April 12, 2024

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The rift between Trudeau and Modi deepened with mutual expulsions following the murder allegation

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Parliament on Monday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Parliament on Monday

© CBC/Reuters

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Parliament on Monday

India expelled a Canadian diplomat on Tuesday, as an unusual row worsened over allegations that New Delhi was involved in the killing of a Sikh activist in British Columbia.

A day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canadian authorities were investigating whether New Delhi’s “agents” were behind the killing of Hardeep Singh Nigar in June, Narendra Modi’s government rejected Ottawa’s comments as “ridiculous and motivated.”

“India has never been accused of carrying out the assassination of an opposition figure abroad,” said Brahma Chellaney, professor emeritus at the Center for Policy Research, a think tank in New Delhi. “This is something authoritarian regimes do.”

Citing intelligence from national security agencies, Trudeau told Parliament on Monday that there were “credible allegations” of Indian government involvement in the deadly shooting in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh community. He added that he raised the issue with Modi last week at the G20 summit.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau said. On Tuesday, he called on India to deal with the issue “with the utmost seriousness,” adding, “We are not looking for provocation or escalation.”

Justin Trudeau and Narendra Modi shake hands
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in New Delhi this month © Evan Vucci/AP

But New Delhi said it had asked a senior Canadian diplomat to leave the country due to “growing concern over Canadian diplomats’ interference in our internal affairs and their involvement in anti-India activities.” The move came in response to Canada’s expulsion of a senior Indian diplomat on Monday.

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Referring to last week’s meeting between Modi and Trudeau, the Ministry of Indian Affairs said: “Similar allegations were made by the Canadian Prime Minister to our Prime Minister, which were completely rejected. . . . We are a democracy with a strong commitment to the rule of law.”

US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said Washington was “deeply concerned” about Trudeau’s allegations, and that it was in regular contact with Canada on the issue.

“It is important that Canada continues to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice,” Watson said. “We urge the Indian government to cooperate in the Canadian investigation and ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”

One of the mourners wears a T-shirt bearing the image of Hardeep Singh Nigar
A mourner wears a T-shirt bearing a picture of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nigar during a funeral service in Canada in June. © The Canadian Press / Alamy

Asked why Ottawa was raising these accusations now, Trudeau said: “We wanted to make sure we have a strong basis for understanding what is going on… We wanted to make sure we take the time to talk to our allies.”

The Indian government had accused Nigar, a Sikh nationalist, of terrorism and offered rewards for his arrest. In 2016, Najjar wrote a letter to Trudeau in which he called New Delhi’s allegations baseless and said his activism was “peaceful, democratic and protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The World Sikh Organization of Canada called Nigar’s killing on the grounds of the gurdwara – a Sikh house of worship, where he was president – an “assassination” and urged Ottawa to investigate India’s role. British Columbia police said last month they had identified three suspects, although they have not been released. No arrests have been made.

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Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, which supports Trudeau’s minority government in power, and who is Sikh, said he would leave “no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice, including holding Narendra Modi accountable.”

Relations between India and Canada have long been tense, as have the personal relations between their prime ministers. New Delhi accused Ottawa in 2020 of interfering after Trudeau spoke out in favor of protesting farmers who forced Modi to abandon a planned sweeping overhaul of the farm law. The two countries halted talks on a planned free trade agreement last week.

Canada is home to approximately 800,000 Sikhs, many of whom live in Surrey and in Brampton, a suburb of Toronto. Some Sikh Canadians support the Khalistan independence movement, which seeks to create a sovereign state in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

The Indian government condemns the movement and has long accused Canada of harboring Sikh separatists, whom it described on Tuesday as “Khalistani terrorists and extremists” who “continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“The fact that Canadian political figures have publicly expressed sympathy for such elements remains deeply concerning,” New Delhi said.

Pro-Khalistan protests in Canada and elsewhere this year have angered Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, with supporters of the movement attacking New Delhi’s diplomatic missions in San Francisco and London.

In July, India summoned Canada’s High Commissioner in New Delhi after protesters held a “Khalistan Freedom March” in Toronto and made threats against Indian diplomats whom they accused of involvement in Najjar’s death.

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Additional reporting from Lucy Fisher in London