India’s visa processing center in Canada suspended services on Thursday as the rift widened between the two countries after Canada’s leader said India may have been involved in the k*****g of a Canadian citizen.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Parliament on Monday that there were “credible allegations” that India was involved in the a*sa*sination of Sikh independence activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, wanted by India for years and shot dead in June in front of the temple he led.
Canada also expelled an Indian diplomat, and India followed suit by expelling a Canadian diplomat on Tuesday. He called the allegations being investigated in Canada absurd and an attempt to distract from the presence of Nijjar and other wanted suspects in Canada.
“Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, effective September 21, Indian visa services have been suspended until further notice,” said Indian Visa Application Center BLS in Canada. He gave no further details. BLS is the agency that processes visa applications for India.
India’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment.
The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi said all of its consulates in India are open and continuing to provide services, but staff safety is being a*sessed.
“In light of the current context where tensions have increased, we are taking measures to ensure the safety of our diplomats. As some diplomats have received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada is currently a*sessing its staffing levels in India,” he said in a statement.
He said Canada expects India to ensure the security of its diplomats and consular officers under the Vienna conventions.
In 2021, 80,000 Canadian tourists visited India, making it the fourth largest group, according to the Indian Bureau of Immigration.
India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an updated travel advisory on Wednesday urging its citizens traveling to Canada, and particularly those studying in the North American country, to exercise caution due to “increasing anti-Indian activities and politically condoned hate crimes.”
Indians should also avoid traveling to places in Canada where “threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community who oppose the anti-Indian agenda,” the ministry said.
Nijjar was working to organize an unofficial referendum among the Sikh diaspora on Indian independence at the time of his a*sa*sination. He had denied India’s accusation that he was a terrorist.
The second stage of the vote in British Columbia on whether to establish a Sikh territory in the Indian province of Punjab is scheduled to take place on October 29.
In fashion now
The Vancouver Police Department increased security outside the Indian consulate after Trudeau’s announcement this week.
Const. Tania Visintin, Vancouver police media relations manager, said in a statement Wednesday that police are “closely monitoring the situation.”
“We do important work behind the scenes, which includes ongoing risk a*sessments, with the goal of maintaining public safety and preventing violence,” Visintin said in an emailed statement.
Visintin said Vancouver police were not aware of any specific threats against Indian consular officials, but had increased their presence at the consulate in downtown Vancouver.
Demands for an independent Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan, began with an insurgency in the Indian state of Punjab in the 1970s, which was crushed by an Indian government crackdown that k**led thousands. The movement has since lost much of its political power, but it still has supporters in Punjab, where Sikhs form a majority, as well as among the large overseas Sikh diaspora.
India’s National Investigation Agency said on Wednesday it had intensified its crackdown on Sikh insurgents operating in India.
It announced rewards of up to 1 million rupees ($16,240 Canadian) for information leading to the arrest of five insurgents, one of whom is believed to be based in neighboring Pakistan.
The agency accuses them of extorting money from companies on behalf of a banned Sikh organization, Babbar Khalsa International, and of carrying out targeted k*****gs in India. “They have also established a network of agents in various countries to continue their terrorist activities in India,” it said in a statement, without naming any country.
India accuses Pakistan of supporting insurgencies in Kashmir and Punjab, an accusation Islamabad denies.
© 2023 The Canadian Press