Thousands attend the funeral of slain Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia

Thousands of people attended the funeral of slain Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Sunday at the gurdwara where he was shot a week earlier in Surrey, British Columbia.

His death sparked fear and outrage in much of the Sikh community in British Columbia.

Nijjar, 45, was shot dead in his truck on June 18 in the parking lot of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, of which he was the president.

He had been very active with Sikhs for Justice, a group that defended Khalistan – an independent Sikh state in present-day India.

Community members mourn during Nijjar’s funeral on Sunday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“For a Sikh, their gurdwaras are a place of worship, a community,” Jatinder Singh Grewal, director of Sikhs for Justice, said in an interview with CBC News outside the gurdwara.

“Targeting the president at the gurdwara is a message that they will target us anywhere… We will target you at the center of your identity.”

Many funeral attendees on Sunday waved yellow “Khalistan” flags as relatives and associates of Nijjar spoke of the aspirations of his movement – which India has branded as extremist.

Supporters paying tribute, including some Sikhs from out of the province, described the father as peaceful, humble and loved in the community.

“It was really important for me to bring my family, my children here,” Aakarshan Singh told CBC News, accompanied by his two sons. “[Nijjar] really championed the cause of human rights, and he made a great contribution to society. He’s helped the community a lot in times of COVID, and he’s really been ripped from us.

“In the future, we will no longer be afraid, we will make our opinions heard.”

A memorial has been erected in the parking lot of the gurdwara at the spot where Nijjar was killed.

A woman sits on the ground surrounded by a crowd of Sikh mourners at a funeral.
Mourners gather to remember Nijjar at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, where he was president. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Investigators from the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said they were still looking for two “heavier” male suspects in the shooting.

Many attendees at Sunday’s funeral said they believed Nijjar’s death was the result of foreign interference from India.

Although police acknowledged the allegations of interference stemming from the attack, investigators said they had found no such link to India at this stage and believed there was no danger for the Sikh community in Canada.

A report released earlier this month by Canada’s national security adviser singled out India as a major player in foreign interference, including election interference and social media disinformation campaigns.

A line of barefoot women at a Sikh funeral cast their shadow towards the camera on a red carpet.
Nijjar, 45, was shot dead last Sunday in the parking lot of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“There is a long history of violence against Sikhs in India,” Grewal said. “As a result, Sikhs come to Canada for asylum or as refugees.

“But now many Sikhs are concerned.”

Nijjar was holding an unofficial referendum for an independent Sikh state at the time of his death. His supporters allege that he was a target as a result of this political organization.

Men wearing turbans loom in the shadows in the foreground as others line up behind them at a Sikh funeral service.
Supporters paying their respects at Sunday’s funeral described Nijjar as peaceful, humble and loved in the community. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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 arrest, and the country’s counter-terrorism body called a “terrorist on the run” who led a plot to assassinate a Hindu priest.

However, none of these allegations have been tested in court, and there have been no criminal charges against him in this case.

CBC News has contacted CSIS and the Indian Consulate General for comment on Nijjar’s death.

India’s National Investigation Agency accused Nijjar in a 2020 document of “attempting to induce Sikhs to vote for secession”.

Sunday’s funeral was followed by a private family gathering at Valley View Funeral Home, also in Surrey. Hundreds of mourners walked the five kilometers from Nijjar gurdwara to the funeral home.

People walk outside a gurdwara.
Mourners march past Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara on Sunday. (Yasmin Gandham/CBC)

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