India and Canada are involved in a diplomatic sparring match concerning allegations of murder.
India threw the latest punch on Tuesday, expelling a senior Canadian diplomat in retaliation for the expulsion of a head Indian intelligence official in Canada. The two obligatory deportations are connected to allegations that the Indian government may have been involved in assassinating a Canadian Sikh leader in Surrey, British Columbia.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who led a separatist movement to establish a Sikh homeland called Khalistan in India’s Punjab region, was shot to death at a Sikh cultural center on June 18, according to the Associated Press. India had for years accused Nijjar of ties to terrorism and had offered a bounty for information leading to his arrest.
Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, had been active in organizing the Sikh diaspora to vote in a referendum to declare independence from India when he was killed, per the AP.
The Sikh separatist movement is banned in India, which sees the movement as a threat to its sovereignty. The country’s authorities put down an armed Sikh insurgency in the 1980s, an uprising that resulted in the death of thousands, according to the AP.
Further, the current Hindu nationalist government of India has been accused by critics of intimidation of dissidents and suppression of religious minorities, the AP reported.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Parliament that he confronted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Group of 20 summit last week to convey that any Indian government involvement in the slaying was unacceptable and that he expected India’s cooperation in the investigation.
“Over the past number of weeks Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar,” Trudeau said, per the AP.
“In the strongest possible terms I continue to urge the government of India to cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter,” Trudeau added.
India’s government rejected the implication that it had a hand in Nijjar’s killing and accused the Canadian government of trying to deflect from its complicity in Nijjar’s movement.
“Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly warned that as India’s government had been implicated, the expulsion of the Indian official was warranted.
“If proven true this would be a great violation of our sovereignty and of the most basic rule of how countries deal with each other,” Joly said, per the AP. “As a consequence we have expelled a top Indian diplomat.”
Canada has a substantial Sikh population of more than 770,000, or 2% of the country’s population, according to the AP. Canada’s parliamentary opposition New Democrat Party is led by Jagmeet Singh, who is himself Sikh. Singh said he had long heard that criticizing India’s human rights record might keep a person from being able to travel to the country, but the current accusations are a complete shock.
“But to hear the prime minister of Canada corroborate a potential link between a murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil by a foreign government is something I could never have imagined,” Singh said, per the AP.
He took to X to promise Nijjar’s killers would be brought to justice, even if the culprits included Modi.
“Today we learned of allegations that agents of the Indian Government murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar — a Canadian killed on Canadian soil. To all Canadians, this is my vow. I will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice, including holding Narendra Modi accountable,” Singh wrote.