Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of assassinating a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil in June.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of assassinating a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil in June. The shocking claims of a state-sponsored murder plot escalated tensions between Canada and India and sparked a full-blown diplomatic crisis.
- Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” that agents of the Indian government murdered a prominent Sikh Canadian who was wanted by Indian authorities but has not yet provided evidence to substantiate his claims.
- Two masked gunmen shot and killed Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside of a Sikh cultural center in British Columbia on June 18. Nijjar was a prominent leader in the Khalistan movement to create an independent Sikh homeland in India’s disputed Punjab region. The Indian government labeled him a “terrorist,” charges he vehemently denied before his assassination.
- Trudeau told Parliament that he brought up the murder with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 meeting last week and reiterated that any Indian involvement in the murder would be “unacceptable.” Modi said in a statement that he expressed “strong concerns” to Trudeau about the Sikh independence movement’s presence in Canada.
- Canada-India tensions were high at the G20 earlier this month. Canada announced it would suspend trade deal negotiations without explaining why, and Modi snubbed Trudeau and refused to hold a bilateral meeting with him. Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly pledged to bring up India’s actions in meetings with allies at the UN General Assembly this week.
- Canada kicked out an Indian diplomat that they identified as India’s top intelligence leader in their country. Modi’s government rejected the assassination allegations, calling them “absurd,” and expelled a Canadian diplomat in response. Both sides announced they’d freeze any talks of a bilateral trade deal.
- The Indian government then issued a travel warning to its citizens. “In view of growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada, all Indian nationals there and those contemplating travel are urged to exercise utmost caution,” the Indian government warned
- A senior Canadian government official told Reuters that Ottawa worked closely with Washington on the intelligence that pointed to Indian agents as the culprits behind Nijjar’s assassination.
- US officials confirmed this statement on background to Reuters, with an official telling reporters, “We have been in close contact with our Canadian colleagues about this. We’re quite concerned about the allegations. We think it’s important there is a full and open investigation and we would urge the Indian Government to cooperate with that investigation.”
- However, Washington refused a request from Ottawa to publicly condemn the assassination. The Biden administration has been working to strengthen ties with India to counter China and condemning India would upset that delicate courtship. Both then-President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden have previously held back from scolding Modi on other human rights concerns as part of this dynamic.
- The Sikh independence movement was responsible for an armed insurgency that destabilized India in the 1970s and 1980s. A 1984 military raid on Sikhism’s holiest shrine killed hundreds of people and led directly to the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in retribution.
- Anti-Sikh riots broke out across India, leading to the lynching of hundreds of Sikhs. The Sikh insurgency was eventually crushed in a major security crackdown that killed thousands of people. Modi’s government has targeted non-Hindu minorities like Sikhs within India and put pressure on the governments of Canada, Australia, the US and the UK to crack down on Sikh “terrorists and extremists.”
- The New York Times covered how tensions between two key US allies has left President Biden stuck in “an awkward position.” Biden “has soft-pedaled any criticism of the increasing suppression of minority groups and opposition voices in India and the encouragement of Hindu nationalism under Mr. Modi. Mr. Biden insisted both in June and this month that he had raised human rights with Mr. Modi in private, but devoted only a passing reference to it in public appearances.”
- The Washington Post explained how Canada became entangled in India’s conflict with Sikh separatist groups. Canada features the largest population of Sikhs outside of India. Canada actually has a higher proportion of Sikhs in its population (2.1%) than India does (1.7%).
- Time offered an overview on “how Canada-India relations crumbled.” Ties between the two democracies and former British colonies have “slowly deteriorated in recent years over claims from India that Canada has fostered sympathy toward a Sikh separatist movement, and counter-claims from Canada accusing Indian officials of interfering in its domestic politics.”
- Fox News covered the responses from the leaders of Canada’s main parties. The allegations “represent an outrageous affront to Canada’s sovereignty,” Conservative opposition leader Pierre Pollievre said in a statement. “Canadians deserve to be protected on Canadian soil.” Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the left-wing New Democratic Party and the first Sikh party leader in Canadian history, posted on X: “To all Canadians, this is my vow. I will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice, including holding Narendra Modi accountable.”
- The Wall Street Journal reported the head of Canadian intelligence and the national security adviser traveled to India before the G20 summit to share their findings directly with their Indian counterparts. Vincent Rigby, a former Canadian national security adviser, said this indicates Canada “clearly has something.” Rigby continued, “You don’t send the chief spy to India on a hunch or a gut feeling.”
- According to the Globe and Mail, “Sikh and Muslim leaders are calling on Canadian authorities to do more to protect citizens under threat from foreign actors after the allegation that a Canadian Sikh leader’s death was linked to agents of the Indian government. World Sikh Organization board member Mukhbir Singh said while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s revelation on Monday regarding the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar may have shocked many Canadians, it was not a surprise to the Sikh community.”
© Dominic Moore, 2023