India rebukes Canada for allowing Sikh rally with float showing Modi in jail

India has reprimanded Canada for allowing a controversial rally in Malton where a tableau showed prime minister Narendra Modi lodged behind bars, deepening the diplomatic rift between the two countries.

New Delhi expressed concern over “violent imagery being used by extremist elements in Canada” against Indian political leaders at the rally led by Sikh secessionistsin Ontario’s Malton area on Sunday.

The religious parade saw slogans and symbols linked to the Khalistan movement, which advocates for an independent homeland for the Sikh minority in India.

It featured banners displaying a map of Khalistan, the name for the proposed homeland, and calling for a referendum on the demand.

The parade also saw a float of Mr Modi dressed in prison garb standing behind bars as hundreds of people raised pro-Khalistan slogans.

India’s relations with Canada have been strained since Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau alleged that Indian government agents were involved in the assassination of a Canadian Sikh last year.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, was shot dead outside a Sikh gurdwara in Surrey, Vancouver, last June. Nijjar was a wanted terrorist in India but a popular campaigner for an independent Sikh homeland in Canada.

India denied the allegation and has frequently traded barbs with Canada since.

“We have repeatedly raised our strong concerns regarding the violent imagery being used by extremist elements in Canada against our political leadership,” Randhir Jaiswal, a spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry, said on Tuesday. “Display of posters of Indian diplomats have also been put out across Canada threatening violence against them.”

“Celebration and glorification of violence should not be a part of any civilized society,” the spokesperson said. “Democratic countries which respect the rule of law should not allow intimidation by radical elements in the name of freedom of expression.”

He expressed concern over the “security of our diplomatic representatives in Canada” and called on Ottawa to stop giving space to “criminal and secessionist elements”.

The latest row came the same day that three Indians charged with Nijjar’s murder appeared in a Canadian court.

Blue and yellow flags of the Khalistan movement (Reuters)
Blue and yellow flags of the Khalistan movement (Reuters)

A group of protesters gathered outside the court and held placards honouring Nijjar and waved the Khalistani flags.

The three suspects – Karan Brar, Karanpreet Singh and Kamalpreet Singh – appeared via a video link, wearing orange jumpsuits, from the prison. They face charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Canadian police said they were probing whether the accused had ties to the Indian government.

Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar said on Saturday that India would wait for Canadian police to share information on the accused.

"One of our concerns which we have been telling them is that, you know, they have allowed organized crime from India, specifically from Punjab, to operate in Canada," Mr Jaishankar said.

The Canadian foreign minister said Ottawa “stands by the allegations” that Indian agents were involved in Nijjar’s assassination.

“Canada’s position has always been clear. Our job is to protect Canadians and we stand by the allegations that a Canadian was killed on Canadian soil by Indian agents,” Melanie Joly told reporters on Wednesday.