In the midst of the recent controversy over the Quebec Soccer Federation’s banning of Sikh turbans, many in the Sikh community were shocked to see a press release in support of the ban issued by Ron Banerjee of the Canadian Hindu Advocacy, Bikram Lamba and Gurdev Mann. The press release was covered by some Quebec media.
This was but the latest misadventure by a group of individuals active in the Toronto area which regularly works against the interests of the Sikh community whenever issues arise in the mainstream media. We will be looking at various characters in this group and their links with each other and within the broader community.
Much has been written about Ron Banerjee and his extremist organization Canadian Hindu Advocacy (CHA). They are most known for their off the wall opposition to the Muslim community with events such as “walk your dog in front of a mosque day” and their protests against Muslim prayers in Toronto public schools.
At initial glance, the Canadian Hindu Advocacy seems like a mainstream organization; in reality, it appears to have little more than a handful of members and they certainly don’t represent mainstream Hindus in Canada.
What hasn’t been as prominently featured or investigated however is Banerjee’s vitriol and agenda against the Sikh community or that of his Sikh “allies”.
Banerjee and his previous group, the “Hindu Conference of Canada” which he abandoned for the CHA, have been known for their hateful comments towards Sikhs for many years. Banerjee once posted the following comment about the 1984 Sikh Genocide in response to an opinion piece by Jonathan Kay about Sikh “extremism”:
The alleged ‘killing of Sikh civilians’ is a lie…these were legitimate anti-terrorist actions. No Sikh civilian was killed, only the terrorists died…
Actually, Canada is very similar to India in that both are democracies, and also I know for a fact that in the not-too-distant future, Canada will treat Khalistan Sikhs exactly the same way as India does. Actually, Canada is very similar to India in that both are democracies, and also I know for a fact that in the not-too-distant future, Canada will treat Khalistan Sikhs exactly the same way as India does.
That is in fact one of the goals of HCC: to convince our fellow Canadians that there are too many Khalistani Sikhs in this nation, and that mass deportations (regardless of citizenship) of these people—the Khalistani Sikhs- is essential. We also lobby to have Khalistan-dominated Sikh temples shut down. That is in fact one of the goals of HCC: to convince our fellow Canadians that there are too many Khalistani Sikhs in this nation, and that mass deportations (regardless of citizenship) of these people—the Khalistani Sikhs- is essential. We also lobby to have Khalistan-dominated Sikh temples shut down.
As I have suggested, we hope to see something like OPERATION BLUESTAR replicated in Canada. This should include rendition of suspects to India for interogation, armed assaults on Khakistan terror bases masquerading as Canadian temples (like Golden Temple attack).
As I have suggested, we hope to see something like OPERATION BLUESTAR replicated in Canada. This should include rendition of suspects to India for interrogation armed assaults on Khalistan terror bases masquerading as Canadian temples (like Golden Temple attack).
In fact, if today’s Harper govt were in place in 1984, we would see simultaneous attacks: Canadian military intervention against Khalistan Sikh temples here at the same time as the heroic Indian Army assault on the Golden Temple.
Banerjee also sent a letter to the editor that was published by the National Post in which he said, “Far from being a “genocide” against Sikhs, as Liberal MP Andrew Kania wants to call it, the events of 1984 should be celebrated as a decisive blow against terrorism.”
When representatives from the World Sikh Organization of Canada were denied entry to the Quebec National Assembly, the CHA supported the decision and in doing so openly celebrated the 1984 Sikh genocide: “The Canadian Hindu Advocacy considers the Indian military action against terrorists at the Golden Temple in 1984 to be heroic. We also fully support the 1984 actions by heroic Hindu civilians against Sikh terrorists in New Delhi, and welcome similar anti-terrorist actions in Canada.”
As expected, the CHA also supported the ban on the turban in Quebec soccer, writing a letter of support to the Lasalle Soccer Association in June 2012 and then in June 2013, issuing a press release supporting the ban. Although Ron Banerjee and the CHA are virulently against the Sikh community, they appear to have some friends who self-identify as Sikh. In the press release issued supporting the 2013 turban ban in Quebec, Ron Banerjee signed along with Dr. Bikram Lamba and Gurdev Mann.
Let’s first look at Dr. Lamba.
Dr. Lamba has consistently stood against the interests of the Sikh community whenever issues involving the kirpan or dastaar (turban) have arisen. But his intolerance and association with the CHA deserves a broader examination.
Dr. Lamba has joined with the CHA to promote the anti-Islamic movie “Innocence of Muslims”. The movie defamed and mocked the Prophet Muhammad and Muslim history. It caused protests across the Muslim world. Ron Banerjee however enlisted Dr. Lamba in his campaign to screen the movie in Toronto. The movie was never shown but revealed the interesting relationship Banerjee and Dr. Lamba had developed.
Lamba however describes himself as an agnostic on his Facebook page.
Dr. Lamba strongly opposes the wearing of the kirpan and has gone to the media whenever the issue has arisen in Canada. He is on record as having said, “I think the kirpan should be banned. It has no place in this country”
Dr. Lamba’s past is somewhat ignominious with an arrest in India for fraud. He has also been caught lying about his credentials.
Dr. Lamba uses CNN ireport which is a type of blog open to all users, but tries to pass this off as writing for CNN. He regularly posts poorly written, grammatically incorrect posts on various topics. The Sikh faith is often targeted. With respect to the martyrdom of Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Lamba has gone so far as to suggest, “The very facts of history were distorted to paint Jahangir as a villain, while all the time, he was just being too lenient. Shorn of veneer of religious veneration, Guru Arjun Dev had committed an act of treason by sheltering a fugitive who had waged war against the country, and was thus guilty.”
In 2010 Lamba organized a peculiar campaign to gain support for an attempt to be named the Governor General of Canada. Although the appointment is made on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, Lamba attempted to show he had traction in the community by organizing a petition in support.
Amongst the key supporters of this campaign was Akbar Warris. Warris said, “We need a governor general who can help with the emotional integration of the new Canadians with the mainstream,”
Warris also supported Lamba because according to him, Lamba “upholds and cherishes Canadian values and understands cross-cultural currents.”
Warris himself has a bit of a colorful past with his acknowledged involvement in a car fraud scheme. Warris was given immunity despite being involved in the fraud. He admitted producing false insurance slips, phony T4s and other fraudulent documents for an employee at a car dealership and also arranged for people to be paid a fee so their names could be used to purchase vehicles they never actually bought.
The other signatory to the CHA press release supporting the Quebec soccer turban ban was Gurdev Mann, “President” of the North York Sikh Temple. The North York Sikh Temple is known for its close affinity to the Consulate General of India in Toronto. Just recently, the Temple had a send off function for India’s Consul General in Toronto Priti Saran who is being reassigned to Vietnam.
Mann is a devoted attendee of the annual “India Day” celebrations and other events organized by the Consulate. Mann has also visited India on the invitation of the Indian Government to attend the “Parvasi Bharatiya Divas” functions there. Mann has previously gone in the media to say that Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was a “hardcore terrorist” and that “Some Khalsa school teachers tell kids that Muslims are better people than Hindus.”
Gurdev Mann later issued a clarification (all be it on the 17th, three days after the original statement) that he did not endorse the press release supporting the ban on the turban in Quebec. He chose to issue the clarification in Khabarnama and also Punjabi Post. Ron Banerjee continues to insist that Mann had indeed agreed to the initial press release but later had to bow due to community pressure.
Looking at the charity returns of the North York Sikh Temple, one can see that the directors include one “Nirmala Devi” but also Balraj Deol.
Balraj Deol is also notorious member of the community who is editor of the weekly “Khabarnama” newspaper in Toronto. Balraj Deol was prominent in CBC’s 2007 documentary “Samosa Politics”. Deol told the CBC:
“temples should be strictly religious institutions that stay out of politics. That line is crossed when temples put “Khalistan” signs on the walls, he said.
“When you read behind that sign, we have thousands of lives lost back home, thousands of innocent lives lost in that movement, and we have 331 innocent people lost in the two tragedies of Air India and Narita. That is what is behind that Khalistan,” he said.
“These charitable organizations which are tax exempt, their funds, their space, their congregations should not be used for a political purpose, and that should be a very fine line and it should be enforced.”
Similar to Mr. Lamba, Deol also spoke out against the Sikh wearing of the kirpan in 2010 and told the Toronto Star:
Balraj Deol, editor of Khabarnama, a weekly Punjabi newspaper published in Brampton, says it is time for the clergy to examine the issue of how to make the kirpan safe.
“We have seen from time to time that people have used it as a weapon and it’s very dangerous,” said Deol.
Its size is one issue, he said. “It’s a religious symbol. It can be tiny,” not more than 2 inches long. He also points out that the kirpan — a really small one — can be worn around the neck, which would address security concerns.
Balraj Deol also told another media outlet, “If it’s a symbol, then certainly its present size and form is not very much safe.”
Both Balraj Deol and Gurdev Mann are members of the National Council of Indo Canadians which “stands for unity of Democratic India and Canada.” Balraj Deol’s Khabarnama is a member of the South Asian Press Club of Canada which has members such as Hamdard, Panj Pani, and the daily Punjabi Post.
Punjabi Post is operated by Jagdish Grewal and Grewal counts himself as a “friend” of Balraj Deol. Both Grewal and Deol spoke out against the 2010 Sikh Genocide Petition that was introduced by Sukh Dhaliwal and Andrew Kania in the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa. They told the National Post:
They want to commemorate [Operation] Blue Star, the attack on the Golden Temple where a lot of terrorists were killed — so basically the memorial is of the terrorists, not of the victims of November ’84,” said Balraj Deol, a Punjabi journalist who sent a letter to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff last month decrying the move. “This is a memorial through the back door.
In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by the National Post, Mr. Deol suggests elements in the Sikh separatist movement have exerted undue pressure on politicians to move their agenda forward. Jagdish Grewal, editor of the Canadian Punjabi Post, says the genocide petition, which garnered more than 10,000 signatures, does not reflect the opinion of a majority of Sikhs: “Many of the people who have signed on this petition don’t even know what has been written.”
Both Grewal and Deol regularly go to India to attend “NRI” events and meet with members of the Indian Government when they visit Canada. Both are also regular attendees at Consulate of India events here in Toronto. So, a story which began with Ron Banerjee has taken us to major Punjabi Media outlets and even a gurdwara. What is the string which joins all these characters together? Perhaps time will tell.