Terry Milewski responds to Singh interview critique

Former CBC news correspondent Terry Milewski delivering the keynote address at the Union of BC Municipalities conference in September, 2017. Photo: Province of BC

I write to mention what I consider multiple serious errors in Karl Nerenberg's piece about Jagmeet Singh.

First, allow me to set the scene.

It is a sad fact that, 32 years after the bombing of Air India, a small minority of Sikh extremists in Canada continue to paint the chief bomber, Talwinder Singh Parmar, as a martyred hero. The feelings of the victims' families be damned: his portrait is permanently displayed at major temples in Ontario and B.C., even though the Air India trial and the judicial inquiry both named him as the ringleader of the bomb plot. We are speaking about judicial findings after protracted and rigorous investigation, based upon authenticated evidence from an army of sworn witnesses, documents, forensics and surveillance reports — all tested in cross-examination.

Even so, for 32 years now, Parmar's tiny but energetic band of Canadian fans have tried to spread disinformation about all this — claiming that he was innocent and suggesting that the Indian government blew up its own plane. Simultaneously, Indian authorities were actually sending increasingly frantic warnings to Canada to watch out for bombs being smuggled onto that plane. Apparently, then, they were desperately trying to stop their own plot.

That's absurd, of course, but, like the 9/11 Truthers, everything about the Air India Truthers is absurd. They say Parmar is a holy martyr of the Sikh nation — but simultaneously, when confronted with proof of his guilt, they say that he was working for the hated Indian government, out to blacken the name of the Sikhs. Pick one! Obviously, it's gibberish.

Even so, Nerenberg, like many, seems to have been so utterly suckered by this madcap fake news that he actually claims Parmar was "acquitted by a Canadian court" of the Air India bombing.

That's nonsense. I promised to show factual errors, and that one's a doozy. Parmar was never charged or tried for the Air India bombing. When the police closed in, he fled the country and was killed by the Indian police 25 years ago. Of course, his fanboys use that to say, see, he was never convicted. In which case, let's put up martyr posters of Hitler, Bin Laden, the 9/11 hijackers and every suicide bomber ever. You don't get to be innocent just because you're dead.

Next, let me emphasize the actual news story that emerged from my interview with Jagmeet Singh, and which Nerenberg is strangely keen to forget.

I asked a specific question with a singular focus: is it appropriate to honour Canada's worst mass-murderer with martyr posters? Singh steadfastly refused to say a bad word — or any word — about it. You have to admit that's a startling response to a very easy question. But Nerenberg is determined to talk about something else — like how it's all my fault. He thinks it's his job to shoot the messenger.

Therefore, he pretends to be horrified that I interrupted Singh when he repeatedly ignored my question and changed the subject. You really would expect a journalist to understand that it's not your job to just sit mute while politicians run out the clock without answering the question.

I promised also to show examples of fabrication — and here's another doozy. Nerenberg is so desperate to find something I did wrong that he invents this farcical idea: "Terry Milewski’s apparent belief that because Singh is Sikh he is responsible for anything any member of the Sikh community might do or say." Of course, he offers no shred of evidence for this nonsensical "belief" because, of course, no such evidence exists. For starters, how on earth would Singh be responsible for putting up martyr posters if he didn't? And what if he condemned them? How could he possibly be responsible for them? The whole idea is crazy.

I also promised to show examples of Nerenberg’s fraudulent arguments — and that little invention is certainly one. But here's another which really makes you wonder what game he's playing.

Nerenberg tries to imply that my motives were racist — but hides behind others to do so. He does this quite deftly by saying that "some thought" my questioning was "in essence, racist." Then, he suggests they're justified because one of Justin Trudeau’s Sikh candidates in the last election, Harjit Sajjan, was supported by Sikh militants and "perhaps even extremist elements" — but nobody bugged Trudeau about it.

The argument could not be clearer: Singh gets grilled, but the white leader gets a pass. So, Terry's a racist.

Here, though, is what Nerenberg does not say: I'm his source for the Sajjan story. I was the one who actually did bug Trudeau about it. Oops! If Nerenberg hadn't forgotten to mention that, his brilliant argument wouldn't have looked so hot. The truth is — and Nerenberg is fully aware of it — that it was me who reported exclusively on a walkout by Sikh Liberals alleging extremist influence in Sajjan's nomination. We ran it during the campaign — and did the story go easy on Trudeau? Here's a sample:

"'The Liberal Party, especially Justin, is in bed with extremist and fundamental groups. That's why I decided to leave the Liberal Party,' said Kashmir Dhaliwal, ex-president of the powerful Khalsa Diwan Society... Among those now quitting the Liberals in Vancouver South is Majar Sidhu, who lost three family members in the Air India bombing. Sidhu told CBC, 'The Liberal Party is encouraging terrorist people. I'm supporting Harper.'"

Not exactly a free ride for Trudeau, is it? What's Nerenberg up to here? He is surreptitiously using the content of my story to prove that I'm a racist who gave the white guy a pass, knowing that it actually proves just the opposite!

Clever — or downright fraudulent? Bear in mind that this comes from someone who accuses me of "journalistic malpractice."  That's rich, indeed. Note also that the "racist" word is being thrown at the guy arguing that a mass killer of brown people is no hero.

I should add that Karl hasn't stopped digging the hole he's in here. On Facebook, he's complained that, even though, yeah, we actually did take on Trudeau precisely as I've said, we didn't ask him about Parmar specifically — as though Trudeau had the same record on Parmar's conflict with India. But he does not. We don't ask politicians about their anti-India records if they don't have one. Did we ask Singh about his vacation on a billionaire's island? No — he didn't have one. Does that mean it was unfair to ask Trudeau about his?

Nerenberg also protests that my question to Singh came "out of left field." Really? As laid out in my question, Singh is a lifelong activist on Sikh grievances against the Indian government. He is banned from India and calls the massacres of 1984 a genocide. He also campaigned for clemency for a Babbar Khalsa terrorist who blew up the Punjab chief minister and 17 innocent bystanders. The Babbar Khalsa was founded by Talwinder Parmar. So, we mustn't ask how Singh feels about the ongoing Parmar-worship?

Next, let me emphasize the absurdity of the doubts — which Nerenberg eagerly fans — about Parmar's guilt. He seems untroubled, for example, by Singh's idea that we need yet another investigation to find and convict whoever's "actually responsible."

As opposed to Parmar's bomb-maker, Inderjit Reyat, who was convicted three times and spent most of the past 30 years in prison?

Here's the problem: we do know, and have known for a very long time, who's responsible. If Reyat is guilty — and he agrees he is — then Parmar certainly is, because Reyat confessed he built the bombs for Parmar — and we know for certain that's true because they were watched. CSIS tailed them both to the test bombing before the real one. No innocent explanation for that has ever been advanced. Here's the conclusion of Justice John Major — and note his use of the word "fact":

"The lead surveillance team followed Parmar's car… from Reyat's house to a clearing… and saw Reyat and Parmar walk into the woods. Shortly thereafter, they heard a loud explosive sound… in fact they heard an explosion intended to test the detonation system for the bombs Parmar was building."   

- Justice John Major, Air India Inquiry Report, 2010.

Somehow, such hard evidence doesn't suit those who object to the Singh interview — who are overwhelmingly Sikh separatists and NDP partisans. Routinely, like Nerenberg, they rely on outright falsehoods like the idea that I wouldn't dream of challenging white politicians on the same topic, which I've done publicly for at least 10 years, including Trudeau, Harper, Ignatieff, Dion, Layton and many others.

But imagine for a moment that we were talking not about Jagmeet Singh but about a politician of Irish descent — say, Mulcair or Mulroney — and that he campaigned for clemency for an IRA terrorist, accused Britain of genocide, got banned from entering Britain, and then refused to object to the glorification of another IRA terrorist who killed hundreds of Canadians? Is it even conceivable that such a leader would not be asked about it? That, instead, columnists would fret that it was "anti-Irish" or "racist" to ask?

For all these reasons, I think Nerenberg should apologize to your readers for his factual errors. He should also apologize to me for his grotesque implication that I'm a racist and for the underhanded way he misrepresented the facts to make it seem so. He should further withdraw his fabrication about me holding Singh responsible for anything any Sikh does. We all know that's another way of calling me a racist — you know, the kind of racist who thinks brown people all think alike.

And finally, he should acknowledge that it really is a disgrace, which nobody should hesitate to denounce, that Canada's deadliest terrorist — a fanatic who slaughtered hundreds of innocents and dozens of Sikhs — should be venerated, in public, as a martyred hero. That's the story here.

With regards,

​Terry Milewski​

Editor’s note: Rabble has clarified the passage regarding ‘acquittal’ in an update to the article. Talwinder Singh Parmar was acquitted, in 1985, of an explosives charge associated with the Air India bombing, but was was never otherwise charged. To avoid misunderstanding, the reference to Parmar having been acquitted was removed. However, Nerenberg stands by his piece, the purpose of which was to analyze Jagmeet Singh's relations with the media. The piece provides a link to Milewski's interview and points out that many who commented on that interview considered Milewski's line of questioning to be valid. In addition, Nerenberg's story notes that in answering the question on Air India, Singh "did not even bother to mention Parmar's name.”

Photo: Province of BC​

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