Thousands of Sikhs on Sunday arrived in Toronto at the polling station at the Gore Meadows Community Center in Brampton to cast their vote for a referendum on the creation of Khalistan – a new state in Indian Punjab. The voting started with special prayers. A large number of women and the elderly were in the queue to vote in the referendum. The voters said the results of the referendum would make it clear that Sikhs wanted freedom from India. A new country would appear on the map of the world in the state of Indian Punjab, they said, adding India could not deprive Sikhs of freedom. The Canadian government has refused to stop Canadian Sikhs from expressing their views by holding of Khalistan referendum and by linking it with a peaceful and democratic process within the legal parameters of the Canadian laws. Commenting on the situation which emerged after an attack on a Hindu temple and the poster of a revered Khalistan Sikh leader, a Canadian government official said that the Canadian nationals had every freedom to express their views under the Canadian laws relating to the right to freedom of expression and right to free speech and assembly. The official views came after lobbying by the Indian government urging the Canadian government to act against the rising pro-Khalistani sentiment in Canada, which is home to over one million Sikhs. A high-profile campaign for Khalistan is being run by the pro-Kahlistani and pro-separatist group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ). According to international media reports, the Indian government tried to apply diplomatic pressure on the Canadian government ahead of the Khalistan Referendum voting on Sunday at the Gore Meadows Community Center in Brampton, Ontario. Hundreds of Sikhs gathered at the center on Saturday to make preparations for the voting on Sunday. The Canadian officials were quoted as saying that it could not take away right of the Canadians to engage in any kind of political activity and demand their rights through peaceful and democratic means. Canadian parliamentarian Sukhminder Singh Dhaliwal also said that constitutional and democratic political expression could not be stopped. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the Counsel General of Sikhs for Justice and a New York Attorney said the Indian government used every trick to paint Sikhs in a bad light before the West but the democratic governments had refused to come under the Indian pressure. They recognized that Khalistan Referendum sought to assess the desire for an independent Khalistan, he said, adding once the voting process was completed then the case would be taken up at the United Nations. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun reiterated that SFJ and other pro-Khalistan organizations had no links with violence. “We are for ballot, not bullet. India hates our approach to peace,” he maintained. Jatinder Singh Grewal, the policy director of SFJ, said: “The issue of Khalistan referendum falls well within the right of freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right enjoyed by all Canadians. India has a difficult time understanding this principle as they have systematically criminalized political decent within their state and today countless Sikhs who wish to exercise their right to self-determination are labeled as `terrorists.” And now India was trying to export this system to the west. But the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom guaranteed this right and no amount of Indian pressure would change this reality, he added. According to media reports, Modi’s government felt perturbed at the scenes of thousands of Sikhs coming out in the western capitals demanding freedom from India and the establishment of an independent state of Khalisatn. The issue of Sikh separatism was a major bone of contention of Prime Minister Trudeau’s trip to India a few years ago. The Indian government had openly accused the Canadian authorities of showing leniency towards Khalistanis in Canada.