INDIA/CANADA: India has firmly denied accusations made by Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, that it had any involvement in the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was fatally shot outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia on June 18.
Trudeau stated that Canadian intelligence had identified a “credible” connection between Nijjar’s death and the Indian government.
India’s foreign ministry described Canadian PM Trudeau’s allegations as “ridiculous” and politically motivated.
“We are a democratic polity with a strong commitment to the rule of law,” stated the ministry in a statement.
This incident marks a further escalation in the already-tense relationship between the two countries.
On Tuesday, the White House stated it was “deeply concerned” regarding Trudeau’s allegations.
The White House National Security Council spokesperson, Adrienne Watson, said, “We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice.”
In Parliament on Monday, Trudeau said that he had discussed Najjar’s killing with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the recent G20 summit held in Delhi.
“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” he stated to lawmakers, adding that “it is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open, and democratic societies conduct themselves.”
India had previously refuted any connection to Nijjar’s murder.
On Tuesday, India’s Ministry of External Affairs stated that it “completely rejected” Trudeau’s allegations.
“Allegations of the government of India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated,” the ministry said.
The statement went on to say that the Canadian prime minister had leveled similar accusations against our prime minister.
The statement also noted that Canada has a history of providing refuge to individuals identified as “Khalistani terrorists and extremists,” which India perceives as a threat to its security.
“We urge the government of Canada to take prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating from their soil,” stated the ministry.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly informed reporters on Monday that they had taken the step of expelling an Indian diplomat named Pavan Kumar Rai in connection to the case.
Joly stated that Canadian officials are constrained in their public statements regarding the case due to the ongoing investigation into Nijjar’s homicide.
Nijjar was fatally shot by two masked assailants while in his vehicle on a June evening, within the bustling car park of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, a city located approximately 30km (18 miles) east of Vancouver.
Investigators have previously labelled the death of 45-year-old Nijjar as a “targeted incident.”
As a prominent Sikh leader in British Columbia, he openly advocated for Khalistan, the establishment of an independent Sikh homeland in India’s Punjab region. Supporters of Nijjar have asserted that he has faced threats in the past due to his activism.
India has previously labelled him as a terrorist who led a militant separatist group, allegations vehemently denied by his supporters as “baseless.”
Trudeau said that Canada has conveyed its apprehensions regarding Nijjar’s demise to top-level security and intelligence organisations in India.
He also discussed the matter with US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
He said, “I continue to ask with a great deal of firmness that the government of India cooperate with Canada to shed light on this situation.”
Trudeau stated that Nijjar’s shooting has stirred outrage among Canadians, causing some to be concerned about their safety.
Following Trudeau’s remarks in Ottawa, numerous prominent posters and tributes to Nijjar were noticeable at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara located in Surrey.
Moninder Singh, spokesperson for the British Columbia Sikhs Gurdwaras Council, conveyed that within the community, there existed a blend of both frustration and gratitude in response to Trudeau’s statements.
“This operation is being allowed to be carried out on foreign soil in Canada. That’s where the frustration comes from,” he said.
“The appreciation comes from the fact that at least the prime minister stood up and acknowledged that there is a foreign hand behind this murder and this assassination.”
There is an estimated population of 1.4 to 1.8 million Canadians with Indian heritage, making Canada home to the largest Sikh population outside of the Indian state of Punjab.
Trudeau’s comments followed a tense meeting with Modi during last week’s G20 summit in India.
During this meeting, as per the Indian government’s statement, Modi accused Canada of not taking sufficient actions to suppress “anti-India activities of extremist elements,” which pertains to concerns about the Sikh separatist movement in the nation.
Furthermore, Canada recently halted negotiations for a free trade agreement with India, providing limited details for the decision, while India cited “certain political developments” as the reason.
Nijjar is the third prominent Sikh figure to have passed away unexpectedly in recent months.
In the United Kingdom, Avtar Singh Khanda, reportedly the leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force, passed away in Birmingham in June under circumstances that have been described as “mysterious.”
Paramjit Singh Panjwar, designated a terrorist by India, was fatally shot in May in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province.
The underlying tension between Delhi and Ottawa stems from the growing pressure the Indian government has exerted on three nations with significant Sikh populations: Canada, Australia, and the UK.
It has openly stated that failure to address what it terms “Sikh extremism” would pose an obstacle to maintaining favourable relations.
Australian authorities have stated their intention to look into instances of pro-Khalistan activists vandalizing Hindu temples, but this would not prevent Australian Sikhs from expressing their opinions regarding an independent homeland.
In another case, a Scottish Sikh named Jagtar Singh Johal has been detained in an Indian prison for over six years without a trial on charges related to extremist activities. Johal has claimed that he was subjected to torture and coerced into signing a confession.
Human rights organisation Reprieve alleges that Johal’s arrest, which occurred while he was in India for his wedding, followed a tip-off from British intelligence.