CJFE expresses concern and shock over murder of Tara Singh Hayer

Thursday, November 19, 1998

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
expresses concern and shock over murder of
newspaper publisher Tara Singh Hayer

Click here for background information on Tara Singh Hayer

Hon. Anne McLellan
Minister of Justice
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Fax: +1 613 990 7255

19 November 1998

Hon. Minister McLellan,

On behalf of the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists (CCPJ) [now Canadian Journalists for Free Expression], I am writing to express my shock and concern over the murder of newspaper publisher Tara Singh Hayer, who was shot to death upon his return home in Surrey, British Columbia last night, on 18 November. Unfortunately, we receive regular reports of journalists murdered worldwide for pursuing their work, and we are saddened that such an attack would take place unhindered here in Canada. This is the first such case of a journalist murdered specifically for his work in Canada in this century.

Hayer, who published the "Indo-Canadian Times", Canada's largest and oldest Punjabi weekly, was reportedly an outspoken critic of violent Sikh fundamentalists and had already been the target of an assassination attempt at his newspaper office in 1988. At the time, he was left partially paralysed and when he was shot, he was getting out of his car into his wheelchair in his garage. Just a week ago, the publisher said in an interview that he was not concerned by ongoing threats to his life. "If they get me, they get me. There's nothing I can do and I'm not going to stop my work," he said.

Hayer's son, Sukhdev Hayer, returned to the newspaper office after the shooting to add a special report on the murder, saying it was important to continue with the paper despite the murder because his father had fought for press freedom in Canada.

Sukhdev Hayer reportedly believes his father's killer was trying to frighten people prior to upcoming Sikh temple elections in Vancouver and Abbotsford because they feared moderates would win. CCPJ is concerned by statements from Sikh moderates and friends of Hayer who said police ignored the threats and violence of fundamentalists in the region. Bikar Singh Dhillon, a former Temple president and victim of a 1991 assassination attempt, was quoted as saying, "There have been rumours of hitmen in town for weeks and police have done nothing." We believe Hayer should have been offered full police protection based on repeated threats to his life.

Furthermore, we appeal to Canadian authorities to immediately commence a full inquiry into the events surrounding Hayer's assassination, and to bring those responsible to justice. We respectfully ask to be kept informed of progress in the investigation. We look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,
Wayne Sharpe
Executive Director

cc. Ujjal Dosanjh
Attorney-General of British Columbia
Fax: (250) 387-6411

Please feel free to copy this letter or write your own based on this information.

Background on Tara Singh Hayer

As publisher of the "Indo-Canadian Times," Canada's oldest and largest Punjabi weekly, Tara Singh Hayer was no stranger to controversy. He first incurred the wrath of fellow Sikhs after condemning the bombing of Air India Flight 182, which killed 329 people. Mr. Hayer believed the attack was the work of militant Sikhs allied with the Khalistan movement to establish a Sikh homeland outside of Hindu-dominated India. More recently, Mr. Hayer and others defied an edict from Sikh high priest Jathedar Bhai Ranjit Singh, head of the Akhal Takht, the supreme religious body of Sikhs, which banned the use of temple furniture. As a result of their defiance, Mr. Hayer and the others were quickly excommunicated from the Ross Street temple in April of this year. The edict has deeply divided the Sikh community and has been the catalyst for a wave of violence.

A vociferous opponent of the extreme methods used by some Sikhs and the radicalism prevalent in his Surrey, British Columbia community, Mr. Hayer continued to publish his paper despite numerous threats to silence him. In 1986, a bomb was discovered outside his printing plant. In 1988, he was left paralyzed from the waist down, the target of a teenaged assassin who was later convicted and sentenced to fourteen years in jail before being deported. Many believe the assassin did not act alone, but was part of a group of militants offended by the publisher's condemnation of the Air India bombing. The threats to his life eventually began to ebb after the 1988 shooting, only to begin to flow again with Mr. Hayer's fiery condemnation of his excommunication in articles he wrote in the "Indo-Canadian Times."

A recipient of the Order of Canada, Mr. Hayer's tragic death touched many in the journalism community. At the inaugural Press Freedom Awards Banquet held by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression on 24 November, many speakers including CJFE Board President Arnold Amber and Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Hilary Weston used the 64-year-old publisher's death as a rallying cry to redouble efforts to fight for freedom of expression. Their remembrance of Mr. Hayer was met with great applause.

Despite the nascent violence that has engulfed the Sikh community in B.C. over the last few years, many people have criticized the police for failing to act on the intimations of violence against Mr. Hayer. They point to the unsolved Air India bombing and other acts of violence and intimidation as proof that their community has been largely ignored by the police. Now, a dozen RCMP officers have been assigned to the case and they have also established a 24-hour toll-free line for anonymous tips from the public. The number is 1-877-599-7890.