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Canada’s prime minister has said there are “credible allegations” that India’s government was involved in the fatal shooting of a prominent Sikh leader in British Columbia.
Justin Trudeau’s accusations triggered a hostile response from New Delhi and a round of diplomatic expulsions, deepening a rift between the two G20 countries.
Citing intelligence from national security services, Trudeau on Monday told members of parliament that Canadian authorities were investigating whether “agents” of New Delhi were behind the June killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver with a large Sikh community.
“Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen,” Trudeau said. “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”
Trudeau told parliament he raised the allegations with India’s prime minister Narendra Modi during a meeting in New Delhi last week during the G20 summit.
A top Indian diplomat was expelled from Canada on Monday, said Mélanie Joly, the country’s foreign minister. “We will protect Canadians at all times,” Joly told reporters. “We expect India’s full collaboration to get to the bottom of this.”
India’s government on Tuesday dismissed Trudeau’s statement and Joly’s remarks, as “absurd and motivated”.
“Similar allegations were made by the Canadian Prime Minister to our Prime Minister, and were completely rejected,” India’s ministry of external affairs said in a statement. “We are a democratic polity with a strong commitment to rule of law.”
The Indian government also said it had asked a senior Canadian diplomat to leave the country. “The decision reflects [the] government of India’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities,” New Delhi said.
Ties between India and Canada have long been strained, as have personal relations between their two prime ministers. New Delhi in 2020 accused Ottawa of interference after Trudeau spoke up in favour of protesting farmers who forced Modi to abandon a planned overhaul of agriculture law. The two countries paused talks on a planned free trade agreement last week.
Canada is home to nearly 800,000 Sikhs, many of whom live in Surrey and Brampton, a suburb of Toronto. Some Sikh Canadians support the Khalistan independence movement, which seeks to create a sovereign state in India’s northern Punjab state.
India’s government condemns the movement and has long accused Canada of harbouring Sikh separatists, whom it described on Tuesday as “Khalistani terrorists and extremists” who “continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
“That Canadian political figures have openly expressed sympathy for such elements remains a matter of deep concern,” New Delhi said.
India’s government had accused Nijjar, a Sikh nationalist, of terrorism and posted bounties for his arrest. In 2016, Nijjar wrote a letter to Trudeau that called New Delhi’s allegations baseless and said his activism was “peaceful, democratic and protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”.
The World Sikh Organization of Canada called Nijjar’s killing on the grounds of the gurdwara — a Sikh house of worship, where he was president — an “assassination” and urged Ottawa to investigate India’s role. British Columbia police said last month that it had identified three suspects, though they were not identified. No arrests have been made.
Jagmeet Singh, the leader of Canada’s New Democratic party and a Sikh, said on X, formerly Twitter, that he would leave “no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice, including holding Narendra Modi accountable”.
Pro-Khalistan protests in Canada and elsewhere this year have infuriated Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, with supporters of the movement attacking New Delhi’s diplomatic missions in San Francisco and London.
In July, India summoned Canada’s high commissioner in New Delhi after protesters organised a “Khalistan freedom rally” in Toronto and made threats against Indian diplomats whom they accused of involvement in Nijjar’s death.