India says murdering separatists abroad is ‘not our policy’ amid Canada row

India has told Canada that it was not the government’s “policy” to be involved in acts such as the assassination of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar on foreign soil.

Ties between India and Canada plummeted after prime minister Justin Trudeau accused New Delhi of involvement in the killing of the Canadian national.

Nijjar – a designated terrorist in India – was killed in Surrey on 18 June by two masked men, who fired an estimated 30 to 50 shots at him. He has been linked to the secessionist Khalistan movement, which calls for a separate homeland for the Sikh religious community to be carved out of India's Punjab state.

Mr Trudeau has repeatedly asked India for cooperation in the investigation, but India has rejected the allegations as "absurd" and "motivated".

When asked about the allegations at a Council on Foreign Relations event in New York, foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar detailed India's response.

"We told the Canadians that this is not the government of India's policy," Mr Jaishankar said.

"Second, we told the Canadians that ‘look, if you have something specific let us know we are open to looking at it’."

India responded to Ottawa's allegations by suspending visa services in all categories for Canadian nationals citing “security threats” to its consulates. Each country expelled one senior diplomat from the other in a tit-for-tat move.

“If somebody gives me something specific, it doesn’t have to be restricted to Canada. But if there’s any incident which is an issue and somebody gives me something specific, as a government, I would look at it,” the minister added.

The Indian flag is torn during a protest in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (REUTERS)
The Indian flag is torn during a protest in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (REUTERS)

Canada also urged its citizens to “remain vigilant and exercise caution” due to a rise in "some negative sentiment towards Canada on social media".

Mr Jaishankar said India had been "badgering the Canadians" about its claims that organised criminals are based in the Western nation. Canada is home to 770,000 Sikhs – the highest population from the religion outside the state of Punjab in India.

"In the last few years, Canada actually has seen a lot of organised crime, relating to the secessionist forces, organised crime, violence and extremism. They're all very, very deeply mixed up. So in fact, we have been talking about specifics and information," the foreign minister said.

He said India had made a large number of "extradition requests" and identified "terrorist leaders".

"Our concern is that it's really been very permissive, because of political reasons. So we have a situation where our diplomats are threatened, our consulates have been attacked... A lot of this is often justified, as saying that's how democracies work.”

In recent months Sikh protesters pulled down the Indian flag at the country’s High Commission in London and smashed the building’s window in a show of anger against the move to arrest another Sikh leader. Protesters also smashed windows at the Indian consulate in San Francisco and clashed with embassy workers.