In tit-for-tat move, India expels Canadian diplomat after PM Trudeau links Delhi to Sikh leader’s murder

Published September 19, 2023
A sign outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple is seen after the killing on its grounds in June 2023 of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada September 18, 2023. — Reuters
A sign outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple is seen after the killing on its grounds in June 2023 of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada September 18, 2023. — Reuters

India said on Tuesday it had expelled a Canadian diplomat with five days’ notice to leave the country, just hours after Ottawa expelled the South Asian nation’s top intelligence agent and accused it of a role in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader.

The development was the latest in an escalating row between the two nations, with Canada saying on Monday it was “actively pursuing credible allegations” linking Indian government agents to the murder in British Columbia in June.

The Canadian high commissioner, or ambassador, in New Delhi had been summoned and told of the expulsion decision, India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The decision reflects the government of India’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities,” the ministry added.

“The concerned diplomat has been asked to leave India within the next five days.”

Earlier on Tuesday, India dismissed the Canadian accusation as “absurd and motivated” and urged it instead to take legal action against anti-Indian elements operating from its soil.

Canada expels Indian envoy

Indian retaliation came after Canada said on Monday that it was “actively pursuing credible allegations” linking Indian government agents to the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia in June.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an emergency statement to the House of Commons that any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen was “an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty”.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, was shot dead outside a Sikh temple on June 18 in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh population. Nijjar supported a Sikh homeland in the form of an independent Khalistani state and was designated by India as a “terrorist” in July 2020.

“Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India” and Nijjar’s death, Trudeau said.

He said he had raised the murder directly with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi last week, and urged the government of India to “cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter”.

“Canada has declared its deep concerns to the top intelligence and security officials of the Indian government. Last week at the G20, I brought them personally and directly to Prime Minister Modi in no uncertain terms,” he said.

Canada also expelled India’s top intelligence agent in the country on Monday, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said, without providing details. The Indian high commission in Ottawa did not respond to requests for comment.

“Allegations that a representative of a foreign government may have been involved in the murder of a Canadian citizen here in Canada, on Canadian soil… are totally unacceptable,” Joly said.

“Therefore, today we have expelled a senior Indian diplomat from Canada,” she added without naming the diplomat.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, Nijjar’s lawyer, told The Washington Post that he believed Nijjar was targeted for organising a planned nonbinding referendum in Canada on whether to create an independent Sikh state in Punjab to be called Khalistan. Pannun called on Trudeau to expel the Indian high commissioner in Canada.

Trudeau’s comments mark a significant escalation in tensions between Canada and the world’s largest democracy, with New Delhi unhappy over Sikh separatist activity in Canada.

Modi conveyed his strong concerns to Trudeau at the G20 summit over recent demonstrations in Canada by Sikhs calling for an independent state.

Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside the Indian state of Punjab, with about 770,000 people reporting Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census.

Khalistan is an independent Sikh state whose creation has been sought for decades. A Sikh insurgency killed tens of thousands of people in India in the 1980s and early 1990s before it was suppressed by tough security action.

However, New Delhi has been wary of any revival, with a particular focus on small groups of Sikhs in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States, who support the separatist demand and occasionally stage protests outside its embassies.

US, Australia express ‘deep concern’ over Canada’s accusations

The United States and Australia expressed “deep concern” over Canada’s accusations, while Britain said it was in close touch with its Canadian partners about the “serious allegations”.

“We have been in close contact with our Canadian colleagues about this. We’re quite concerned about the allegations. We think it’s important there is a full and open investigation and we would urge the Indian Government to cooperate with that investigation,” a senior State Department official said.

He said US authorities had been in close contact with their Canadian counterparts about allegations the Indian government was involved in the murder and urged India to cooperate with the investigation.

India has been particularly sensitive to Sikh protesters in Canada with some Indian analysts saying Ottawa does not stop them as Sikhs are a politically influential group there.

In June, India criticised Canada for permitting a float in a parade depicting the 1984 assassination of late prime minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, perceived to be glorification of violence by Sikh separatists.

Ottawa paused talks this month on a proposed trade treaty with India, just three months after both said they aimed to seal an initial deal this year.

Modi did not hold a two-way meeting with Trudeau at the G20 summit, despite similar meetings with other world leaders. Days earlier, metro stations in the Indian capital were vandalised with pro-Khalistan graffiti.


Additional input from APP.

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