As pressure mounted on Canada to release evidence of an extraterritorial assassination on its soil, media reports indicated that the government is believed to be in possession of intelligence linking Indian officials and diplomats to the killing, according to a report in the Guardian.
Among information gathered in the investigation into the murder were communications allegedly involving Indian officials, including Indian diplomats working inside Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Thursday.
Multiple national security sources have alleged that Indian officials did not dispute the allegations in closed-door meetings with Canadian officials. The CBC’s report has not been independently verified, it must be noted.
Indo-Canada relations have continued to deteriorate with India having suspended visa services for Canadian citizens, amid an escalating row over the Nijjar incident.
Visa service provider BLS posted a message from India’s mission blaming ‘operational reasons’ for the decision.
The message about the suspension of visas was first posted on the BLS website on Thursday.
‘Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 September 2023, Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice,’ it read.
Tensions flared after a bombshell statement by Canadian PM Justin Trudeau on Tuesday accusing the Indian government agency of killing the Sikh independence advocate.
India dismissed the Canadian government’s accusations as ‘absurd’ and later asked a Canadian diplomat to exit the country within the next five days.
Trudeau said Monday that his government was investigating ‘credible allegations’ that Indian government agents were linked to the June 18 slaying, when Nijjar was gunned down outside a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia.
Canada is home to a Sikh community comprising over 770,000 individuals, accounting for approximately 2% of its total population. It has yet to provide any evidence of Indian involvement in the matter, even as Pro-Khalistani groups threaten Indian-origin Hindus in Canada to leave for supporting India in the row.
MEA issues statement on the matter
MEA Minister S Jaishankar briefed PM Modi over the situation, even as the Ministry released a statement.
Indo-Canadian relations hit rock bottom after Canada on Monday expelled a top Indian diplomat as it investigates the allegations. The Canadian government even issued a travel advisory, asking its citizens to ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ while travelling to India.
India has denied any role in the killing and said the the Canadian diplomat’s expulsion came amid ‘growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities,’ according to a statement from its Ministry of External Affairs.
In an officially released statement, the MEA said ‘The High Commissioner of Canada to India was summoned today and informed about the decision of the Government of India to expel a senior Canadian diplomat based in India. The concerned diplomat has been asked to leave India within the next five days.’
MEA further noted, ‘The decision reflects Government of India’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities.’
‘We are simply laying out the facts as we understand them and we want to work with the government of India to lay everything clear and to ensure there are proper processes,’ Trudeau said in an attempt to placate the matter.
‘India and the government of India needs to take this matter with the utmost seriousness.’
Who was Hardeep Singh Nijjar?
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was born in 1977 in Jalandhar district in India’s northern state of Punjab and moved to Canada in 1997, where he worked as a plumber, Reuters says, according to the Khalistan Extremism Monitor of the New Delhi-based independent Institute for Conflict Management.
Nijjar was initially associated with the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) Sikh separatist group, according to India’s counter-terrorist, National Investigation Agency.
New Delhi has listed BKI as a ‘terrorist organisation.’ The NIA had previously filed a chargesheet against Nijjar for allegedly carrying out terrorist acts against India in other cases.
Nijjar later became chief of the militant group Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) and was “actively involved in operationalising, networking, training and financing” its members, according to a 2020 Indian government statement.
He was elected head of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurudwara, in Surrey, Vancouver and remained in the position at the time of his death.
US Reaction to the Row
According to an Associated Press report, a U.S. official said Trudeau was in contact with President Joe Biden’s administration about Canada’s findings before raising them publicly.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Trudeau’s willingness to speak out about the matter was taken by the White House as an indication of the Canadian leader’s certainty about what had been found.
A US expert has termed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’ claim a ‘shameless and cynical action’ and urged the United States not be part of it.
US think tanks claimed Trudeau is playing into the hands of people who are looking at the Khalistani movement as a ‘movement of ego and profit.’
Impact on Economic Ties
With worsening relations, questions were raised over India-Canada trade relations as Canada ranks as India’s 18th most substantial trade partner, with approximately $3.3 billion of investment flowing into India from April 2000 to March 2023.
This constitutes roughly 0.5 percent of the cumulative influx of foreign direct investment (FDI) in India during this period.
India is also Canada’s ninth-largest trade partner, with the service and infrastructure sectors jointly constitutinga significant portion, accounting for 40.63 percent of the total FDI inflow from Canada into India.
Talks for a potential trade deal between India and Canada have been put on hold. Last year, Canada exported goods and services worth CAD 11.6 billion (INR 71,700 crore) to India, including commodities like lentils, metallurgical coal and newsprint. India’s primary exports to Canada have been smartphones and railway cars.
Overall investments between the two nations had seen a significant rise, reaching CAD36.2 billion (INR 2.24 lakh crore) in 2022, marking a 37% increase in just four years, as per data from Statistics Canada.
Experts fear this development might strain a burgeoning economic relationship.
Reactions within Indian Parliament and Indian Armed Forces
India’s main opposition Congress party backed on Wednesday the government’s rejection of Canada’s allegations and urged a stand against threats to the country’s sovereignty.
The Indian Army on Wednesday said tensions in India-Canada relations ‘don’t impact us’ and that India’s ‘diplomatic approach, military records with Canada continue.’
While addressing the curtain raiser event on the scheduled Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs conference, Indian Army’s Additional Director General (Strategic Planning) Major General Abhinaya Rai said Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) General Wayne Eyre will be visiting India for the Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference.
‘It doesn’t impact us. The Canadian (deputy) chief is coming here. His delegation is coming here. Even when we look at the relationships with some of our neighbours…where we may have had a standoff but we continue to engage them at all levels, be it the military level and at the diplomatic level. And I am referring directly to China here,’ Major General Rai said at a curtain-raiser to the conference that was attended by a battery of defence attaches from the participating countries, including Colonel Todd Braithwaite from Canada.
India’s stance globally
India has been asking countries like Australia and the U.K. to take legal action against Sikh activists in the recent past and PM Modi has personally raised the issue with global leaders, particularly with Canada given its prominent Sikh population.
Australian PM Anthony Albanese says, ‘..Well, I do have discussions with Prime Minister Trudeau but one of the things that I do, unlike my predecessor, I don’t send out text messages, I keep those discussions confidential. Justin Trudeau is a friend of mine, he’s a fine Prime Minister of Canada. I was pleased to engage with him at the G20 (Summit). He has expressed his concerns about this on behalf of the Canadian government and the Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has also expressed concerns.’
Earlier this year, Sikh protesters pulled down the Indian flag at the country’s high commission in London and smashed the building’s windows while demonstrating against the move to arrest Amritpal Singh.
Protesters also smashed windows at the Indian consulate In San Francisco and clashed with embassy workers in the US.
MEA issues advisory for Indian Nationals and Indian Students in Canada
In an advisory aimed at Indian nationals and students in Canada and citizens planning to travel to the country, the MEA said there were also threats against members of the Indian community who ‘oppose the anti-India agenda.’
‘In view of growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada, all Indian nationals there and those contemplating travel are urged to exercise utmost caution,’ said the Ministry.
‘The advisory cautioned Indian nationals to “avoid travelling to regions and potential venues in Canada that have seen such incidents.’
There are 230,000 Indian students and 700,000 non-resident Indians in Canada, according to the website of the Indian high commission in Ottawa.
The advisory said the Indian high commission and consulates will continue to be in contact with Canadian authorities to ensure the safety and well-being of the Indian community.
‘Given the deteriorating security environment in Canada, Indian students in particular are advised to exercise extreme caution and remain vigilant,’ it said.
Indian nationals and students in Canada must also register with the high commission in Ottawa or the consulates in Toronto and Vancouver through their websites or the MADAD portal (madad.gov.in), the advisory said.
Registration would enable the missions to ‘better connect with Indian citizens in Canada in the event of any emergency or untoward incident.’
BookMyShow cancels Punjabi-Canadian singer’s show in India
Ticketing platform BookMyShow on Wednesday cancelled Punjabi- Canadian singer Shubhneet Singh, popularly known as ‘Shubh”s India tour after facing a boycott call on social media, for hosting the singer.
‘Singer Shubhneet Singh’s Still Rollin Tour for India stands cancelled. To that end, BookMyShow has initiated a complete refund of the ticket amount for all consumers who had purchased tickets for the show. The refund will be reflected within 7-10 working days in the customer’s source account of the original transaction,’ it said.
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