Thousands attended the funeral of slain Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Sunday at the gurdwara where he was gunned down a week earlier in Surrey, B.C.
His death has sparked fear and outrage in much of B.C.’s Sikh community.
Nijjar, 45, was shot dead in his truck on June 18 in the parking lot of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, of which he served as president.
He had been very active with Sikhs for Justice, a group advocating for Khalistan — an independent Sikh state from present-day India.
“For a Sikh, their gurdwaras are a place of worship, community,” said Jatinder Singh Grewal, a director of Sikhs for Justice, in an interview with CBC News outside the gurdwara.
“To target the president at the gurdwara is a message that they will target us anywhere … We will target you at the centre of your identity.”
Many attending the funeral Sunday waved yellow “Khalistan” flags as loved ones and associates of Nijjar spoke of his movement’s aspirations — which India has branded extremist.
Supporters paying their respects, including some Sikhs who travelled from outside the province, described the father as peaceful, humble, and loved in the community.
“It was really important for me to bring my family, my kids here,” Aakarshan Singh told CBC News, flanked by his two sons. “[Nijjar] really championed the cause of human rights, and he had a great contribution to society. He helped the community a lot during COVID times, and he was really snatched away from us.
“Moving forward, we won’t be scared; we will voice our opinions.”
A memorial has been erected in the gurdwara’s parking lot at the place Nijjar was killed.
Investigators with the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team have said they are still looking for two “heavier-set” male suspects in the shooting.
Many attendees at Sunday’s funeral said they believe Nijjar’s death is a result of foreign interference from India.
While police have acknowledged the allegations of interference stemming from the attack, investigators said they have not found such a link to India at this point, and believe there is no danger to the broader Sikh community in Canada.
A report released earlier this month by Canada’s national security adviser named India as a major actor in foreign interference — including election meddling and disinformation campaigns on social media.
“There is a long history of violence against Sikhs in India,” Grewal said. “As a result, Sikhs come to Canada for asylum or as a refugee.
“But now many Sikhs are concerned.”
Nijjar was organizing an unofficial referendum for an independent Sikh state at the time of this death. His supporters allege he was a target as a result of that political organizing.
The Indian government had offered a reward of one million rupees, or about $16,000, last July for information that could lead to Nijjar’s arrest or apprehension, and the country’s counterterrorism body referred to him as a “fugitive terrorist” who led a conspiracy to murder a Hindu priest.
However, none of those allegations were tested in court, nor were there any criminal charges against him in the matter.
CBC News has contacted CSIS and the Consulate General of India for comment on Nijjar’s death.
India’s National Investigation Agency accused Nijjar in a 2020 document of “trying to incite Sikhs to vote for secession.”
Sunday’s funeral was followed by a private family gathering at the Valley View Funeral Home, also in Surrey. Hundreds of mourners marched the five kilometres from Nijjar’s gurdwara to the funeral home.