Tensions have risen sharply in bilateral relations between Canada and India, at a time when the Asian country was already unhappy with Canadian authorities for not cracking down on Sikh protesters seeking their own independent territory in India. This after the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a leader of the Sikh community and separatist activist from Punjab in India. This is a review of the most important points to understand the situation.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that there was “credible” information linking Indian government agents to the killing of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia last June.
The announcement marks a significant deterioration in bilateral relations between the two countries at a time when India is already unhappy that Canadian authorities are not taking strong action against Sikh protesters who want their own independent territory.
On Tuesday, an Indian government spokesman called the accusations “absurd and motivated,” adding that “the Canadian prime minister made similar allegations to our president that were completely denied.”
Canadian authorities also claimed to have expelled a “key diplomat” from India. The diplomat was the head of India’s foreign intelligence service in Canada.
On June 18 this year, the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar rocked the Sikh community in Canada. Nijjar, a Canadian Sikh citizen, was shot outside a temple in Surrey, British Columbia, in circumstances that remain unclear. But behind his death lies a complex and controversial story involving his people’s struggle for independence and accusations of links to terrorism.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45 years old at the time of his death, became known as an advocate of Sikh independence and advocated the creation of Khalistan, an independent Sikh nation to be separated from the Indian state of Punjab. This separatist movement, which had its roots in the 1980s and 1990s, caused the death of thousands of people and left a deep scar in this region.
In 2016, Indian media reported that he was suspected of planning an attack in the Sikh state of Punjab and of training suspected terrorists in a small town southeast of Vancouver, where he lived in Canada. Nijjar rejected these accusations, calling them “rubbish”. Indian authorities searched for Nijjar for years and designated him a “terrorist” in July 2020.
To what extent has the crisis escalated?
Amidst the growing diplomatic row between Canada and India, there was another killing on Wednesday, September 20, of a Sikh separatist protester, Sukhdool Singh, in the city of Winnipeg, Canada. Singh, who had fled to Canada from Punjab in 2017, was shot 15 times in an incident that has sparked a series of controversial actions and statements between the two nations.
Tensions between Canada and India following the killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar
The situation has escalated rapidly with a number of measures taken by both countries. India suspended the issuance of new visas to Canadian citizens and asked Canada to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country. The decision has been unusual as India’s blanket suspension of visas to a Western country marks a decline in the country’s diplomatic ties.
Canada’s High Commissioner to India reported that some of its diplomats received threats on social media, leading to the decision to temporarily adjust the presence of its personnel in the country. Indian authorities pledged to provide security and support to foreign diplomats in response to these statements.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly later said Ottawa had expelled an Indian diplomat, whom she described as the head of India’s intelligence agency in the country, as a “consequence.”
India responded hours later by rejecting Trudeau’s accusations, accusing Canada of harboring terrorists and declaring that its inaction against extremists had been a “longstanding” concern.
India’s attitude towards the Sikh community and the Indian presence in Canada
Canada is home to one of the largest overseas communities of Indian origin, numbering approx 1.4 million people out of a total Canadian population of 40 million. Of those around 770,000 people declared Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census. The country has the largest population of Sikhs outside their home state of Punjab.
India has made frequent complaints to the Canadian governments about the activities of active Sikh sections among the Indian diaspora, which it claims are trying to revive the insurgency.
In June, India’s foreign minister criticized Canada for allowing a plane in a parade depicting the 1984 assassination of then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, seen as glorifying violence by separatists. .
In 2018, Trudeau assured India that Canada would not support anyone trying to revive a separatist movement in India, but he has repeatedly said he respects protesters’ right to freedom of speech and assembly.
What does this mean for Canada-India relations?
The two countries, which said earlier this year they could agree on the outlines of a trade deal by the end of 2023, have frozen talks on the treaty. Canada gave few details, while India cited “certain political developments.”
India is Canada’s 10th largest trading partner, and plans for a deal have been in the works for more than a decade. But by 2022, bilateral trade between the two countries accounted for just $13.7 billion out of a total of $15.2 billion in all Canadian trade, according to Statistics Canada’s website.
What makes this conflict particularly notable is the lack of public support from Canada’s allies, including the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, all members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance. Although these countries have expressed concern and called for full investigations, none have publicly supported Canada’s claims against India.
At a time when the US and other allies are seeking to strengthen ties with India as a counterweight to China’s growing influence, confrontation with India may not be in their strategic interest.
India, with its rapidly growing economy and growing influence in world affairs, has emerged as an important global player. This makes it difficult for Canada’s allies, who are also important partners of India, to publicly condemn India.
Pending a decision for both nations, Canada is a major investor in India and has a large Indian diaspora in its territory. Which has raised the question of the international community about who led the investigation of this murder.
With Reuters, EFE, AP and local media