Thursday, June 28, 2007
CBC documentary on Sikh Separatist Movement and its impact on Canadian politics - tonight on The National
Last night, I saw "Political Culture", the CBC documentary by Terry Milewski about the Sikh Separatist Movement in Canada, on The National. It's a brilliant documentary which first of all makes you wonder where the mainstream media has been hiding out. How could they have failed to notice this glorification of political violence?
The documentary is available to watch anytime (I hope many people will watch it -- but see below) at: http://www.cbc.ca/national/blog/video/politicseconomy/samosa_politics.html
Why watch "Political Culture"? Well, I needed to see it to believe it ... the vivid illustrations of the lengths politicians will go to, for those bundles of votes. Because, as one of the Sikh militants explained, it's easy to go to a Canadian politician and say: "We can defeat you, or we can deliver 10,000 votes." Think of that, as you watch these familiar politicians performing like trained monkeys at Sikh functions.
See Gordon Campbell bowing and scraping in his floor-length gown. Check out Jack Layton in his makeshift turban bawling in Punjabi to the congregation. See the proud displays of portraits of convicted assassins. Stephane Dion was there, also Penny Priddy, and more -- from all political parties. Ujjal Dosanjh was assisting in the narration/interpretation and came across almost as a statesman.
The most desperately chilling comment came, I thought, from Terry Milewski himself as he explained that for organized Sikh militants "Legal mainstream political action is now preferred to political assassination ..." The documentary had just been explaining the assassination of India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. And the murder of Tara Singh Hayer, the Surrey BC editor. And the Air India disaster.
Well ... I just had some difficulty trying to use that link ... I hope that geekier others have better luck. Meantime, I hope that the Mother Corp will forgive me for printing the following:
Young men [in photo] wear International Sikh Youth Federation T-shirts at a Vaisakhi Parade, April 7, 2007, in Surrey, B.C. The ISYF is banned as a terrorist organization by the governments of Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and India. (CBC)
SIKH POLITICS IN CANADA
Sikh extremism enters mainstream Canadian politics
Symbols and suits
Last Updated June 28, 2007
By Terry Milewski, CBC News
Every year, Canada's Sikh community enjoys colourful spring parades to mark Vaisakhi Day — the anniversary of the Sikh religion. But a disturbing brand of extremist politics has surfaced at some of these parades. The insignia of illegal organizations were on display this year at the parade in Surrey, B.C., and floats featured "martyr" pictures of Sikhs who the Canadian government considers guilty of terrorist crimes.
Martyrs portrayed on a parade float include Talwinder Parmar, left, the leader of the Air India bomb plot, which took 331 lives on June 23, 1985. (CBC) The Khalistan flag is escorted on the Vaisakhi parade route in Surrey, B.C., on April 7, 2007. (CBC)
These shaheeds, or martyrs, are said by their supporters to be heroes of the armed struggle by Sikh extremists to carve out an independent nation called Khalistan in the Indian state of Punjab.
It was Khalistan separatists who blew up Air India Flight 182 on June 23, 1985. The bombing killed 329 passengers and crew, most of them Canadians. A second bomb killed two baggage handlers who were moving luggage to another Air India flight at Narita Airport in Tokyo.
Bomb-maker Inderjit Singh Reyat of Duncan, B.C., was convicted in both bombings. But the bomb plot leader, Talwinder Singh Parmar, fled the country in 1988 and was killed by the Indian police in 1992.
Martyr picture of Talwinder Singh Parmar, framed with gold tinsel, is displayed on a float at the Surrey Vaisakhi Parade, on April 7, 2007. (CBC)
Talwinder Parmar was the founder of the Babbar Khalsa, which is officially listed as a terrorist organization in the European Union, Canada, India, and the United States. Canadian courts have established that that Parmar was the mastermind of the Air India bombing. That makes him the worst mass murderer in Canadian history. Even so, Parmar was portrayed as a shaheed on two of the parade floats in Surrey this year.
Two leading Sikh politicians refused to attend the Surrey parade, saying it amounted to a glorification of terrorism. But many other politicians did attend — Conservative, Liberal and NDP. None of them condemned the Parmar pictures.
This silence shocked the Indian government and moderate Sikhs across Canada. They raised questions such as:
How does a separatist movement from halfway around the world still flourish in Canada, after taking hundreds of Canadian lives?
How can a mass murderer be honoured as a hero, without political leaders making any complaint?
Ajaib Singh Bagri, left, with a friend at the Surrey Vaisakhi parade on April 7, 2007. Bagri was co-founder of the Babbar Khalsa. "Until we kill 50,000 Hindus, we will not rest," he told the founding convention of the World Sikh Organization in 1984. (CBC)
Vaisakhi Day in Surrey, B.C.
On April 7, 2007, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and various federal and provincial politicians attended the Vaisakhi Day parade in Surrey, run by the Dashmesh Darbar temple.
The temple committee, with Khalistan logos on their jackets, took the stage alongside the politicians. Among them was Satinderpal Singh Gill, a former senior leader of the International Sikh Youth Federation. Since 2003, the ISYF, like the Babbar Khalsa, has been officially listed in Canada as an illegal terrorist organization.
Also attending the parade were two early supporters of the Babbar Khalsa: its co-founder, Ajaib Singh Bagri, and Ripudaman Singh Malik. Both were close associates of Talwinder Parmar and both were acquitted at the Air India bombing trial.
Parmar and the Air India bombing
The Dashmesh Darbar temple committee approved both of the floats bearing pictures of Talwinder Parmar. Parmar played a central role in the 1985 Air India bombing, although Sikh militants often claim otherwise.
At the trial of Malik and Bagri, Mr. Justice Ian Bruce Josephson of the B.C. Supreme Court concluded:
"These hundreds of men, women and children were entirely innocent victims of a diabolical act of terrorism unparalleled until recently in aviation history and finding its roots in fanaticism at its basest and most inhumane level.… Now deceased, Talwinder Singh Parmar is generally acknowledged by both Crown and defence to have been the leader in the conspiracy to commit these crimes."
Three weeks before the bombing of Flight 182, Parmar was tailed by two CSIS officers to Vancouver Island, where he met Reyat for a test bombing.
Reyat was convicted twice — first for the Narita bomb and then for the Air India bomb. The two trials established that he assembled the bomb components and that he did so at the request of Talwinder Parmar.
Prior to the bombing, Parmar publicly urged attacks on Indian targets and said he would take the responsibility for such attacks on his shoulders. He was seen preaching that "Indian planes will fall from the sky" and urging his followers to "kill 50,000 Hindus."
CSIS wiretaps showed Parmar plotting to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi, who had succeeded his mother, Indira Gandhi, as India's prime minister. The wiretaps also suggest that Parmar kept in close touch with other suspects in the Air India conspiracy, including Reyat, and that he ordered the booking of the plane tickets.
Talwinder Singh Parmar, founder of the Babbar Khalsa, as portrayed on a Vaisakhi parade float in Surrey, B.C., on April 7, 2007. (CBC)
Even so, Parmar is revered as a martyr by Sikh extremists in Canada. Dashmesh Darbar temple president Sudager Singh Sandhu told CBC News "it's not proved he's terrorist. I can say you're a terrorist. You can say me a terrorist. It's easy to terrorist everybody.
"I love him. He's a great man. Because he never guilty," Sandhu added.
A spokesman for the temple, Manmohan Singh, insisted that Parmar is a martyr. "Talwinder Parmar is a martyr of the Sikh nation," he said.
When it was suggested that Parmar led the organization that carried out the bombing, Singh replied: "He claimed to be the leader, he said it, but that doesn't mean he's proven it. I can say anything, I can do that, that doesn't mean I am doing that."
What did the politicians say?
After the April 7, 2007, Vaisakhi parade in Surrey, B.C., Conservative MP Jim Abbott, who represented Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the parade, told CBC News he was "flabbergasted" to hear of these displays at the parade. Asked if he would have gone if he had known of them beforehand, Abbott replied, "no." The CBC reported that — but, four days later, Abbott reversed his position in an e-mail , saying "I will vigorously defend this event along with thousands of Canadians of Sikh faith who won't tolerate such a linkage."
However, Abbott's revised position was not adopted by the government. Asked if the Prime Minister endorsed Abbott's statement, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney later said that the Conservatives probably would not have attended if they had known in advance of the extremism on display, and would be more careful in future.
Sukh Dhaliwal speaks at the Surrey Vaisakhi parade on April 7, 2007. At centre on Dhaliwal's left is Satinderpal Gill, a former senior leader of the banned International Sikh Youth Federation. (CBC)
Conservative MP Nina Grewal, who also attended the parade, declined to be interviewed.
Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal was asked if he found the displays at the parade problematic. He did not. "I don't know why we're making a fuss about Surrey," he told the CBC.
NDP MP Penny Priddy said she was "disappointed" to hear what had happened but that "I don't regret going" to an event celebrating Sikh culture.
On similar grounds, Premier Campbell declined to criticize the parade and said he would continue to attend such events. However, a spokesman said a few days later that Cambpell was "upset" by the parade.
Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, however, stayed away from the parade and decried the silence of his fellow politicians.
"Politicians sometimes believe that if they speak out against violence and hatred, somehow they are going to anger the entire community," he said.
"They are being afraid to speak out, and they choose consciously to not speak out," he added. "I have not heard any denunciation from any of the politicians from any of the political parties that went to that parade that found out that you had the glorification of Parmar and others who were killers. And nothing was said. And they were given the opportunity to say something."
Dave Hayer, a Liberal member of the B.C. legislative assembly, also skipped the parade. Although he's a Sikh politician from Surrey, he saw what was coming and stayed away.
Tara Singh Hayer in 1995. His 1998 murder is unsolved. (CBC)
Family history may have something to do with that. In 1988, Hayer's father Tara Singh Hayer, who had written editorials criticizing Parmar and Bagri, denounced the Air India bombing in his newspaper — and was shot. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair and became a police witness in the Air India case against Ajaib Singh Bagri. But he never testified. In 1998, he was shot again — this time, fatally.
"It is different to celebrate your culture versus celebrating the terrorist," said Dave Hayer.
"If you celebrate them, it is wrong. And they told me, my constituents, they said, look, is it tomorrow they're gonna be celebrating the people who are killing our soldiers in Afghanistan? Because of freedom and the Charter of Rights? Are they gonna be carrying pictures of the people who are killing our soldiers in Afghanistan?"
Families of the Air India victims began complaining about politicians' association with Sikh extremists long before the 2007 Surrey Vaisakhi parade. In October 2006, Perviz Madon, whose husband, Sam, died in the Air India bombing, testified at John Major's judicial inquiry into the tragedy.
"We need to stop our politicians from attending those kind of events," she said. "I'm sorry, I know it's about your votes, but that's dirty business. You don't want to be associated with a group that is linked to terrorism. You don't want those kind of votes.… Canada is becoming a haven for criminals. It's a beautiful country. It's a great country, you know. We're just losing it, we're losing the grip on it. Something has to change."
So Hayer stayed away from the parade.
"A terrorist is a terrorist, and we should have no place for terrorism or people who support terrorism in Canada, period," he said. "If there are people who are terrorists and they are promoted as heroes, maybe it's the politicians' responsibility to say, listen, maybe we should think twice, should we participate, ethically and morally, in the parade."
Tarek Fatah, an immigrant from Punjab who is an outspoken critic of extremism in Canadian politics, said politicians are not fussy about where they get their votes.
"These guys have figured out Canadian politics," he said. "It takes one guy with an exotic-looking dress, a big beard or a huge headdress to say, 'Mr. member of Parliament, we will work to defeat you, or we will deliver you 10,000 votes.'
Canadian politicians do not realize that the struggle for Khalistan was extremely violent and that it has no support in India, Fatah said.
"Why would somebody come to this country and want unity of Canada but the breakup of India? Does any politician have the guts to ask these Khalistanis, 'What is it that you are looking for that you didn't find in the bloodbath of 1947, when India was first divided?'"
Part II: World Sikh Organization
From the CBC News web-site.
The whole idea of pandering to ethnic voters of one kind or another - especially at election time and when there is a leadership contest - is a blight on every politician and every political party in this country. The idea that immigrants to this country should think it is somehow appropriate to bring their battles here and turn them into hinge issues in Canadian politics ought to be anathema to good political behavior. Bob Rae, Ujjal Dosanjh and a couple of others came out looking good…the rest of them, and especially the Sikh apologists for violence and intimidation and the idea that the campaign for Khalistan ought to have any credence here in Canada, were pathetic. There is and can be no room for those attitudes here in this country.
Given the attitude that led to the BASI/VIRK/BCRAIL/CAMPBELL government situation that made this website an necessity, discussing this excellent (but all too infrequently occurring) piece of journalism here seems entirely apropos.
Just too bad it has to be something that's so long overdue on the public's network.
Courageous and outstanding work. Moreover, thanks for pointing it out Mary. I just wish it would happen a lot more often. How about an investigative piece on the way we got the Olympics and how ‘those’ promises aren’t being kept?
One other tiny point, Terry Milewski's piece was so much better than the Kim Bolan stuff this past February about this same subject - much of which seemed more an attempt to hang the albatross around Paul Martin's neck for something that happened while Mulroney and Clark were minding the store.
Many thanks, gw. It's good to hear your endorsement of the public broadcaster.
One of the chilling statements I heard this evening on Terry Melewski's documentary was when he was talking about the Sikh Separatists (of which there are 400,000 in Canada) and, for example, the assassination of India's prime minister by Sikh Separatists.
"Legal mainstream political action is now preferred to political assassination," he said ... quite calmly.
Overall the presentation just illustrates what I have always felt - one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, and in the end "history" is whatever the most successful at implementing violence to their advantage say it is.
I gained a lot of respect for Udal Dossangh as a result of watching the CBC piece last night. Also while on the subject of the Mother Corps, I wonder if Preston Manning ever thinks about the ironic fact that there might not be a CBC to have his twice daily radio show on now, if he had ever gotten to be Prime Minister. Of course he would have done the bidding of the Fraser Institute and exterminated the "subsidized" CBC so that they wouldn't unfairly compete with the Aspers et. al. of this world, wouldn't he have?
Write to the CBC and demand some quality coverage of the Basi-Virk or as I prefer to call it, the BC Rail Trial.
Koot, have you watched the CBC video? I haven't had time to do so yet, but I'm told there may be more info on it that couldn't be fitted into the broadcast.
It's interesting that you tried to see things from a "freedom fighter" point of view.
I saw it as a Canadian story, as a threat to Canada. Leaving aside the right or wrong of the private Sikh campaign for two Indias, I don't want any mysterious foreign battles fought on Canadian territory and especially not in our Parliaments.
I've worried for a long time about what these backroom pressures can do to Canada and to B.C., but on the other hand, do I worry about internal grievances in India? Not so much. You?
It goes to show, doesn't it, the powerful forces driving certain issues which, without a motivated media, we know nothing about.
CanWest should be blushing purple. But I haven't seen a word of acknowledgement in today's CanWest newspapers for Terry Melewski, CBC, or "Samosa Politics".
Thanks for taking part in this discussion. I hope you will add more facts to our understanding of Sikhism.
Nobody on this web-site -- or on Terry Milewski's documentary -- has suggested that "all Sikhs are dreadful individuals" ... that would definitely NOT be accepted in this conversation.
But we are certainly curious as to why there is such a large percentage of Sikhs active in Canadian politics and elected to parliament. As citizens we need to know that and would welcome further information.
You can provide a lot of help if you talk about that. First, tell us: are you a Sikh? and from there, tell us how Sikhs are integrating into Canadian life ... it would be very good to hear those things.
Again, thanks for taking part in this discussion.
- BC Mary.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
INDIA PROTESTS PORTRAYAL OF TERRORIST AS A MARTYR IN SURREY VAISAKHI PARADE
Vancouver: The government of India is launching a diplomatic protest over a parade in Surrey this month that included a float with alleged terrorist leader Talwinder Singh Parmar portrayed as a Sikh martyr. "We are very much concerned that this happened," said Zile Singh, India's deputy consul-general. "Diplomats from the High Commission office in Ottawa intend to raise the matter with the Canadian officials," he added. "This is not acceptable to us. We intend to convey that it is not acceptable, so the [Canadian] government understands. This should not happen again."
Parmar, a militant Khalistani advocate, has been identified in a B.C. court case as the mastermind behind a mid-air bomb explosion aboard an Air-India flight in 1985, en route from Canada to London, England. Born in Punjab and later made a Canadian citizen, he was killed by police during an encounter in India in 1992. There were 329 people killed in the Air-India bombing, which remains one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in aviation history. Singh said the portrayal of Parmar as a martyr was "very objectionable."
Indian officials were also concerned that some people involved in the parade showed their support for groups considered terrorist organizations and banned in Canada, the International Sikh Youth Federation and Babbar Khalsa. The Sikh community in Greater Vancouver holds two competing parades to mark the beginning of the harvest season in Punjab. Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar of Surrey held its annual Vaisakhi parade this year on April 7. The Vaisakhi Parade organized by Vancouver's Khalsa Diwan Society was held on Aoril 14.
The parade in Surrey attracted thousands of people including prominent B.C. and federal politicians. The parade had a float that included Parmar among the portraits of Sikh martyrs and some organizers wore work jackets with the word "Khalistan," the name proposed for an independent state for the Sikhs carved out of India.
Posted by Pooja at 9:02 AM
I am a 17 year old Sikh Canadian, born and raised in Canada. I saw the documentary on the National and I can say that I do not agree with your views on the merits of Terry Milewski’s reporting in this case.
First, in your response to the comment gw made you said, “One of the chilling statements I heard this evening on Terry Milewski's documentary was when he was talking about the Sikh Separatists (of which there are 400,000 in Canada).” I would just like to point out that today, many of the 400,000 Sikhs in Canada are NOT separatists.
Next, in your most recent post, you said that you were “curious as to why there is such a large percentage of Sikhs active in Canadian politics and elected to parliament”. I would suggest you visit this site to get more information on this issue: http://www.elections.ca/eca/eim/article_search/article.asp?id=146&lang=e&frmPageSize=&textonly=false
“…Tell us how Sikhs are integrating into Canadian life…” Although you asked this question of Jiwan Kaur, being a Sikh Canadian myself I feel that I can also attempt to answer this question. Before, I go on, I feel it is necessary to point out that as a Sikh I am a little insulted that you feel that Sikhs need to integrate into Canadian life. I was born and raised in this country, so are you implying that by being a Sikh I still haven’t integrated into Canadian life – what other life do I have? I can assure you that Sikhs do not need to “integrate” into Canadian life, as tenants of the Sikh faith like equality of the sexes; equality and respect for all people regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, or any other distinguishing factor; peace; justice; forgiveness; and many more are all part of what Canada is too. If you are instead asking how Sikhs are contributing to Canada, I would suggest you take a look around at the majority of productive and successful Sikh Canadian professionals, businesspeople, farmers, labourers – essentially any valuable field of the Canadian economy. Sikhs do not just fuel the economy of Canada, we take our civic duties seriously as is evident in our overrepresentation in Canadian politics. I could go on for much longer about the topic of Sikh Canadian “integration” and contributions, but I think you have gotten a general answer to your question from this brief explanation.
Now, to shed light on what bothered me and many others about Terry Milewski’s report was his misrepresentation of the Sikh community in Canada. I personally did not see one good thing said about Sikhs or even a brief explanation on why arms are part of the Sikh religion. It seemed as if there was an abundance of images of swords and people engaging in the sport of Gatka. Without an explanation of why these are part of the Vasakhi celebrations, the general public could be led to believe that Sikhs are only about violence and fighting, when obviously the Sikh religion is much more complex and condones the deaths of innocent people.
What you are seeing in the interviews of people like Dosanjh and Hansra, is a vocal minority within the Sikh community who in reality do not represent the views of the majority of Sikhs. The Vasakhi parade showed a single float with the picture of Parmar. I am sure that this single image does not represent the views of the 100,000 people present that day. I would recommend that Milewski get a more diverse pool of contributors for his future programs. The conflict he was presenting is not as superficial of an issue as he made it out to be. It is much more complex and is the result of past conflicts and human rights abuses.
Although I do not know enough about the issue and do not feel it is my place as a Canadian to have opinions on the internal affairs of India, I would like to show you a list of a couple things I found someone had written in response to this documentary:
1. Some Sikhs are asking for Khalistan because of the genocidal campaigns against their people.
2. Amnesty International has been denied access into Punjab to investigate the murders by the government against Sikhs for 24 years now.
3. Indira Gandhi (whom the documentary portrayed in a positive manner) came into power through election fraud, and was responsible for the intentional sterilization of millions of innocent people, leaving a bitter taste towards her not only from Sikhs, but many other communities.
4. The Khalistan movement in line with Sikhism is opposed to any violence against innocent civilians
5. The Canadian Government (as reported by the History Channel) has yet to rule out the Indian Governments involvement in the bombings (please read the book Soft Target for more information)
6. The Conservative Government during the bombings ignored repeated threats and reports from the RCMP AND CSIS in the 80's.
7. Canadian Intelligence Agencies have destroyed thousands of wiretap conversations and agents have admitted that they believe there was Indian Government Conspiracy to bomb the planes and blame it on Sikhs (who were garnering wide spread support for the genocide against them in Punjab, India)
I hope this helps.
Thank you for sharing these thoughts.
I welcomed that CBC documentary hoping it would answer the questions Canadians normally wouldn't ask. Even at your young age of 17, you will know that in Canada we've had public spats in the past about Sikh issues: the knife worn in public by Sikhs. About whether Sikhs must wear the RCMP hat when they join the force. About whether or not Sikhs sit on chairs or on the floor in their public gatherings. Then the large matters such as the slaying of an Indo-Canadian news editor who could have lived to provide useful testimony at the Air India trial. Or the near-fatal beating of Ujjal Dosanjh. And so much more.
We would be wrong not to wonder what this means in Canadian terms. We would be wrong not to ask ourselves if it's a good thing for an imported problem to establish itself and thrive within Canada. And that's what Terry Milewski's documentary set out to do.
I have a 101% doubt that Sikhs living in Canada could ever be able to change anything in India.
As for integration into Canadian life, Manmeet, it looks as if the segregation is done from within. I think -- from the political style of the "Basi Boys" -- that any segregation is done voluntarily by the Indo-Canadians themselves; otherwise, there could be no Indo-Canadian "Liberals" who don't know they are Liberals, therefore no Indo-Canadian block voting, therefore no distortion of the Canadian political process. This (I hope you agree) is not good for any citizens or any country.
Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts. I hope you'll write again and talk more about Canada. Not so much about India: it's Canada that the documentary was about.
...Sikh apologists for violence and intimidation and the idea that the campaign for Khalistan ought to have any credence here in Canada, were pathetic.
IN my view there is no doubt that the majority of Sikhs are wonderful citizens and fine Canadians - no matter how long they've been here.
On the other hand, Sikh spokespersons who lionize terrorists and terrorist actions (even if they agree with the desire for a Sikh state in Punjab) are not good citizens; any more than Irish Canadians who supported the IRA violence in their former homeland were. This is Canada - not Ireland; this is Canada - not Punjab. Where we came from and what we were should shape our character - not excuse our behavior.
These are NOT Canadian values and I'm sorry if some people don't like it. The documentary - unlike the Canadian politicians who seem to think it's fine to turn the other way - was honest and frank about this situation.
If Canadian Sikhs want to avoid being called soft on terrorism then they should stop idolizing terrorists. And they should speak up about - loud and clear: Murder and violence are not good ways to get things done - ever. Anyone, Sikh or Hindu, Moslem or Tamil, who thinks the solution to living together anywhere is going to come from bombs and the barrels of guns is sadly mistaken.
Again, in my view, those who make excuses for such behavior or who would use political activism to make that case are wrong.
CBC, MP named in lawsuit over Sikh extremism report
Toronto. The World Sikh Organization has launched a $110 million lawsuit against the CBC, a reporter and Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, alleging that a documentary examining the issue of Sikh extremism has damaged the community's reputation.
The lawsuit filed yesterday alleges that the CBC documentary "Samosa Politics" by reporter Terry Milewsky, which aired June 28, likened the Sikh separatist movement to terrorism and defamed members of Canada's Sikh community. Jeff Keay, a spokesman for CBC, said the country's public broadcaster is unaware of the lawsuit and stands behind its story. CP.
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