In a move attributed to “security threats,” India has temporarily halted visa services at its missions in Canada. These tensions escalated after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that India might have been involved in the killing of a prominent Sikh separatist leader on June 18. Despite this assertion, Trudeau emphasized that he had no intention of provoking India with the allegation.
India vehemently rejected this allegation, deeming it “absurd.” Speaking from the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Trudeau acknowledged India’s growing significance as a partner but emphasized the importance of the rule of law and protecting Canadians.
Prime Minister Trudeau was in India for a few days recently during his visit to attend the G20 Summit. Nonetheless, relations between these key trade and security partners, both allies of the United States, have been strained for months and are now at an all-time low.
India’s government clarified that the suspension of visa services extends to Canadians in other countries as well. A spokesperson from India’s foreign affairs ministry explained that threats made to their high commission and consulates in Canada disrupted their normal operations, rendering them temporarily unable to process visa applications. India is seeking diplomatic parity with Canada, citing alleged Canadian interference in its internal affairs as the reason.
Canada responded to the escalating tensions by reducing its personnel in India, citing threats received by some diplomats on social media. Despite these diplomatic tensions, Canada’s visa services in India remain operational.
The relationship between India and Canada holds immense importance. This is something that the two Prime Ministers highlighted while Trudeau was stranded in the country. Canada has a substantial population of Indian origin, with over 1.4 million people, predominantly Sikhs, comprising 3.7% of the country’s population. India also sends a significant number of international students to Canada, accounting for 40% of total overseas students in 2022.
The dispute erupted when Canada linked India to the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen shot dead in British Columbia. Prime Minister Trudeau revealed that Canada’s intelligence agencies were investigating the potential involvement of “agents of the government of India” in Nijjar’s killing, despite India designating him as a terrorist in 2020.
In response, India accused Canada of attempting to divert attention from Khalistani terrorists and extremists who have found refuge in Canada. The Indian government has consistently reacted strongly to demands by Sikh separatists in Western countries for Khalistan, a separate Sikh homeland.
Prime Minister Trudeau, under pressure from journalists, did not provide additional evidence linking India to the murder but emphasized that the decision to share these allegations was made with the utmost seriousness. He called on Indian officials to cooperate with the investigation.
Despite the allegations, Canada has not shared specific information about Nijjar’s murder with India. India’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, confirmed their willingness to consider any specific information provided by Canada but stated that they had not yet received such information.
The Khalistan movement, centered in Sikh-majority Punjab state, experienced its peak in India during the 1980s. While it has lost momentum within India, it remains popular among some members of the Sikh diaspora in countries like Canada, Australia, and the UK.