Canadian Sikhs Allege Mistreatment
By Faisal Kutty — Canadian Sikhs are calling on the authorities not to trample on their rights in the wake of the recent arrests in the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182, which went down off the coast of Ireland killing all 329 aboard. To date three suspects have been arrested and further arrests are anticipated according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Malik and Bagri appeared briefly on Monday for bail hearings. Both were denied bail. This is the first step, in what many legal observers predict will be the longest and most complex legal case in Canadian history. A leaked government document suggested that more than 1,000 witnesses from all over the world would be called to testify.
Malik was reportedly allowed to keep his turban in jail but was forced to appear in court on Monday with a cloth over it. “To our knowledge, there is no safety risk involved in allowing a turban, yet the RCMP refused a citizen’s right to wear it,” says Ann Lowthian, executive director of the World Sikh Organization. “Canadians must be asking themselves what the difference is between attending court in a suit and tie, and attending court in a dastar (turban), especially when there is no safety risk involved.”
The WSO fired off letters to the Solicitor General of Canada and the Commissioner of the RCMP demanding a full and formal public apology for the violations of religious rights of he accused. “You cannot agree to allow Sikhs to serve the federal police force on the one hand, and then deny them the same rights in public court appearances,” says WSO Canadian chapter president Inderjit Singh Bal. “Such behavior is not only insupportable, but is degrading to every Canadian.” The right to wear turbans and carry the kirpan has been held by the country’s courts to be constitutional rights protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The organization has also criticized the police for arresting Sikh suspects without laying any charges. The international umbrella group alleges that this demonstrates that the authorities are incapable of producing evidence to prosecute suspects and is simply fomenting dissent in the Sikh community. “It appears that the RCMP must be taking lessons of intimidation from Punjab police,” says Ram Raghbir Singh Chahal, the group’s international president. “Reminiscent of the violation of basic rights for people in India, the RCMP is using tactics of media manipulation, suspect intimidation, to build a case they don’t seem to have already in hand.”
Not all Sikhs feel the same though. Inderjeet Singh Rangi, a Toronto-based businessman says that the WSO “is making a mountain out of a mole hill.” He says that he is relieved with the police breakthrough and is happy with the manner in which the investigation has proceeded. “It is clear from the length of time it took that the police have exercised great care before making any arrests,” says the thirty-five-year old, who sports a beard and turban as per Sikh religious dictate. “The community must come out and condemn those responsible for the inhuman act.”
Note: First Published October 28th 2000 in ExpressIndia
Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/ygkvnju