OTTAWA, Sept 18 (Reuters) – Canada said on Monday it was “actively pursuing credible allegations” linking Indian government agents to the killing of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia in June, dealing a further blow to relations diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an emergency declaration in the House of Commons that any involvement by a foreign government in the murder of a Canadian citizen was “an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, was shot dead outside a Sikh temple on June 18 in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh population. Nijjar supported a Sikh homeland in the form of an independent state of Khalistan and was designated by India as a “terrorist” in July 2020.
“Canadian security agencies are actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between Indian government agents” and Nijjar’s death, Trudeau said.
He said he raised the killing directly with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi last week, and urged the Indian government to “cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter “.
“Canada has expressed its deep concerns to the Indian government’s top intelligence and security officials. Last week, at the G20, I raised them personally and directly with Prime Minister Modi, in no uncertain terms.” , did he declare.
Canada also expelled the country’s top Indian intelligence agent on Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said, without providing details. The Indian High Commission in Ottawa did not respond to requests for comment.
Trudeau’s comments mark a significant escalation in tensions between Canada and the world’s largest democracy, with New Delhi unhappy with Sikh separatist activities in Canada.
Modi raised serious concerns with Trudeau at the G20 summit over recent protests in Canada by Sikhs calling for an independent state.
Diplomatic tensions now threaten trade relations, with negotiations on a proposed trade deal now frozen. Canada gave few details on the standoff while India cited “certain political developments.”
Bilateral trade in 2022 accounted for just C$13.7 billion ($10.2 billion) out of a total of C$1.52 trillion, according to Statistics Canada.
“We are deeply concerned by the allegations raised by Prime Minister Trudeau earlier today,” U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement released Monday evening.
Trudeau did not directly accuse India of being involved in the killing and Foreign Minister Joly later used more cautious language, saying that “if proven true” the allegations would be unacceptable.
B.C.’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said last month there were three suspects, but no arrests have been made.
Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside its home state of Punjab, India, and the country has been the scene of numerous protests that have angered India.
Canada is also home to one of the largest overseas communities of Indian origin, numbering approximately 1.4 million people out of a total Canadian population of 40 million. Around 770,000 people declared Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census.
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said several senior Canadian government officials had recently visited India to voice Ottawa’s concerns.
In April, India asked Britain for increased surveillance of supporters of a Sikh separatist movement based in the United Kingdom. New Delhi was in disarray after protesters holding “Khalistan” banners took down the Indian flag from the diplomatic mission building in London.
($1 = 1.3487 Canadian dollars)
Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Denny Thomas and Stephen Coates
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