Canada-India diplomatic row escalates over allegations of Sikh activist’s assassination

Hardeep Singh Nijjar

19th September 2023 – (Ottawa) Canada and India are locked in a growing dispute following Canada’s accusation that India may have been involved in the assassination of a prominent Sikh activist on Canadian soil. The allegations have led to both countries expelling senior diplomats, causing a significant strain in bilateral relations.

The diplomatic expulsions began after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that Canada was investigating credible claims linking India to the June killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen and prominent Sikh leader. Trudeau emphasised his government’s commitment to holding the perpetrators accountable for the murder.

In response, Canada expelled an Indian diplomat who was described by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly as the head of the Indian intelligence agency in the country. Joly affirmed that Canada would thoroughly investigate the matter. Prime Minister Trudeau also raised the issue with US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

India retaliated by expelling a senior Canadian diplomat based in India, citing concerns over Canadian diplomats interfering in their internal affairs and engaging in anti-India activities.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a vocal supporter of the creation of Khalistan, a separate Sikh homeland, was tragically gunned down in his truck outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia. The Sikh community in Canada, one of the largest Sikh populations outside of India, was deeply shocked and outraged by his death. Nijjar frequently led peaceful protests against human rights violations in India and in support of Khalistan.

The Khalistan movement is considered a national security threat by the Indian government, and several associated groups are categorized as “terrorist organizations” under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Nijjar’s name appeared on the Home Ministry’s list of UAPA terrorists, and he had previously been accused of attempting to radicalize the Sikh community in support of Khalistan.

India rejected Trudeau’s allegations as absurd and motivated, asserting its commitment to the rule of law. The White House expressed deep concern about the allegations and emphasized the importance of Canada’s investigation and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

While Canadian authorities have yet to make any arrests in connection with Nijjar’s murder, they released a statement in August identifying three suspects and seeking public assistance in locating a possible getaway vehicle.

The accusations against the Indian government are likely to further strain relations between Canada and India. An ongoing trade deal between the two countries has been put on hold, and the issue of activism within Canada’s Sikh diaspora has long been a source of tension.

Trudeau’s perceived sympathy for Sikh activists has previously caused friction between him and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During Trudeau’s visit to India in 2018, his calendar was notably light on diplomatic meetings, leading to speculation of a snub from the Indian government. Analysts attributed this to Trudeau’s perceived support for Sikh activists, which was evident when he attended a Sikh event where separatist flags and posters were displayed.

The Khalistan movement continues to garner sympathy from some Sikhs within the global diaspora, particularly in Canada, Britain, and Australia. While supporters of Khalistan in India remain on the fringes, periodic referendums are held within the diaspora to gauge support for establishing a separate homeland.