India yesterday dismissed allegations that its government was linked to the killing of a Sikh activist in Canada as “absurd,” expelling a senior Canadian diplomat and accusing Canada of interfering in India’s internal affairs.
It came a day after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described what he called credible allegations that India was connected to the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an advocate of Sikh independence from India who was gunned down on June 18 outside a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia, and Canada expelled a top Indian diplomat.
“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau told parliament on Monday. “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.”
The dueling expulsions come as relations between Canada and India are tense. Trade talks have been derailed and Canada canceled a trade mission to India.
In its statement announcing the expulsion, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs wrote: “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.”
Nijjar was organizing an unofficial referendum in India for an independent Sikh nation at the time of this death. Indian authorities announced a cash reward last year 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, or Khalistan, movement, which is banned in India, but has support in Canada and the UK, which have sizeable Sikh diaspora populations.
The Indian government in March summoned the Canadian high commissioner in New Delhi to complain about Sikh independence protests in Canada. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs in 2020 also summoned the top diplomat over comments made by Trudeau about an agricultural protest movement associated with the state of Punjab, where many Sikhs live.
Canada has a Sikh population of more than 770,000, or about 2 percent of its population.
Trudeau told parliament that he brought up Nijjar’s slaying with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 meeting in New Delhi last week. He said he told Modi that any Indian government involvement would be unacceptable and that he asked for cooperation in the investigation.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs dismissed the allegation as “absurd and motivated.”
“Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it wrote in a statement.
At the G20 meeting, Modi expressed “strong concerns” over Canada’s handling of the Punjabi independence movement among the overseas Sikhs during a meeting with Trudeau at the G20, the statement added.
The statement called on Canada to work with India on what New Delhi said is a threat to the Canadian Indian diaspora, and described the Sikh movement as “promoting secessionism and inciting violence” against Indian diplomats.
Supporters of the Khalistan movement earlier this year vandalized the Indian consulates in London and San Francisco.
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly said that Ottawa had expelled a top Indian diplomat, whom she identified as the head of Indian intelligence in Canada.
“If proven true this would be a great violation of our sovereignty and of the most basic rule of how countries deal with each other,” Joly said. “As a consequence we have expelled a top Indian diplomat.”
Canadian Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc said Canada’s national security adviser and the head of the spy service had traveled to India to meet their counterparts and to confront Indian intelligence agencies with the allegations.
He called it an active homicide investigation led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Joly said Trudeau also raised the matter with US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
“We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau,” 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.”
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