In a further deterioration of India-Canada relations, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joy on Monday announced that an Indian diplomat has been expelled as Justin Trudeau alleged that the Indian government played a role in the 'killing' of wanted Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
In the Canadian Parliament, Canadian PM Trudeau said that his national security officials had reason to believe that the "agents of the Indian government" were behind the killing of Nijjar, who was gunned down outside a gurdwara in Canada's Surrey on June 18.
"Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the Government of India," Trudeau said in the House of Commons and referred to Nijjar simply as a "Canadian citizen", CBC News reported.
"Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves," he said.
Trudeau also highlighted his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi where he requested India to cooperate with the investigation. "In the strongest possible terms, I continue to urge the Government of India to cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter," said the Canadian PM.?He also said that some Indo-Canadians were feeling 'angry' and 'perhaps frightened' right now.
Soon after Trudeau's announcement, Joly's office said that Pavan Kumar Rai, the head of India's intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in Canada has been expelled as a consequence.
"My expectations are clear. I expect India to fully collaborate with us and get to the bottom of this," she said, adding that the case is being investigated as a possible "breach of sovereignty".
India-Canada relations deteriorate further
The recent remarks made by Trudeau and the expulsion of the Indian diplomat mark the latest development in souring relations between India and Canada. Last week, Canada cancelled a trade mission to India scheduled for October and trade talks between the two countries have been paused.
On the sidelines of the G20 Summit in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed strong concerns to Trudeau over Canada's handling of pro-Khalistani activities, which has resulted in several Hindu temples being vandalised and raised the risk of attacks on India's High Commissioner to Ottawa Sanjay Kumar Verma and Consul General in Toronto Apoorva Srivastava
In a tersely-worded statement, the Ministry of External Affairs said, "They are promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomtic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship. The nexus of such forces with organized crime, drug syndicates and human trafficking should be a concern for Canada as well. It is essential for the two countries to cooperate in dealing with such threats."
During a presser after the meeting with PM Modi, Trudeau said that Canada will "defend freedom of expression and peaceful protests" but will also work on preventing violence and push back against hatred. He also stressed that “the actions of the few do not represent the entire community or Canada”, in regard to the Khalistani community.
It is worth mentioning that pro-Khalistani activities in Canada and the United Kingdom have been highlight several times as a threat to the national security in India. New Delhi had summoned the Canadian envoy in the national capital in July to issue a demarche over the increasing activities by pro-Khalistani elements in Canada.
Now, Nijjar's death is being investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Trudeau has reportedly discussed the issue with US President Joe Biden, his British counterpart Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron.
The death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar
Canada-based pro-Khalistan terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was declared a 'wanted terrorist' by the Indian government, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen at the parking lot of Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in the Punjabi-dominated Surrey city of British Columbia province.
Nijjar was associated with the separatist organisation, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which is banned in India. He had played a key role in organising the Khalistan referendum in Brampton City. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) declared him as an 'individual terrorist' in July 2020.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) said that Nijjar had been proactively involved in recruiting, training, financing and operationalising pro-Khalistan terrorist modules for spreading terror in India. He was involved in giving inflammatory and hateful speeches through social media platforms.?
After his death, a pro-Khalistani poster in Canada sparked outrage in India by calling India's High Commissioner to Ottawa Sanjay Kumar Verma and Consul General in Toronto Apoorva Srivastava as "killers" of the SFJ leader.?India has vehemently denied the claims and asked the Canadian authorities to take appropriate measures in view of planned protests by pro-Khalistan groups outside Indian missions in Canada.
A Hindu temple was vandalised last month, when Khalistani members allegedly put posters of " bogus Khalistani referendums" at the door of Surrey Mandir in British Columbia in order to create fear among the Indian community.?
Canada has a large Sikh population of more than 770,000, or about 2% of its total population.
(with agency inputs)