The president of a Surrey Sikh temple says he has no regrets about having photographs of alleged terrorist Talwinder Singh Parmar and other Canadians who died in India on floats in a parade attended by several politicians earlier this month.
As controversy continues to swirl around the Vaisakhi parade, Sudager Singh Sandhu, president of the Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar, spoke out yesterday for the first time about the involvement of several prominent politicians in the parade that appeared to support a terrorist leader and a banned terrorist organization.
Mr. Sandhu, 44, said he unequivocally condemns those involved the Air-India bombing disaster in 1985 that killed 331 people, mostly Canadians. He said he does not support an armed struggle for Khalistan or those who advocate violence.
However, he is not convinced that Mr. Parmar was the mastermind behind the bombings. "When [Mr. Parmar] was alive, he was never charged. Once he is dead, everyone can say what they want about him," Mr. Sandhu said, speaking in Punjabi. His comments were translated by a parade organizer, Parvkar Singh Dulai.
"The media want us to say Parmar is a terrorist and not to put his picture up. But without a conviction, we do not believe he was a terrorist," Mr. Sandhu said.
Mr. Parmar was one of four Indo-Canadians killed in India who were among the people celebrated as martyrs on two floats in the 30-float parade. The others were Bhupinder Singh Kooner of Abbotsford, Balvir Singh Khera of Calgary and Harjinder Singh Pahra of Toronto.
A photo of Mr. Parmar and others killed in India have been on a float in almost every Vaisakhi parade organized by the temple over the past decade, Mr. Sandhu said. The temple would likely consider including Mr. Parmar's photo again next year unless evidence surfaces that proves that he was the mastermind behind the disaster, he said.
Mr. Sandhu also dismissed concerns raised about people attending the April 7 parade who wore T-shirts showing support for the International Sikh Youth Federation, a terrorist group banned in Canada. Those who wore the T-shirts were not part of the parade and parade organizers had nothing to do with them, he said.
Mr. Sandhu is not without controversy himself. He was fined $2,000 in 1999 for his role in a violent incident three years earlier at Surrey's Guru Nanak Sikh temple over the use of chairs and tables in the dining hall. At that time he was a member of the International Sikh Youth Federation, which maintained that Sikhs should sit on the floor in the dining hall, rather than on chairs, as a sign of humility. Mr. Sandhu confirmed his conviction yesterday, adding that he has not had anything to do with the group for a long time.
The Dasmesh Darbar temple organizes an annual Vaisakhi parade in Surrey to mark the Punjabi new year and the beginning of the harvest in Punjab. This month's event attracted more than 100,000 people and raised $107,000 in charitable donations. CTV, the Sony Store and Western Union were among the community sponsors of the parade.
The list of politicians who attended included Premier Gordon Campbell, provincial cabinet ministers Kevin Falcon and Gordon Hogg and provincial Liberal backbenchers Mary Polak (Langley) and John Nuraney (Burnaby-Willingdon). Conservatives Jim Abbott (Kootenay-Columbia) and Nina Grewal (Fleetwood-Port Kells) were also at the parade.
Indian diplomats in Canada last week expressed concern about the involvement of Canadian politicians in the event. Zile Singh, a deputy consul general in Vancouver, said the portrayal of Mr. Parmar as a martyr was objectionable. Although Mr. Parmar was not charged with murder before he was killed in 1992, police say he was the mastermind behind the two Air-India bombings in 1985.
Mr. Campbell's spokesman Mike Morton said the Premier was not aware that Mr. Parmar's photo was part of a float in the parade. Mr. Campbell told a local Vancouver newspaper that he would not have attended the parade if he had known that groups linked to terrorism or considered illegal in Canada were involved.
The Sikh temple draws about 25,000 people every week for prayers. Yesterday, the parking lot was festooned with colourful tinsel streamers as people flocked inside. Support for Khalistan was displayed prominently at the front of the prayer hall and on symbols around the building.