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Tensions between India and Canada escalated as both nations expelled diplomats in the aftermath of allegations connecting the Indian government to the assassination of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada.
India vehemently denied any involvement and termed the allegations as “absurd,” while Canada responded by expelling a top Indian diplomat.
The controversy unfolded on Tuesday when India expelled a senior Canadian diplomat, accusing Canada of unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.
The move came a day after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly voiced what he termed “credible allegations” linking India to the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
Nijjar, an advocate for Sikh independence from India, was fatally shot on June 18 outside a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia. In response, Canada expelled a high-ranking Indian diplomat.
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Trudeau addressed the Canadian Parliament, saying: “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. In the strongest possible terms, I continue to urge the government of India to cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter.”
This diplomatic standoff exacerbates already strained relations between Canada and India. Trade talks have been derailed, and Canada recently cancelled a planned trade mission to India for the fall.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement justifying the expulsion, citing concerns about Canadian diplomats’ interference in its internal matters and their involvement in activities deemed anti-India. Notably, Nijjar was organising an unofficial referendum in India for an independent Sikh nation at the time of his death. Indian authorities had previously announced a cash reward for information leading to Nijjar’s arrest, accusing him of involvement in an alleged attack on a Hindu priest in India.
India has repeatedly accused Canada of supporting the Sikh independence movement, known as Khalistan, which is banned in India but finds support in countries like Canada and the UK, both of which have significant Sikh diaspora populations. Canada boasts a Sikh population of more than 770,000, comprising about 2 percent of its total population.
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The recent diplomatic rift follows prior instances of tension between the two nations. In March, the Indian government summoned the Canadian High Commissioner in New Delhi over Sikh independence protests in Canada. In 2020, India’s foreign ministry also summoned the top Canadian diplomat over comments made by Trudeau regarding an agricultural protest movement associated with the state of Punjab, home to a significant Sikh population.
Trudeau informed the Canadian Parliament that he discussed Nijjar’s assassination with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the G20 meeting in New Delhi the previous week. Trudeau stressed the unacceptability of any Indian government involvement and requested cooperation in the investigation.
India’s foreign ministry dismissed the allegations as “absurd and motivated” in an earlier statement, focusing attention on what it called Khalistani terrorists and extremists who have been granted refuge in Canada, posing a threat to India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
During the G20 meeting, Modi expressed “strong concerns” about Canada’s handling of the Punjabi independence movement among overseas Sikhs during his meeting with Trudeau.
India’s statement urged Canada to collaborate with India in addressing what New Delhi perceived as a threat to the Canadian Indian diaspora and described the Sikh movement as “promoting secessionism and inciting violence” against Indian diplomats. Earlier in the year, supporters of the Khalistan movement had vandalised Indian consulates in London and San Francisco.
Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly confirmed the expulsion of a high-ranking Indian diplomat, identifying them as the head of Indian intelligence in Canada. Joly stressed that if the allegations were proven true, it would constitute a grave violation of Canada’s sovereignty and the fundamental principles guiding international relations.
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc disclosed that Canada’s national security adviser and the head of Canada’s intelligence agency had travelled to India to meet their counterparts and confront Indian intelligence agencies with the allegations. He said that an active homicide investigation, led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was underway.
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