NEW DELHI: India on Thursday suspended new visas for Canadians and asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country, sharply escalating a spat triggered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s accusations linking New Delhi to a Sikh separatist’s murder.

The Indian foreign ministry said Canada has not shared any specific information in connection with the allegations Trudeau made and that New Delhi was willing to look at it if provided. A blanket suspension of new visas by India for a Western country is unheard of and marks the lowest point of India-Canada relations.

The announcement came hours after Canada’s high commission in India said it would temporarily “adjust” staff presence in the country after some diplomats received threats on social media platforms. “In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensu­re the safety of our diplomats,” Canada’s mission said in a statement.

Trudeau asks Delhi to cooperate in probe into Sikh leader’s murder, refuses to release evidence

“With some diplomats having received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada is assessing its staff complement in India. As a result, and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily adjust staff presence in India,” it added.

Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Ottawa had been asked to reduce numbers at its diplomatic missions in India to bring parity between the missions of the two countries.

Bagchi said India suspended issuing new visas to Canadian citizens due to “security threats” to its staff in its consulates in Canada.

“You are aware of the security threats being faced by our high commission and consulates in Canada. This has disrupted their normal functioning,” Bagchi told reporters at a weekly briefing on Thursday.

‘Cooperate with investigation’

Separately, PM Trudeau on Thursday called on India to cooperate with an investigation into the murder of the Sikh leader and said Canada would not release its evidence.

“We’re not looking to provoke or cause problems. But we are unequivocal around the importance of the rule of law and unequivocal about the importance of protecting Canadians,” Trudeau told a news conference in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“That’s why we call upon the government of India to work with us to establish processes to discover and to uncover the truth of the matter.”

Trudeau sidestepped several questions about when Canada might release the evidence it had, saying merely that the decision to share the allegations had not been made lightly.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2023

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