Tensions between Canada and India have grown due to the killing of a Sikh leader who advocated for independence in June. Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has stated that they are looking into serious claims linking Indian government agents to the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. However, India firmly denies these accusations, calling them unreasonable.
India has consistently urged Canada to take action against the Sikh independence movement. This movement is not allowed in India, but it has gained support among the large Sikh communities living abroad, especially in Canada and the U.K.
Now, let’s look at the relationship between these countries.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was born in the district of Jalandhar in the North Indian state of Punjab. In 1997, as a young man, he moved to Canada. There, he got married, had two sons, and worked as a plumber. He settled in the province of British Columbia and became known for his strong support for Khalistan, which is a proposed separate homeland for Sikhs. Sikhs are a religious group that makes up about 2% of India’s population.
India accused Nijjar of being involved in activities it deemed terrorist. He was said to be the “mastermind” behind the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), a banned militant group in India.
At the age of 45, Najjar was fatally shot by two masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple in a Vancouver suburb one summer evening in June this year. Some who were close to him mentioned that Canadian intelligence had warned him about threats to his safety before his death. India has consistently denied any role in his killing and dismissed Trudeau’s claims as baseless. To his supporters, Mr. Nijjar, who became a Canadian citizen in 2007, was seen as a peaceful advocate for Sikh independence in British Columbia, deeply committed to his community. A large memorial has been established for him outside the Surrey Gurdwara, where he served as president. His funeral was attended by hundreds of people.
Recently, there has been a disagreement between Canada and India. This happened shortly after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that they were looking into credible claims about a potential connection between people linked to the Indian government and the unfortunate killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
India’s foreign ministry stated that Canada hasn’t given any specific information to support the idea that India had any part in Nijjar’s passing. They also mentioned that they’ve regularly shared specific evidence of criminal activities by individuals on Canadian soil, but Canadian authorities have taken no action. India’s spokesman, Bagchi, said that they anticipate Canada to decrease its diplomatic representation in the country.
Justin Trudeau urged India to collaborate with Canada and let justice take its course. He emphasized that India is a country of increasing importance and one that Canada needs to work with globally.
Trudeau clarified that Canada isn’t trying to provoke or create trouble but stressed the significance of following the rule of law.
Trudeau’s statement has led to strained relations between the two countries. As a result, both India and Canada have expelled senior diplomats, which might create an uncomfortable division between important partners of the United States.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar strongly supported the idea of establishing a separate Sikh homeland called Khalistan, which would encompass parts of India’s Punjab state.
Despite the tension, Michael Kugelman, from the Wilson Center, believes that the relationship can be repaired. He pointed out that Canada is a major investor in India and has a sizable Indian community. The connections between people from both countries are generally quite strong.
Canada’s claims came after a G20 summit in New Delhi hosted by Indian Prime Minister Modi, where leaders from various countries, including U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Australia’s Anthony Albanese, attended.
These nations, which all have sizable Sikh populations, expressed some support for Canada’s decision to voice their concerns. The White House, through National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson, stated they were “deeply concerned” about the allegations. They emphasized the importance of Canada’s investigations and bringing those responsible to justice.
A spokesperson for Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong also expressed deep concern. They recognized that these reports might be troubling for certain Australian communities. They underlined the value of the Indian diaspora as integral contributors to their diverse and harmonious society.
A spokesperson for the British prime minister acknowledged the importance of Canadian authorities looking into the matter. They refrained from making judgments before the necessary investigative work had taken place.
According to Michael Kugelman, Canada would have conducted a thorough and detailed investigation before making these allegations. They rely on close intelligence ties with countries like the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, which are part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
Kugelman pointed out that Canada’s membership in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance highlights the gravity of these allegations. It suggests that Canada would have conducted a substantial and careful inquiry before making them public.