Sikh independence vote in B.C. sees steady voter turnout amid Canada-India tensions

By The Canadian Press

More than 200,000 people turned out to vote in two unofficial referendums at the centre of Canada’s ongoing tensions with India, officials said Sunday, after the latest one in the Metro Vancouver municipality of Surrey wrapped up in the evening.

The referendum on Khalistan — an independent state in India proposed by some Sikhs — was being held at the same Surrey gurdwara where activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot dead in June.

Sarbraj Kahlon, news director at Radio Punjab who was at the referendum site, called the latest vote a success after 65,700 people turned out in Surrey Sunday to cast ballots.

He added the result of the non-binding referendum is expected later in the night.

Organizers have said the first one in British Columbia on Sept. 10 was so popular that voting couldn’t be completed in one day.

Referendum co-organizer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun said in a statement Sunday evening that organizers are planning more in Abbotsford, Edmonton, Calgary, and Montreal in 2024.

Pannun also said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has created more open conversations around India and its handling of the Khalistani independence movement while allowing its supporters to become more vocal without fear of retribution.

Trudeau said in the House of Commons on Sept. 18 that there were “credible allegations” potentially linking India’s government to Nijjar’s killing.

Nijjar was an organizer of the Khalistan referendum in Canada, and votes have also been held in several other locations around the world.

The Indian government has denied involvement in Nijjar’s death and has long maintained that the Punjabi independence movement undermines India’s national security.

Kahlon has said, “The organizers just want people to come, attend and just unite under one flag.”

“As you know, this is a non-binding referendum but the organizers, they say, the United Nations they are watching it closely,” he said.

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