NEW DELHI — Canada has expelled a top Indian diplomat amid an investigation into what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called credible allegations that his government may have had links to the Canadian killing of a Sikh activist, a an accusation that India rejected as “absurd”.
Trudeau told Parliament on Monday that Canadian intelligence agencies were investigating allegations after Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a staunch supporter of an independent Sikh homeland known as Khalistan, was shot dead on June 18 outside a center Sikh culture in Surrey, Great Britain. Colombia.
Trudeau told Parliament he raised the killing with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 last week. He said he told Modi that any involvement by the Indian government would be unacceptable and requested his cooperation in the investigation.
Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said the head of Indian intelligence in Canada was expelled as a result.
“If this turns out to be true, it would constitute a serious violation of our sovereignty and the most fundamental rule on how countries deal with each other,” Joly said. “As a result, we expelled a senior Indian diplomat.”
Tuesday. India’s foreign ministry issued a statement rejecting the allegations, calling them “absurd and motivated.” The ministry added that Trudeau made similar allegations to Modi during the recent G20 summit. .
“Such unsubstantiated allegations are aimed at diverting attention from Khalistan terrorists and extremists, who have taken refuge in Canada and continue to threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India,” the statement noted, adding that the India is concerned about the inaction of the Canadian government.
The expulsion comes amid strained relations between Canada and India. Trade negotiations have been derailed and Canada has just canceled a trade mission to India planned for the fall.
At the G20 meeting, Modi expressed “strong concerns” about Canada’s handling of the Punjabi independence movement among overseas Sikhs during a meeting with Trudeau at the G20, according to a statement released by the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The statement described the Sikh movement as “promoting secessionism and inciting violence” against Indian diplomats. He called on Canada to work with India on what New Delhi sees as a threat to the Canadian Indian diaspora.
Canada has a Sikh population of more than 770,000 people, approximately 2% of its total population.
“In recent weeks, Canadian security agencies have actively pursued credible allegations regarding a potential link between Indian government agents and the murder of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau said Canada had expressed its deep concerns to the Indian government. “Any involvement by a foreign government in the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil constitutes an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. »
Trudeau said his government was working closely and in coordination with Canada’s allies on the matter.
“In the strongest possible terms, I continue to urge the Indian government to cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter,” he said.
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Canada’s national security adviser and Canada’s spy chief traveled to India to meet their counterparts and confront Indian intelligence agencies about the allegations.
He spoke of an active homicide investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Joly said Trudeau also raised the issue with U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
“We are deeply concerned by the allegations raised by Prime Minister Trudeau,” said Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council. “We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is essential that Canada’s investigation continues and that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
Joly also said she would raise the issue with her G7 peers on Monday evening in New York, ahead of the United Nations General Assembly.
Opposition New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, who is himself Sikh, called it outrageous and shocking. Singh said he grew up hearing stories that challenging India’s human rights record could prevent you from getting a visa to travel there.
“But hearing the Prime Minister of Canada corroborate a potential link between the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil by a foreign government is something I could never have imagined,” Singh said.
The Khalistan movement is banned in India, where authorities consider it and groups affiliated with it a threat to national security. But the movement still enjoys some support in northern India, as well as beyond, in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom, which are home to a large Sikh diaspora.
Nijjar was organizing an unofficial referendum in India for an independent Sikh state at the time of his death. Indian authorities announced a cash reward last year for information leading to Nijjar’s arrest, accusing him of being involved in an alleged attack on a Hindu priest in India.
British Columbia Premier David Eby said he received a briefing from Canada’s spy agency about Nijjar’s “assassination” and was “deeply troubled” by it. which had been said to him.
He said he was calling on the Canadian government to share all information related to continued foreign interference and “threats from transnational organized crime.”
The World Sikh Organization of Canada called Nijjar a staunch supporter of Khalistan who “has often led peaceful protests against human rights violations actively taking place in India and in support of Khalistan.”
“Nijjar had spoken publicly for months about the threat to his life and said he was the target of Indian intelligence agencies,” the statement said.
Nijjar’s New York-based lawyer, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, said Nijjar was warned by Canadian intelligence that he was a target for assassinations by “mercenaries” before he was shot.
Janice Stein, a political scientist and international relations expert at the University of Toronto, said killing a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil was stunning.
“It’s tragic for Canada because we face issues of foreign interference in Asia’s two largest economies, China and India. And we have two very large diasporas from both countries. That’s not what we want,” Stein said.
Indian authorities have suppressed Sikh separatism over the years, after an armed insurgency in the 1980s for an independent Sikh state called Khalistan took off in the state of Punjab. It triggered a controversial military operation by the Indian government that killed thousands of people, according to official estimates.
Associated Press reporter Aamer Madhani contributed to this report from New York.