Senior Liberal staffer spoke at rally attended by a terrorist group?

Bill Cunningham is a senior political aide to Industry Minister David Emerson and Liberal leader in the Senate Jack Austin. He is also the current Liberal candidate for the riding of Burnaby. Last weekend, Cunningham attended a rally attended by former members of the International Sikh Youth Federation (current membership is illegal).

According to the Government of Canada:

The International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) was founded in 1984 in the United Kingdom as an international branch of the All India Sikh Students’ Federation (AISSF) with centers in several countries, including Canada. The ISYF is a Sikh organization whose aim is to promote Sikh philosophy and the establishment of an independent Sikh nation called Khalistan. In the pursuit of their goal, the ISYF does not hesitate to resort to violence. Since 1984, its members have been engaged in terrorist attacks, assassinations and bombings mostly against Indian political figures, but also against moderate members of the Sikh community opposed to their extremist ways. The ISYF collaborates and/or associates with a number of Sikh terrorist organizations, notably Babbar Khalsa (BK), the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) and the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF).

Of course, Cunningham’s presece at the rally raises a few questions. Why was he there?

Cunningham responds:

“I was there to receive their – I didn’t know whether it was a petition, proclamation, manifesto or whatever it was … It was a letter to the minister of foreign affairs from – they call themselves the United Sikh Organizations of BC. And the gist of the letter is making claims about all sorts of human rights violations in Punjab. And, in their letter, they outline a few examples. … [they] ask the government of Canada to live up to its international moral obligations to take a stand on this issue” — Senior Liberal Bill Cunningham

According to the Vancouver Sun (subscription only), Cunningham addressed the rally, standing in front of a large sign that said “Save Punjab.

According to Cunningham, the request for government officials by the rally organizers was bounced around to a few offices (the PMO, Emerson’s office, each member of the BC caucus). Nobody else was around so Emerson decided to go to represent the government.

[the organizers were] looking to present a petition or some kind of declaration to a federal rep. And they had basically hit up most of the local MPs – all of which, not by design, weren’t around. So I was there…” — Senior Liberal Bill Cunningham

According to Cunningham, his presence at the rally was approved by the Minister of Industry’s regional office (which Cunningham directs).

When Cunningham addressed the crowd he said, “I received your letter. It will be forwarded to Pierre Pettigrew. You’re asking for Canada to respect its obligations and stand up for human rights. And we’ll make sure this gets sent to the right people.”

So Bill Cunningham, senior Liberal staffer, advisor to the Liberal cabinet, and party director attended a rally attended by former members of a terrorist group and granted the group what amounted to an audience with the government of Canada (and via him, Ministers Emerson and Pettigrew).

“It’s one thing I do is to make sure groups that have concerns feel that someone is at least willing to hear them. That doesn’t mean I support them or agree with them.” — Senior Liberal Bill Cunningham

At best this represents horribly poor judgment of a senior Liberal official. At worst this represents wanton and widespread ignorance to terrorism by the upper echelon of the Liberal Party.

sources: Public Eye Online and the Vancouver Sun (subscription)