20th September 2023 – (Ottawa) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada called on India to treat with “utmost seriousness” the allegations of its possible involvement in the slaying of a Sikh exile. The demand was echoed by Washington, which also expressed concerns over the matter. This development has led to reciprocal expulsions of an Indian intelligence official from Canada and a senior Canadian diplomat from New Delhi.
Trudeau emphasised that Canada was not seeking to provoke or escalate tensions and that they were approaching the matter responsibly. The Canadian government stated on Monday that there were “credible allegations” linking agents connected to New Delhi to the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, in front of a Sikh cultural centre in a Vancouver suburb on June 18.
The Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has categorically rejected Canada’s assertions regarding the unsolved slaying. The foreign ministry released a statement dismissing the allegations as absurd and denying any involvement in acts of violence in Canada.
In a show of solidarity, the United States joined Canada in calling for India to disclose any information it may have regarding the killing. The National Security Council spokeswoman, Adrienne Watson, expressed deep concern over the allegations and stressed the need for Canada’s investigation to proceed while ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was an activist advocating for the creation of Khalistan, a separate Sikh state. Indian authorities had sought him on charges of terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder, which he denied according to the World Sikh Organisation of Canada. The assassination of Nijjar and the subsequent demonstrations in Canada have strained relations between the two countries.
The Indian government has accused Canada of overlooking the activities of radical Sikh nationalists who aim to establish an independent Sikh state in northern India. British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, present at the United Nations, expressed his country’s desire for India’s full cooperation with Canada in the investigation.
Trudeau emphasized the seriousness of the case, stating that it has far-reaching consequences for Canada. He assured that his government had taken a measured approach, working closely with intelligence agencies to gather facts and understand the situation. Trudeau also mentioned that Canada had conveyed its concerns and conclusions to the Indian government.
Representatives of the World Sikh Organisation of Canada supported Trudeau’s assertion, claiming that India has targeted Sikhs in Canada with espionage, disinformation, and now murder for decades. The son of the slain Sikh leader welcomed Trudeau’s statement and urged authorities to take further steps to identify specific individuals involved.
Jagmeet Singh, the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party and an ally of Trudeau, called for India’s inclusion in a probe investigating alleged interference in Canadian affairs by other countries, particularly China. The ongoing crisis has resulted in Canada suspending negotiations for a free-trade agreement with India, and a planned trade minister’s visit to the country in October has been canceled.
In contrast, the United States has been strengthening its relationship with India, considering it a key ally in countering Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. In June, President Joe Biden hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a state visit, reflecting the growing ties between the two nations.