India denies link to murder of B.C. Sikh leader, expels Canadian diplomat

The Indian government has rejected what it calls “absurd” allegations that it was behind the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a British Columbia Sikh leader, and is expelling a Canadian diplomat in return.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the explosive allegation in the House of Commons on Monday, saying Canadian intelligence agencies had “credible” evidence that agents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government played a role in the June k*****g of Nijjar, 45 years old.

“In recent weeks, Canadian security agencies have actively pursued credible allegations regarding a potential link between Indian government agents and the murder of a Canadian citizen,” Trudeau said.

“Any involvement by a foreign government in the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil constitutes an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. This is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves.

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The Indian government on Tuesday rejected allegations of involvement in Nijjar’s death, calling them “absurd and motivated.”

“Such unsubstantiated allegations are aimed at diverting attention from Khalistan terrorists and extremists, who have taken refuge in Canada and continue to threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said in a press release.

Additionally, India’s foreign ministry said an unnamed senior Canadian diplomat had been asked to leave India within the next five days.

“The decision reflects the Indian government’s growing concern over interference by Canadian diplomats in our internal affairs,” he said.

Nijjar was k**led in the parking lot of his gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18.

While leaders of Canada’s Sikh community have insisted the Indian government was involved, police have previously said they have made no connection to foreign interference.

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Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc raised foreign interference among their concerns during a news conference discussing the allegations Monday.

“This would constitute a serious violation of our sovereignty and the most fundamental rule governing relations between countries. We have been clear: we will not tolerate any form of foreign interference,” Joly said.

“Judge Hogue’s mandate allows him to follow the evidence,” LeBlanc added, referring to the commissioner who is now leading an investigation into foreign interference.

“We a*sume that she and the security agencies will take steps to ensure that her investigation also examines the ways in which India interferes in Canada.”

The move comes after Joly said earlier Monday that Canada was expelling Indian Pavan Kumar Rai, whom his ministry lists in its public registry as a diplomatic agent who heads an Indian intelligence agency based in Ottawa.

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India had issued an arrest warrant for Nijjar over his advocacy for a separate Sikh state in India’s Punjab region, which activists call Khalistan.

His death in June sent shockwaves through Metro Vancouver and Canada’s Sikh community, with thousands attending his funeral later in the week. Community members pledged to protest Indian consulate offices across the country on Monday in response to Trudeau’s revelation.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who is himself Sikh, called the allegations outrageous and shocking. Singh said he grew up hearing stories that challenging India’s human rights record could prevent you from getting a visa to travel there.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told the House on Monday that if the allegations prove true, they would represent a “scandalous affront” to Canadian sovereignty. He said India must “act with utmost transparency” in the investigation.

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Nijjar, a defender of the Khalistani

Nijjar was not only a leader and defender of the community, but also a Khalistani. The Khalistan movements rose to prominence in the 1980s, but discussions around Sikh sovereignty and Punjab date back to the partition of India in 1947.

India has been battling a movement to establish an independent Sikh since the 1980s, when a raid on separatists at a major temple led to the a*sa*sination of a prime minister and a wave of anti-Sikh violence.

India has long demanded that Canada take action against the Sikh independence movement, which is banned in India but enjoys support in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom that have a large Sikh diaspora.

Canada has a Sikh population of more than 770,000 people, or about two percent of its total population.

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In March, the Modi government summoned the Canadian high commissioner in New Delhi, the country’s top diplomat, to complain about Sikh independence protests in Canada.

In 2020, India’s foreign ministry also summoned the top diplomat following comments made by Trudeau about a farm protest movement a*sociated with the state of Punjab, where many Sikhs live.

Critics accuse Modi’s Hindu nationalist government of seeking to suppress dissidents and activists using sedition laws and other legal weapons.

Some critics of his administration, including intellectuals, activists, filmmakers, students and journalists, have been arrested, creating what Modi’s opponents see as a culture of intimidation.

This allegation adds to strained relations between Canada and India. Trade negotiations have been derailed and Canada has just canceled a trade mission to India planned for the fall.

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Canada’s allies are also involved in this development.

“We are deeply concerned by the allegations raised by Prime Minister Trudeau,” said Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council.

“We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is essential that Canada’s investigation continues and that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

A spokesperson for Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the nation was “closely engaged with partners on developments”.

“We have raised our concerns at higher levels in India,” they said.

Britain said Tuesday it was in close contact with its Canadian partners over the “serious allegations.”

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“We are in close contact with our Canadian partners regarding these serious allegations,” a government spokesperson said.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further during the ongoing investigation by Canadian authorities.”

— with files from The Canadian Press, the Associated Press and Reuters

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