21st September 2023 – (New Delhi) India has announced the suspension of visa services in Canada, escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries following the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader. The Indian private agency BLS, responsible for the initial scrutiny of visa applications from Canadians, stated on its website that visa services have been suspended until further notice, citing operational reasons.
The suspension comes in the wake of an advisory issued by the Indian government on Wednesday, cautioning its citizens in Canada against travelling to areas prone to anti-India activities. The recent escalation began when Canada expelled a senior Indian diplomat on Monday, alleging their involvement in the assassination of Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
In response, India expelled a senior Canadian diplomat on Tuesday, citing concerns over Canadian diplomats’ interference in India’s internal affairs and their alleged involvement in anti-India activities. Despite these developments, none of Canada’s closest allies have publicly criticized the Indian government, with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson stating that trade talks with India would continue as before.
While British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly acknowledged Canada’s concerns, he refrained from mentioning India explicitly. Reports emerged that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to rally support from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing nations, including the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, to issue a joint statement condemning India before the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi. However, these attempts were reportedly rejected by the United States and other countries.
Both the U.S. National Security Council and the Canadian Foreign Ministry denied the claim, although Trudeau did raise the issue with U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak this week. The United States expressed deep concern and urged transparent handling of the matter, calling for Indian officials’ cooperation in any investigation.
Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is expected to clarify India’s position during his visit to New York for the UN General Assembly. He may subsequently pay a bilateral visit to Washington D.C. after addressing the UN General Assembly. Jaishankar has reportedly met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to brief him on the developments concerning Canada.
The slain Canadian Sikh leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, was a prominent advocate of the Khalistan movement, which seeks to establish an independent homeland for the Sikh community in India’s northwestern Punjab region. Nijjar was tragically killed outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple in Surrey, British Columbia, on 18th June.