Editor attacked in Brampton, Ontario

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is horrified by the attack and attempted kidnapping of Jagdish Grewal on Friday, October 23. Grewal is the founder and editor of Brampton-based newspaper Punjabi Post, and also hosts the daily radio show Khabarsar.

Grewal was leaving the Punjabi Post newsroom late Friday evening when three masked men armed with a baton and a gun approached him in the parking lot. Grewal was able to get to his van but the men smashed the windows and pulled him out by his turban. Grewal managed to honk his car horn and alert one of his co-workers, who then locked the office doors and called the police.

The attackers put a gun to Grewal’s head and beat him as they dragged him towards another van, but fled when they noticed the other Punjabi Post employee. Grewal’s assailants left him bleeding from the mouth and with his turban scattered, but during the attack he feared that they were going to kill him. The only identifying feature Grewal saw was a long, grey beard showing from under one of the men’s masks. He also heard one of them say “Kill him! Kill him!” in Punjabi.

“Mr. Grewal has every right to freely express his views; his assault is unacceptable and of great concern to us,” said CJFE Executive Director Anne Game. “We call on the police to treat this matter extremely seriously and ensure that a full investigation into the attack is initiated promptly.

Grewal believes the attackers may have been pro-separatist Sikhs who disagree with his moderate politics. He does not support violence by Sikh militants. He has received threats in the past because of his high-profile in the Toronto Sikh community. Grewal has been receiving threatening phone calls since criticizing Sikh journalist Jarnial Singh during a radio interview three weeks ago.

In a similar incident a couple of years ago, journalist Jawaad Faizi, formerly of Pakistan Post, was attacked in Mississauga, Ontario in April 2007. He was beaten by three masked men with a cricket bat outside the home of his editor, Amir Arain. The attackers ordered him to cease writing against Islam, and against the Pakistan-based religious organisation, Idara Minhaj-ul-Quran and its leader. Arain told CJFE that no further attacks have been perpetrated against Faizi or any other journalists from the Pakistan Post.

In the most violent attack of this kind, journalist Tara Singh Hayer was murdered in British Columbia in 1998 for speaking out against the use of violence by Sikh separatists. His murder has never been solved.

CJFE is extremely concerned about the nature of this attack and the potential chill on journalists reporting on faith-based political issues. These attacks demonstrate that even in Canada we cannot take freedom of expression for granted, and that continued vigilance is required.

Grewal told CJFE that he will not let the incident deter him from continuing to work, and in fact, he hosted his radio show this morning as usual. Punjabi Post is taking security precautions in order to protect its journalists.

The National Post and The Globe and Mail were among the media outlets reporting on the attack. On Tuesday, Grewal and Rupinder Hayer Bains, Tara Singh Hayer’s daughter and current editor of the Indo-Canadian Times, were guests on CBC‘s The Current, and that segment is available as a podcast.