneva. At another event, pro-Kashmiri separatists and Khalistanis protested against Bharat in New York, the US, in August 2020.[5] Satinderpal Singh Gill, a Canadian-Sikh citizen from Surrey, British Columbia, resided in Pakistan for several years as a notable official of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF). The ISYF has been designated as a terrorist group in India, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, but not in Pakistan.[6]

In another example, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) accused Bhagat Singh Brar, a Canadian-Sikh citizen, of assisting Khalistan-inspired terror acts in Bharat. According to CSIS, Brar was part of a network of Khalistanis connected to and coordinating with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate. According to the CSIS assessment, Brar visited Pakistan in 2015 and reportedly collaborated with Gurjit Singh Cheema to organise a terrorist act across the border in Bharat.[7] According to former Pakistan ambassador to the US— Hussein Haqqani, Pakistan’s project on Khalistan was not confined only to seeking revenge for 1971 war, but also for carving out a Khalistan State that would end Bharat’s direct land access to Kashmir.[8] Though the creation of Khalistan is improbable, Pakistan continues to propagate and support pro-Khalistani elements to disrupt harmony between Hindu-Sikh communities worldwide.

Sikh For Justice— An Unlawful Group of Khalistanis

Founded in 2009, Sikh For Justice (SFJ) was founded by Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who appointed himself as its ‘legal advisor’ and Jatinder Singh Grewal as the International Policy Director of the SFJ. The SFJ was founded in the United States (US), but it has a global presence, with supporters and pro-Khalistani from various countries, including Bharat, Canada, the UK, and Australia. In recent years, with the support of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, the Sikh For Justice (SFJ) has exploited the unsteady law and order situation under the current Punjab State government. To keep the kettle boiling in Punjab, Pakistan, despite economic instability, continues to fund Gurpatwant Singh Pannu and his Sikh for Justice (SFJ) organisation.[9]

SFJ began organising a ‘Referendum 2020’ campaign to separate Punjab State from Bharat. The nefarious objective of the campaign is to seek a consensus among the Sikh diaspora/community for the formation of ‘Khalistan’. The first phase of the unofficial and non-binding referendum began on 31 October 2021 in London. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun said in November 2018 that the SFJ will open a permanent office in Lahore to facilitate voter registration and provide information to Sikhs. He further noted that referendum posters and photos of dead terrorist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had been displayed around Nankana Sahib.[10] SFJ has also supported a larger Khalistan, whose territory borders sections of Pakistan’s Punjab state, and has invited non-Sikhs to register to vote.

In 2022, the SFJ planned a ‘Khalistan Referendum’ in Brampton, Canada, and asked Sikhs from adjacent towns and provinces to attend and vote for an independent Sikh nation separate from Bharat. On 10 September 2023, the SFJ held a Khalistan referendum at the Guru Nanak Singh Gurudwara in Surrey and announced another round of voting called “Shaheed Nijjar Kill India Referendum” on 29 October 2023 in Canada and other locations worldwide.[11]

Despite Bharat’s warnings, Canadian officials backed the Khalistan referendum as an exercise in “free speech” and “free expression.” For the sake of ‘free expression’, Canadian authorities have continued to allow Khalistani fanatics to carry out ‘politically motivated’ actions that endanger Bharat’s integrity. The table below shows some key ‘Khalistan Referendums’ in various countries organised by SFJ and its affiliated groups worldwide. Apart from Pakistani news media and pro-Khalistan media forums, no other primary international newsgroup covered this referendum:

Table 1: Compilation of Country-wise Khalistan Referendum
Country Information
Canada SFJ made unverified claims that around 135,000 people voted in the Khalistan Referendum on 10 September 2023 at the Gurdwara in Surrey, where Nijjar was killed. SFJ claimed that many Sikhs cast ballots in favour of an independent nation at Brampton’s Gore Meadows Community Centre. Countering the claims made by SFJ, unverified reports stated that around 110,000 people participated in the Khalistan referendum in Brampton on 19 September 2022.[12]
United Kingdom In November 2021, a referendum was organised in London by SFJ, claiming that around 10,000 to 12,000 people participated; however, other news reported that only 100-150 people participated in the referendum.[13]

On 09 January 2022, the cities of Leeds and Luton hosted the Khalistan Referendum. Various Pakistani media services, including, Radio Pakistan, covered the news.
Australia On 29 January 2023, the Punjab Referendum Commission (PRC) organised the referendum in the Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia.[14]However, the campaign was interrupted due to a brawl between pro-Khalistani and pro-Bharat groups.
Italy On the initiative of the advocacy group Sikhs For Justice, about 17,000 Sikhs participated in the Khalistan referendum in Rome.
Switzerland Reported by Pakistani media, nearly 6,000 Sikhs from Switzerland and neighbouring France, Italy, and Germany gathered in Geneva on 10 December 2022 to vote in the Khalistan referendum.[15]

Diplomatic Crisis: Further Turmoil or Calmness?

The case related to killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar is still open and investigation is being carried out by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT), with the continued support of Surrey RCMP division. Concerning the safety of Hindu-Sikh community, the Surrey RCMP has increased Patrols and security around temples and gurdwaras. [16]

On 20 September 2023, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) stepped up its crackdown on Khalistan-inspired terrorist organisations and Organised Crime Syndicates (OCS) mainly based in Punjab. The federal agency announced a ₹10 lakh rupee cash reward for five ‘most-wanted & listed’ Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) terrorists, including Harwinder Singh Sandhu, nicknamed Rinda and Lakhbir Singh Sandhu, aka Landa.[17]

In a press conference on 21 September 2023, Arindam Bagchi, Spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), stated that Canada has been a haven for terrorists, and we (Bharat) have asked Canada to take action against those facing terrorism charges, but the Canadian response has not been helpful thus far. On Canada’s allegations and potential links between the Bharatiya government and Nijjar’s killing, the MEA Spokesperson Bagchi informed in a media briefing that such allegations are “politically driven”. “Yes, there is a prejudice here. They (Canada) have made allegations and taken action against them. To us (Bharat), it seems that these allegations raised by the government of Canada are primarily politically driven,” said Bagchi.[18]

On 30 September 2023, Dr S Jaishankar, Bharat’s External Affairs Minister (EAM), stated that Bharat has had an ongoing issue with Canada for years due to Canada’s permissiveness towards terrorism, extremism, and violence in the nation.[19]

The Bharatiya government and the Canadian government, in September, discussed the excessive number of Canadian diplomats in Bharat and their ongoing meddling in domestic matters.[20] The discussion justified equal diplomatic representation for Canada and Bharat. However, the story was covered in The Washington Post cited Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister— Melanie Joly’s statement that Canada is withdrawing two-thirds of its diplomats from Bharat as the latter nation “threatens” to strip them of their diplomatic immunity.[21] Bharat’s Ministry of External Affairs, on 20 October 2023, informed in its press release that the implementation of diplomatic parity is fully consistent with the Article 11.1 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations stating—

Within the Sikh community, Khalistan is a contentious topic because not all Sikhs living abroad support the fictional cause of Khalistan. In contrast to a small number of pro-Khalistanis overseas, Sikhs in Bharat remain steadfastly loyal to their country despite any amount of ISI’s Khalistan propaganda. Sikhs engaged in pro-Khalistan activities must join the mainstream and contribute to the true development of Punjab, instead of voicing grievances and demanding Khalistan. Sikhs must come forward with their Hindu brothers and sisters to support Government of Bharat’s initiatives that have improved Punjab’s overall state, particularly in the areas of infrastructure, agriculture, and the fight against drugs.

Concerning the bilateral relations between Bharat and Canada, the latter nation must ensure that pro-Khalistan elements do not incite violence and hatred among the Canadian Hindu-Sikh community. The pro-Khalistani elements based in Canada have potentially strained the relations between two countries, but it has also affected the broader international standing of the latter nation. Instead of providing support, Canada must respect the concerns raised by Bharat and take stringent action against the pro-Khalistan and anti-Bharat voices raised on its soil.


[1]Sharma, Shweta. “Canada tried to get Five Eyes allies to agree joint condemnation of India over Sikh leader’s killing— report”, The Independent, 20 September 2023, available from:
[2]Kalvapalle, Rahul. “Sikh group plans to hold Khalistan Referendum polling in Canadian cities in 2020”, Global News, 04 October 2018, available from:
[3] “Advisory for Indian nationals and Indian students in Canada”, Ministry of External Affairs-Government of India, 20 September 2023, available from:
[4]Kaul, Aditya Raj. “Will Pakistan’s new ‘Khalistan Avatar’ find support in India?”, The Quint, 29 June 2020, available from:
[5] “Khalistani-Kashmiri nexus in US could be detrimental for India”, Daiji World, 16 September 2021, available from:
[6]Terry Milewski, Blood for Blood: Fifty Years of the Global Khalistan Project (India: HarperCollins, 2021), 225.
[7]Bell, Steward. “‘Match. Denied’: Secret documents show why CSIS put 2 Canadians on no-fly list”, Global News, 08 July 2020, available from:
[8]Shukla, Manish and Namrata Agarwal. “Khalistan is Pakistan’s project designed to subvert national security of Canada, India”, Zee News, 14 September 2020, available from:
[9]Sharma, Anurag. “Terrorism and Extremism Trends in Bharat: Review of 2022 and Prognosis for 2023”, Vivekananda International Foundation, 16 January 2023, available from:
[10]Rana, Yudhvir. “Pak allows SFJ to open ‘Referendum 2020’ office in Lahore”, The Times of India, 23 November 2018, available from:
[11]Rana, Yudhvir. “Return to India, Sikhs for Justice’s Gurpatwant Singh Pannun warns Hindus living in Canada”, the Times of India, 20 September 2023, available from:
[12]Rumbolt, Ryan. “Khalistan referendum vote draws huge crowd of supporters to Brampton”, Insauga, 19 September 2022, available from: ; Narang, Devanshu. “Khalistani referendum and its aftermath”, The Times of India, 20 September 2022, available from:
[13]Sharma, Shweta. “What is the Khalistan Referendum, and Why is India is so concerned about What’s happening in Canada?”, The Independent, 23 September 2022, available from:
[14]Houlahan, Anna. “Fights break out over Khalistan referendum in Melbourne’s Fed Square”, the Canberra Times, 30 January 2023, available from: ; PTI. “Brawl breaks out over Khalistan referendum in Australia; India raises concerns with authorities”, The Indian Express, 30 January 2023, available from:
[15] “Over 200,000 Sikhs take part in Khalistan referendums held in four countries”, the Express Tribune, 29 September 2022, available from:
[16] “Surrey RCMP corrects record on homicide of Hardeep Singh Nijjar”, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 26 September 2023, available from:
[17]Press Release. “NIA intensifies crackdown on Khalistani terrorists operating in India”, National Investigation Agency, 20 September 2023, available from:
[18] “Transcript of weekly media briefing by the official spokesperson (September 21, 2023)”, Government of India-Ministry of External Affairs, 21 September 2023, available from:
[19]ANI. “Ongoing problem with Canada for some years now: EAM Jaishankar”, The Times of India, 30 September 2023, available from:
[20] “Transcript of Weekly Media Briefings by the Official Spokesperson (05 October 2023), The Ministry of External Affairs-Government of India, 05 October 2023, available from:

[21]Coletta, Amanda. “Canada withdraws diplomats after India threatens to revoke immunity”, The Washington Post, 20 October 2023, available from:
[22] “Parity in Canadian diplomatic presence in India”, Ministry of External Affairs-Government of India, 20 October 2023, available from:

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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