Pro-Khalistan slogans at New York, Toronto Vaisakhi parades


New York/Toronto : The annual Vaisakhi parades in New York and Toronto at the weekend were marked by pro-Khalistan slogans and banners by a handful of radical Sikhs.

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While in New York, pro-Khalistan elements took to the stage after the main speeches were over, in Toronto they were in the forefront of the three-hour procession or parade from the Better Living Centre to city downtown.

Over 30,000 people turned up for the annual procession which culminated in a big rally at Nathan Phillips Square in the heart of Toronto Sunday.

As a symbolic gesture, Toronto mayor David Miller had declared the day as Khalsa Day in the city.

Among those who addressed the gathering were Akal Takht jathedar Gurbachan Singh, Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, opposition leader Jack Layton, Toronto police chief Bill Blair, Mayor Susan Fennell of the Punjabi-dominated city of Brampton on the outskirts of Toronto, and MPs.

Since some Sikh organizations have formed the North American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to protest diktat of the Akal Takht, the highest spiritual seat of Sikhism, the jathedar urged the Sikhs to heed to all edicts issued from Amritsar.

Kenney, whose Conservative party has been trying to woo immigrant communities to get a majority in parliament, lauded the role played by the Sikhs in Canada. He said his government was committed to promoting the welfare of all immigrant communities.

Former hockey stalwart Balbir Singh, who was honoured on the occasion for his services to hockey, said he was a proud to have led India to glory and urged the diaspora youth to excel in sport.

In New York, more than 25,000 people took part in the Vaisakhi parade from Times Square to Madison Square.

Typical of American Sikh parades, the 18th annual New York Vaisakhi procession was also punctuated by beautifully crafted floats, representing each of the 15-odd gurdwaras in the New York area.

After the speeches by many city councilmen and Sikh leaders were over and the crowd started dispersing, pro-Khalistan activists took over the stage and raised slogans in favour of a Sikh homeland.

The Vaisakhi parades in North America take place on a weekend about two weeks after the celebrations in India.