The CBC has taken considerable heat for a recent interview with new NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, but now Singh himself is saying the questions he was asked are racist.
During an Oct. 2 segment of CBC News' Power & Politics, host Terry Milewski grilled Singh about his views on Talwinder Parmar—widely considered to be the architect of the 1985 Air India bombings. Milewski said occasionally posters of Parmar had turned up in Vaisakhi parades in Canada and asked Singh, who is Sikh, if he denounced the martyring of Parmar.
Milewski repeated the question several times, but Singh refused to answer it directly, instead saying he denounced all violence.
"We need to, as a society, collectively, unequivocally denounce any time innocent lives are lost. That is something unacceptable," he said, noting he doesn't know who is responsible for the bombing that killed 329 people. Parmar was never convicted for the bombing and was killed by Indian police in 1992.
In the aftermath, some questioned whether or not Milewski questioned Singh so aggressively simply because he's Sikh. Milewski said his line of questioning was valid and that he'd asked other non-Sikh politicians similar questions in the past.
As reported by HuffPost, Singh, in response to being asked if the questions were racist, told reporters Sunday there was "definitely some sort of clear problematic line of thought behind that question, so I'm definitely concerned."
"It was offensive to me that that was even a question. It is so obvious, that any Canadian would unequivocally denounce anyone who is held responsible," he said.
He went on to say the issue of people hanging up posters of Parmar isn't something that's come up in Ontario, so it's not something he faced.
"I didn't know the specifics of what he was asking about. Air India happened when I was about five years old but… I've attended memorials with respect to the victims and the families, the survivors of this horrible and heinous act. I've talked about how everyone denounces it."
Asked again during the scrum if posters of Parmar should be taken down, Singh said, "I'm not here to tell what a community should or shouldn't do. I can tell you as a leader of a party that I am fundamentally opposed to violence, fundamentally opposed to innocent lives being taken… The fact that this is something that I have to say is troublesome. The fact that that's not an obvious question to you or to anyone asking the question—why would anyone assume otherwise?"
He went on to say, "it's obvious to anyone that's a leader in this country that they would denounce acts of violence. It's obvious that anyone would denounce something as heinous and as tragic as that incident. The fact that the questions are being raised makes me wonder why is the question being raised, when it's so basic and fundamental."
VICE reached out to Singh, Milewski and the CBC for further comment but has not yet heard back.
On Twitter, Milewski said "FTR, what he calls 'offensive' never happened. He was not asked to condemn the bombing. Only the veneration of the bomber. On that, silence."
UPDATE: Moments after we published this story, CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson sent the following response:
"Thanks for reaching out. In order to best answer your question, it's important to give some context and background, most notably that we do not shy away from asking any new political leaders pointed questions about positions they've taken in the past. Moments after he became leader of the Conservative party, CBC asked Andrew Scheer about his position on abortion and his support of social conservative values within his party. We asked that question because Mr. Scheer's past voting record has supported anti-abortion legislation and he received significant support from social conservative members of his party.
With respect to your question, Mr. Milewski asked Mr. Singh about an issue that has informed Mr Singh's politics in the past, namely his support of grievances of the Sikh community against the Indian government. As an Ontario MPP, Mr Singh drafted a motion that would declare 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India as an act of genocide against Sikhs. That 2016 motion was defeated, but this past spring, Mr Singh spoke in the Ontario legislature in support of another motion - this one successful - that declared the 1984 anti-Sikh riots a genocide.
Mr Milewski's question recognized Mr Singh's previous involvement in speaking out in support of Sikh grievances against the Indian government, and then asked if Mr Singh thought it was appropriate for some members of Canada's Sikh community to go further and display martyr posters of Talwinder Singh Parmar - the man acknowledged to be the architect of the Air India bombing."
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