In a dramatic turn of events, India has halted the issuance of visas to Canadian citizens, citing “security threats” that have disrupted its missions in Canada. This decision comes amidst a heated dispute over allegations regarding the killing of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil. While both nations have enjoyed close ties, the current standoff has pushed their relations to an unprecedented low.
The controversy ignited when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that India may have had a role in the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen and separatist leader who was fatally shot outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia on June 18th. This accusation was met with a vehement denial from India, deeming it “absurd.”
Addressing reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Prime Minister Trudeau emphasized the significance of maintaining a working relationship with India. He stressed that Canada’s intention was not to provoke India but underscored the importance of upholding the rule of law and ensuring the safety of Canadian citizens.
The Indian government swiftly extended the suspension of visa services to Canadians in third countries, citing security threats against its diplomatic missions in Canada as the reason. A spokesperson from the Indian foreign affairs ministry in Delhi stated that these threats had disrupted the normal functioning of Indian missions in Canada. Additionally, India sought diplomatic parity and an end to Canadian interference in its internal affairs.
In response to these developments, Canada announced a reduction in its personnel in India, citing threats received on social media by some diplomats. The safety of its diplomats was the primary concern, as tensions continued to escalate.
Canada and India share historical ties, with a significant population of Indian origin in Canada, including over half a million Sikhs. Furthermore, India sends the largest number of international students to Canada, constituting 40% of total overseas students in 2022. Additionally, India is a popular tourist destination for Canadians, with approximately 80,000 Canadian tourists visiting the country in 2021.
The dispute took a public turn when Canada associated India with the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who had been designated a terrorist by India in 2020. India vehemently rejected these allegations, asserting that Canada was attempting to divert attention from Khalistani terrorists and extremists who had found refuge in the country.
Prime Minister Trudeau, when pressed by journalists about the evidence linking India to the murder, did not provide further details but stressed the gravity of the decision to share these allegations. He called upon Indian officials to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into Nijjar’s killing.
In response, the Indian foreign ministry spokesperson expressed that Canada had not shared specific information regarding the murder with India and emphasized India’s willingness to consider any such information provided. The dispute brings to the forefront the complex issue of Khalistan, a movement that gained prominence in India during the 1980s but has waned in recent years. Nevertheless, it remains a topic of interest among certain segments of the Sikh diaspora in countries like Canada, Australia, and the UK.
The Canada-India visa dispute, coupled with allegations related to the Sikh separatist killing, has strained the diplomatic relations between these two nations. As they grapple with these challenges, the importance of dialogue, cooperation, and adherence to the rule of law cannot be overstated. The world watches closely as these two key allies navigate this turbulent period in their relationship.