Canada-India ties hit a new low as the two countries exchanged accusations and engaged in tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions over the assassination of Canada’s prominent Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil some four months ago.
Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Friday there was a “climate of violence” and an “atmosphere of intimidation” against Indian diplomats in Canada.
“Because there is freedom of speech, to make threats and intimidate diplomats, I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Jaishankar said on Friday evening in Washington.
Earlier in September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an explosive statement in the House of Commons that his government was pursuing “credible allegations” from Canadian intelligence against New Delhi for playing a role in the assassination of Nijjar.
The Sikh Canadian leader had been a prominent advocate of the Khalistan movement, which seeks to establish a separate homeland for the Sikh community in India’s northwestern Punjab region.
Shortly after Trudeau’s remarks, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly announced the dismissal of Pavan Kumar Rai, a senior Indian diplomat in Canada, for his alleged involvement in the killing of the Sikh leader in the Canadian Province of British Columbia.
In response, India’s External Affairs Ministry flatly rejected the Canadian claims, expelling Olivier Sylvestere, a senior Canadian diplomat based in New Delhi.
“We have seen and rejected the statement of the Canadian Prime Minister in their Parliament, and also the statement by their Foreign Minister. Allegations of Government of India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated,” said the Indian ministry in its statement.
Canada is home to about 770,000 Sikhs, the highest population outside India’s Punjab region, and the Indian government has for decades expressed its displeasure with some community members’ outspoken support for Khalistan.
Amid claims and counter-claims from Canada and India, both countries have issued travel advisories urging their citizens to “exercise utmost caution” while traveling to some regions in the other country.
Furthermore, India’s visa processing center in Canada suspended services and the Canadian Foreign Ministry said it would reduce diplomatic staff in India.
The growing animosity between Canada and India will have ramifications for the development of their bilateral ties, said observers in Canada and India.
India has been the major source of international students to Canada, with Indians making up about 40 percent of all overseas students, a major source of income for the educational sector.
“The way the last few days have played out will be remembered as possibly the lowest point in relations between Canada and India. The latest incident will have, obviously, wider ramifications in their overall bilateral relationship. For example, the proposed trade talks between Canada and India have become uncertain for now,” Bhanu Bhakta Acharya, an adjunct professor of media studies at the University of Ottawa, told Xinhua in an interview.
“At a time when a major global geopolitical reordering is underway, Canada and India, which have no major clash of strategic interest, should be close partners. Indeed, their shared goals, including universal adherence to international law, make them natural allies,” Brahma Chellaney, a professor of Strategic Studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, said in an opinion piece in Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.