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Rental of B.C. school for Sikh referendum vote is cancelled by district

SURREY, B.C. — Organizers of a Sikh community referendum on Punjabi independence say they’ve received a “slap in the face” from a British Columbia school district that cancelled their rental of a school to host voting this weekend.

The Surrey School District says in a statement that it cancelled the rental of Tamanawis Secondary School for the Sept. 10 referendum because promotional posters featured a picture of the school alongside what it called “images of a weapon.”

Posters for the vote on a homeland that supporters call Khalistan have included images of a pen being used to stab a gun.

The district says the decision is neither an endorsement nor a criticism of any political position, and the Sikhs For Justice group will be refunded for the cancellation.

Sikhs For Justice volunteer Inderjeet Singh says the group was not notified of the cancellation until Sunday, a week ahead of the event.

He says the vote will now be held at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara where temple leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who supported the independence movement, was shot dead in June.

Singh says the Sikh community is still grieving Nijjar’s death and frustrated with the lack of progress in the police investigation, and the vote cancellation has “aggravated” people.

“It kind of was a slap in the face, almost you can say, to the community — especially after the death,” he says. “You would think (the district) would actually try to work with us and in a way help us get through this tough time, but it’s actually added fuel to the fire.”

Singh says talks with the school district are ongoing and the organizers may take legal action as they believe their charter right to freedom of expression was violated by the cancellation decision.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2023.

The Canadian Press