India has expelled one of Canada’s most senior diplomats as claims over the killing of a Sikh separatist leader exploded into a furious tit-for-tat row.
Justin Trudeau, in a surprise statement to the Canadian parliament, said on Monday that his country has “credible” intelligence to believe New Delhi played a role in the shooting of Nijjar by two masked men outside a gurdwara where he led prayers in Surrey, British Columbia.
Canada’s foreign minister Melanie Joly announced the country had expelled a senior Indian diplomat working for India’s intelligence agency RAW.
On Tuesday morning India denied any role in Nijjar’s death and, in a tit-for-tat move, expelled a senior Canadian diplomat. India’s foreign ministry said the diplomat had five days to leave the country. Images have shown Indian police officials securing the premises around the Canadian embassy in Delhi.
Canadian public service broadcaster CBC News quoted a senior government source as saying that Mr Trudeau has provided information about the Nijjar case to Canada’s key allies including British prime minister Rishi Sunak, French president Emmanuel Macron and US president Joe Biden.
Canada’s foreign minister Ms Joly also said she will discuss the assassination claims with her fellow G7 counterparts during meetings this week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
— ANI (@ANI) September 19, 2023
Mr Trudeau told parliament that Canada’s national security apparatus had reason enough to believe “agents of the Indian government” carried out Nijjar’s killing.
“Canada has declared its deep concerns to the top intelligence and security officials of the Indian government,” Mr Trudeau said.
Mr Trudeau said he had “personally and directly” raised the matter with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Delhi for the G20 summit last weekend. What was already a diplomatically awkward trip was unexpectedly extended by two days after Mr Trudeau’s official aircraft broke down.
In a statement on Tuesday morning, India’s foreign ministry confirmed that “similar allegations” of the country’s alleged involvement in Nijjar’s killing “were made by the Canadian prime minister to our prime minister, and were completely rejected”.
“Allegations of government of India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated. We are a democratic polity with a strong commitment to rule of law,” the statement said.
It also defended the tit-for-tat expulsion of a senior Canadian diplomat. The move reflects “India’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities”, it said.
Nijjar – who advocated for a Sikh homeland through the establishment of an independent Khalistan state – had been labelled a “terrorist” by the Indian government and accused of heading a militant separatist organisation, allegations vehemently denied by his supporters.
The World Sikh Organisation of Canada (WSO), a representative body for Sikh interests, reported that Nijjar had expressed concerns about “threats to his life” prior to his murder. The WSO said Nijjar had also claimed he was being singled out by India’s intelligence agencies.
In a statement, the WSO alleged that “several other Canadian Sikhs are also understood to be under threat” and are on Indian “hit lists”.
“The significance of today’s announcement cannot be understated for Sikhs. Today, the prime minister of Canada has publicly said what Sikhs in Canada have known for decades – India actively targets Sikhs in Canada,” it said.
Jagmeet Singh, who heads Canada’s New Democratic Party, criticised the Narendra-Modi-led Indian government for being “one of division, violence, persecution” with a known pattern of “attacking those who are critical” of its actions, according to local media.
“Today we learned of allegations that agents of the Indian Government murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar – a Canadian killed on Canadian soil. To all Canadians, this is my vow. I will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice, including holding Narendra Modi accountable,” he wrote on social media.
Today we learned of allegations that agents of the Indian Government murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar — a Canadian killed on Canadian soil.
To all Canadians, this is my vow.
I will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice, including holding Narendra Modi accountable.
— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) September 18, 2023
Mr Singh suggested a public inquiry into foreign interference, initiated due to accusations of Chinese interference, should also look at India and its activities within Canada.