In wake of the diplomatic dispute stemming from the assassination of a Sikh separatist leader, Canada has revised its travel advisory for India to encompass alerts regarding protests and "negative sentiments" directed toward the country on social media. The advisory message read, "Please remain vigilant and exercise caution."
A contentious claim from Canada, suggesting possible involvement of the Indian government in the assassination of a Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, has ignited a major diplomatic dispute, leading to a sharp decline in relations between the two nations.
The sequence of events began last week when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asserted that country’s intelligence agencies were investigating “credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar." Responding to this, India's Ministry of External Affairs outrightly denied Trudeau’s accusation, calling it “absurd and motivated”.
Later, Trudeau doubled down on the allegations, saying that Canada wasn’t trying to “provoke” India or “escalate” the situation. According to him, they were “simply laying out the facts,” adding that his government will “follow the evidence and make sure that the work is done to hold people to account”.
BOOM explains how the issue has unfolded since then.
The recent developments from both the ends are emblematic of the worsening diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Senior diplomats expelled-
Closely following the act of making allegations and denying them, Canada and India both took prompt actions by reciprocally expelling senior diplomats of each other's country. Canada took the first step, expelling an Indian diplomat posted in Ottawa. India responded by expelling a Canadian diplomat based in New Delhi.
Resistance from Sikh communities in Canada-
Following Trudeau’s comments, two Sikh community groups in Canada – the British Columbia Gurdwaras Council and Ontario Gurdwaras Committee – urged the Canadian government to “immediately suspend all intelligence, investigative and prosecutorial cooperation with India.”
In a joint statement, the groups stated, “Canada’s comprehensive response must reflect the gravity of India’s role in the premeditated murder of a Sikh dissident living in Canada.”
Government of India issues advisory-
On Wednesday, the central government issued a cautionary advisory for Indian nationals and students residing in Canada. Highlighting the "rising instances of anti-India activities, politically-sanctioned hate crimes, and criminal violence in Canada", the advisory urged all individuals currently there or planning to travel to exercise the utmost caution.
It read, “Recently, threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community who oppose the anti-India agenda”. It further said that India's High Commission or Consulates General will continue to be in contact with the Canadian authorities to ensure the safety and well being of the Indian community in Canada.
India suspends visa services in Canada-
Widening the diplomatic row between New Delhi and Ottawa, India on Thursday suspended visa processing services in Canada. Elaborating on the reason for the same, the ministry of external affairs said, “The issue is the incitement of violence, inaction by Canadian authorities and the creation of an environment that disrupts the functioning of our consulates which is what is making us stop temporarily the issuance of visa services. We will review this situation on a regular basis."
India has halted all visa services for citizens of Canada, except those with existing visas. Only those who have valid visas and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) are free to travel to India. The ruling also extends to those Canadian citizens who live in any other country.
The MEA has clarified that there are no curbs on Indian citizens, whether students or otherwise, travelling to India from Canada.
Global reactions on the issue
The ongoing tension between India and Canada has triggered global reactions. Australia, US and Britain, each of which countries has a sizable Sikh population, have issued statements that indicated some support for Trudeau’s decision of making his concerns public.
The White House is “deeply concerned” about the allegations. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said, “We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada's investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice."
Britain Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesperson said that the country is in close touch with Canada about the "serious allegations" but they will not have an impact on trade talks with India.
The spokesperson said, "When we have concerns about countries we are negotiating trade deals with, we will raise them directly with the government concerned. But with regards to the current negotiations with India, these are negotiations about a trade deal, and we're not looking to conflate them with other issues."
Penny Wong, Australia's foreign minister, expressed her country's concerns upon learning of the allegations and mentioned that Australia had conveyed these concerns to India. The official statement from the country read, “The Indian diaspora are valued and important contributors to our vibrant and resilient multicultural society, where all Australians can peacefully and safely express their views.”
What do we know about Harshdeep Singh Nijjar?
Nijjar was a Sikh separatist leader and the chief of the separatist organisation Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF). Khalistan is the proposed name of the region Sikh state separatist groups want to create in Punjab, which spans both in India and Pakistan. The Khalistani Movement supports this idea of a separate Sikh homeland.
The KTF leader, who was declared 'terrorist' in India in 2020, was murdered on the evening of June 18 in the Vancouver city of Surrey, Canada. He was shot by two masked assailants while leaving the temple, Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, where he served as the president.
Nijjar's death and the Khalistani movement remains at the centre of the deteriorating relations between India and Canada. As Trudeau made grave allegations against India in the House of Commons, on Monday, he said, “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty."
Editor's note- The story has been updated to reflect the latest development in light of the India-Canada row.
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