As the House of Commons reconvened on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau informed Parliament that there were “credible allegations” of a “potential link” between “agents of the Indian government” and the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh leader whom Trudeau describes as a Canadian citizen.
As a result, an Indian diplomat was expelled from Canada.
The man at the center of the diplomatic storm was shot dead in June this year and the investigation into his murder remains open. On June 18, Nijjar, 45, was found suffering from multiple gunshot wounds inside a vehicle outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara just before 8:30 p.m. on June 18.
The RCMP Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) initially searched for two suspects described as “males of heavier build and wearing face coverings.” However, they later said the men were not acting alone.
On Monday, Trudeau confirmed that authorities were investigating links between the murder and people linked to the Indian government.
Here’s what we know so far.
Who is Hardeep Singh Nijjar?
Nijjar, who moved to Canada in February 1997 to become a plumber, was a key figure in the movement for an independent Khalistan – a separate homeland for Sikhs on the Indian subcontinent.
But for the Indian government, he was wanted for allegedly being a “mastermind/active member” of the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), which the Indian government designates as a terrorist group.
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, Nijjar’s friend and fellow Sikh nationalist, told PKBNEWS in June that Nijjar said gang members had warned him that Indian intelligence agents had put a price on his head.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service also told Nijjar it had information that he was “under threat from professional a*sa*sins,” Pannun had said.
The 1980s and early 1990s were marked by armed conflict between the Indian government and Sikh separatists in the northern Sikh-majority state of Punjab. Amid a crackdown on insurgency, Nijjar’s brother was arrested by police in India. In 1995, Nijjar himself was arrested.
He claimed in a sworn statement to immigration officials that he was beaten and tortured to obtain information about his brother. He said he took a bribe, cut his hair and fled.
In 1997, Nijjar arrived in Canada, claiming to have been beaten and tortured by Indian police. In 1998, his request for asylum was refused. According to his immigration records, he used a fraudulent pa*sport that identified him as “Ravi Sharma.”
“I know that my life would be in grave danger if I were to return to my country, India,” he wrote in his affidavit dated June 9, 1998.
His application was rejected and 11 days later Nijjar married a woman from British Columbia who sponsored him to immigrate as her wife.
On his application form, he was asked if he was a*sociated with a group that used or advocated “armed struggle or violence to achieve political, religious, or social goals.”
He replied “no”, but immigration officials considered it a marriage of convenience and rejected Nijjar’s application. Nijjar appealed to the courts and lost in 2001, but he later identified himself as a Canadian citizen.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada declined to comment to PKBNEWS at the time of publication of this report, citing privacy legislation.
Nijjar ran a plumbing business in Surrey, British Columbia, and became a prominent advocate for the creation of Khalistan, a distinct Sikh nation.
He traveled the world and called for a referendum on Khalistan and called for anti-Sikh violence in India to be recognized as “genocide”.
In fashion now
In 2014, a few months after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, took office, Indian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Nijjar. New Delhi has described Nijjar as the “mastermind” of the militant group Khalistan Tiger Force.
He was accused of involvement in the 2007 Punjab cinema bombing. A 2016 Interpol notice against him claimed he was a “key conspirator” in the attack. He was accused of recruitment and fundraising, a charge Nijjar vehemently denied.
After Nijjar was shot, his supporters demonstrated outside the Indian consulate in Vancouver.
“This act of violence was predictable and planned. This is unacceptable to us,” said Jatinder Singh Grewal, director of Sikhs for Justice.
Several people a*sociated with Nijjar said he expressed fear of being targeted and that his life was under threat. Nijjar was reportedly “very vocal” about threats being made “quietly” to him, and other individuals a*sociated with the gurudwara were also subject to threats.
Last week, a referendum Nijjar was working on took place at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurudwara in Surrey, where Nijjar was president. The non-binding, unofficial vote was organized by Sikhs for Justice, a group that advocates for a Khalistani nation.
The group estimates more than 100,000 people attended the vote in Surrey.
What are Canadian leaders saying?
On Monday, the leaders of Canada’s three major parties rose to address the issue in the House of Commons.
“Canada is a state of law,” Trudeau declared in the House of Commons. “Our country, the protection of our citizens and the defense of our sovereignty are fundamental.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told the House that if the allegations prove true, they would represent a “scandalous affront” to Canadian sovereignty. He called on the Indian government to cooperate with “utmost transparency”.
But the most emotional call came from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who is the first Canadian Sikh to lead a major Canadian political party.
Singh, who is barred from traveling to India, spoke in Punjabi in the House.
“All I want to say in Punjabi is all we heard today: We all knew as children that the Indian government commits many atrocities. But we never thought that we would have to face this danger after arriving here in Canada. I want to tell everyone that I’m here,” he said.
“No matter how much strength I have, I will not budge until justice is served in this case. I will not move until every link has been investigated and justice has been served.
With files from Stewart Bell, Elizabeth McSheffrey, Christa Dao, Darrian Mata*sa-Fung of Global