The son of Sikh community leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar says his father was meeting regularly with Canadian intelligence officers in the months before he was shot dead in British Columbia, in a killing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says has been credibly linked to India.
Balraj Nijjar says in an interview that his father was meeting Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers “once or twice a week,” including one or two days before the June 18 killing, with another meeting scheduled for two days after his death.
Balraj Nijjar says he also attended a meeting between his father and the RCMP last year in which they were told about threats to his father’s life, and he was advised to “stay at home.”
Hardeep Nijjar — a vocal supporter of the Khalistan movement that advocates for a separate Sikh homeland in the Punjab — was gunned down by two masked men in the parking lot of Surrey’s Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, where he was president.
Trudeau announced to Parliament on Monday that intelligence services were investigating “credible” information about “a potential link” between India’s government and the killing.
India’s government has denied the accusation as “absurd and motivated.”
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a U.S.-based spokesman for the group Sikhs for Justice and a close associate of Nijjar, says Nijjar had asked Canadian authorities whether he should wear a bulletproof vest in the weeks before he was gunned down.
The New York-based lawyer says Nijjar asked about the vest in April or May, and the agencies responded to the effect that they could not provide one.
Pannun says Nijjar had also told him a year earlier, around July 2022, that Canadian authorities had told him about a threat to his life.
He says they told Nijjar he shouldn’t go to his gurdwara at his usual times and he should avoid being seen in public.
But Balraj Nijjar said neither he nor his father wanted to hide.
“We weren’t worried about safety because we weren’t doing anything wrong. We were just using freedom of speech,” he said.
India had previously accused Hardeep Nijjar of terrorism and separatism. He was a key proponent of Sikh independence and had been helping organize an unofficial referendum on Sikh independence in India.
Pannun said he believed Nijjar chose to go about his daily life despite the warnings from Canadian authorities because his campaigning in Canada was peaceful.
“Since the Khalistan referendum is a peaceful and a democratic process, and he is in Canada, where freedom of speech and expression is inherently a democratic, fundamental right,” he said.
A media officer for the RCMP in B.C. said a request for a response had been forwarded to RCMP national headquarters. CSIS did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Nono Shen and Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2023.