CJFE calls for protection for journalist receiving death threats in Vancouver

Friday, March 12, 1999

CJFE calls for protection for journalist receiving death threats in Vancouver

Ujjal Dosanjh
Attorney General of British Colombia
P.O. 9044 Station Provincial Government
Victoria, B.C., Canada
V8W 9E2
Fax: +1 250 387 6411
E-mail: ATTORNEY.GENERAL@ag.gov.bc.ca

12 March 1999

Dear Attorney General Dosanjh,

On behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), I am writing to express my alarm and concern over the death threats received by Kim Bolan, a journalist with the Vancouver Sun daily newspaper. The threats are the result of Bolan's coverage of the Indo-Canadian community, including the murder of newspaper publisher Tara Singh Hayer, who was shot to death upon his return home in Surrey, British Columbia on 18 November 1998. As an organization that promotes and protects freedom of expression worldwide, CJFE is alarmed that journalists in British Columbia are being attacked simply for the practise of their profession. We insist that you offer Bolan the highest security possible, and that you search out those responsible for these death threats.

In November of last year, Bolan reported on the assassination of Tara Singh Hayer, who published the "Indo-Canadian Times", Canada's largest and oldest Punjabi weekly. Hayer was an outspoken critic of a very small group of Sikh extremists in British Columbia, and had already been the target of an assassination attempt at his newspaper office in 1988. At that time, he was left partially paralysed, and when he was shot last November, he was moving from his car to his wheelchair in his garage.

These recent death threats against Bolan are actually the second such threats she has received in the course of covering the activities of this small group of extremists within the Sikh community (condemned by the vast majority of Sikhs). This time, however, the threats are considered much more serious by police.

In a news story in The Vancouver Sun on Wednesday, March 10, Detective George Kristensen of the Vancouver police department said: "There is a credible threat and she is receiving police protection. We will not comment on the nature of the threat or the source it came from." Kristensen said compared to the last threats, these ones "are much more credible."

It is our understanding that Bolan has been targeted because she linked Hayer's assassination with a group of extremists who are strongly suspected of planning and carrying out in 1985 the Air India bombing in which all 329 passengers and crew members were killed, and the Narita, Japan bombing which killed two baggage handlers. An individual linked to the small group of extremists within the Sikh community was convicted in the Narita bombing. Soon we are expecting charges to be laid in the Air India bombing. It is believed that those implicated in the bombing think that by silencing Bolan they can stop the process of bringing them to justice.

In March 1998, about 250 Sikh protesters gathered in front of The Vancouver Sun's downtown editorial offices to demand Bolan not be permitted to cover B.C.'s 150,000-member Sikh community. The protesters carried signs reading: "Kim to go," "We are traditional, don't call us fundamentalist" and "If Kim is Goliath, Sikhs are David."

To counter the demonstration, a coalition of 36 B.C. Sikh societies, including the groups that control the largest temples, issued a news release defending The Sun's coverage of Sikh issues as "fair and balanced." The Sikh societies said media stories about conflict among Sikhs have been caused by "the violence and intimidation of a small, extremist element in our community.à Certainly the perpetrators of those acts are the ones responsible for the negative coverage, not the media that has reported on them."

Attorney-General Dosanjh, we cannot have a free society without a free media. We cannot have a free media if journalists must pay with their lives for informing the public about events of vital importance in their communities. To allow these threats and acts of violence to go unchecked will have a silencing effect upon the media - the resulting silence will harm everyone's rights to freely impart and receive information, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Canada is a signatory.

The CJFE insists that you inform this office and the public of your progress in the investigation into the murder of Tara Singh Hayer, and that you ensure the safety of journalist Kim Bolan.

Wayne Sharpe
Executive Director