Slain B.C. Sikh leader’s son says family, friends always believed India played role in father’s assassination

The son of a Surrey, B.C. Sikh leader killed earlier this year says he feels a sense of relief after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government Monday of being involved in the fatal shooting.

Balraj Singh Nijjar, 21, was speaking publicly for the first time since the shooting death of his father Hardeep on June 18 shortly after evening prayers at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey.

Trudeau said in the House of Commons that intelligence reports had found credible links between Indian government agents and the killing, though no one has been charged yet.

The Indian government had previously offered a reward for Hardeep’s arrest, accusing the gurdwara president of heading a violent separatist movement for an independent Sikh state called Khalistan.

It’s a charge his supporters deny.

WATCH | What was behind Trudeau’s bombshell accusation: 

What led Canada to accuse India of role in Sikh leader’s death

The National breaks down the factors and events leading up to the shooting death of Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Plus, former CSIS analyst Jessica Davis explains what needed to happen for Canada to accuse the Indian government of murder.

Balraj, the elder of Hardeep’s two sons, said the family and close friends always suspected the Indian government was behind his father’s brazen killing.

“It was just a matter of time for when the truth would come out,” he told reporters in the same gurdwara parking lot where his father was slain. “When we heard the news today, it was a sense of relief that it’s finally coming to the public eyes.”

Balraj thanked Trudeau, as well as federal Conservative leader Pierre Polievre and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who both condemned the killing in the House of Commons.

“Hopefully, you can take this a step further and get specific individuals,” he said, addressing the leaders. “If you place sanctions, whatever the next steps are, we’re waiting as a family to see what it is.”

India’s ministry of external affairs issued a statement Monday night rejecting Trudeau’s allegations, calling them “absurd.”

Three women walk past a yellow flag with a Sikh man, with words about a Khalistan referendum.
Members of the Sikh community are pictured at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara where Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed in Surrey. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Balraj was speaking three months to the day after his father was killed and stood a few metres away from where Hardeep was sitting in his pickup truck when he was shot.

He said his father had called home five minutes before the killing, with the 45-year-old in high spirits and asking his family to have dinner ready.

Many members of the Sikh community said that Canadian authorities failed to protect Hardeep before his assassination, saying that Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had previously warned the Sikh leader he was in danger.

WATCH | What is behind the movement for an independent Sikh state? 

What is Khalistan? A look at the movement for an independent Sikh state

Some Sikhs have historically been seeking an independent Sikh homeland in northern India called Khalistan. Experts say the history of the movement is complex, emotional and evolving.

After his father’s death, Balraj said he was the main point of contact for CSIS and the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT), and understood that investigations took time and involved lengthy processes.

“I just tried assuring everyone that, kind of, let this take time,” he said. “Don’t think it’s being swept under the rug.”

Balraj added the killing of his father was not just one of a random Sikh man, but of a temple president who was shot outside his own place of worship.

“I hope they can take it into take into consideration,” he said. “That’s a very serious matter and foreign interference is not a small thing.”

In a statement, IHIT Sgt. Timothy Pierotti said investigators were not yet in a position to discuss specifics on the case.

“This remains a priority investigation for [IHIT] and we have and will continue to work closely with our local, provincial and national police agencies and partners in order to advance this investigation,” he said.

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