OTTAWA — Former Liberal MP Ramesh Sangha was chastised Wednesday for making an “inflammatory” statement after he accused the federal government of pandering to Sikh separatists in Canada.
Sangha was kicked out of Liberal caucus in January after he made “baseless and dangerous accusations against a number of his caucus colleagues,” according to a statement by government whip Mark Holland.
In a Punjabi-language interview with Y Media and reported by Baaz News last month, the Brampton Centre MP made an unsubstantiated claim that his colleague at the time, Navdeep Bains, the former industry minister, is a Sikh “extremist” supportive of the creation of Khalistan, an independent state in the Punjab region of India.
HuffPost Canada reached out to Bains for comment. The former cabinet minister has previously expressed shock over efforts, including by former prime minister Stephen Harper, to link him to the terrorist acts of others.
“I’m a proud Sikh by birth. Like Sikhs in Canada, I’m not a Khalistani extremist or a sympathizer,” Sangha said during his SO31, a time slot given to MPs to make a less-than-a-minute statement before question period.
Referencing a 2018 decision announced by former public safety minister Ralph Goodale, Sangha called the government’s decision to remove references relating to “Sikh extremism” in that year’s Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada to be part of a “hidden agenda.”
“Security of Canada is paramount but they compromised it. Shame on their part to pander [to] extremists in Canada,” the independent MP said. “History will not forgive them.”
Goodale said at the time that language in the document was revisited because it had “unintentionally maligned” some communities.
“This is contrary to the intended purpose of the report, and is not in line with the values of the Government of Canada,” he said.
After hearing complaints from several MPs, the then public safety minister said his department would use this new language to describe any relevant threats: “Extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India.”
Sangha has a history of besmirching some of his Sikh colleagues’ reputations by making unsubstantiated, debunked claims repeated by non-reputable Indian media.
Under House of Commons rules, when a member makes a SO31 statement, the Speaker “may order a member to resume his or her seat” if in their opinion “improper use” has been made of the standing order.
Sangha’s statement prompted his former Liberal colleague, Gary Anandasangaree, to rise on a point of order, which he also repeated after question period, sparking a brief exchange about free speech in the House.
The Scarborough–Rouge Park MP said Sangha’s words “impugned on the reputation of many of our members” and asked Speaker Anthony Rota to consider if improper use of the SO31 had been made and to strike it from the record.
“It was rather inflammatory and I know that this is a place of debate but it surpassed any acceptable decorum in a house like this,” Anandasangaree said. “It directly affected the morale of many members and frankly, Mr. Speaker, it’s language that should never be accepted in this House.”
That prompted Conservative MP Gérard Deltell to stand up in the House and state that the content of an SO31 should be up to the MP.
“There is nothing in the rules that states that a member may not say something that does—or has to say something that agrees with government policy,” Deltell said in French, adding that it is the Speaker’s duty to call someone to order, not another MP.
Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen disagreed and explained his interpretation of the rules includes MPs having the duty to flag any potential breach of rules to the Speaker.
“It is actually the responsibility of members when they believe a procedural error has been made to call that to the attention of the chair and that is exactly what we saw happen today.”
Rota thanked the members for their comment and said he would take their points under consideration and return to the House with a ruling “if necessary.”
With files from Althia Raj