Thursday, February 29, 2024

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    Canada Rejects Indian Travel Advisory Amid Escalating Tensions

    Diplomatic Dispute Erupts as Travel Advisories Reflect Strained Relations

    Canada has firmly rebuffed an Indian travel advisory that urged “utmost caution” when visiting the North American country, adding to the signs of escalating tensions between the two nations.

    On Wednesday, Canadian Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc promptly responded to the travel alert, stating, “Canada is a safe country.” In a reciprocal move, Canada updated its travel information this week, cautioning travelers to exercise a “high degree of caution” when visiting India due to the “threat of terrorist attacks.”

    This tit-for-tat exchange of travel advisories unfolds against the backdrop of a simmering political dispute between Canada and India. The tensions reached new heights when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that officials were investigating “credible allegations of a potential link” between Indian government agents and the June killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

    In its travel advisory issued on Wednesday, India’s foreign ministry did not explicitly reference Trudeau’s remarks. Instead, it expressed concern for the safety of its citizens in Canada due to “politically condoned hate crimes and criminal violence.” The ministry also noted that threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and segments of the Indian community in Canada who oppose what it described as the “anti-India agenda.”

    Trudeau’s announcement of the investigation further exacerbated long-standing tensions between Ottawa and New Delhi regarding the advocacy of Sikhs in Canada who support the creation of an independent Sikh state in India.

    Sikh advocates have claimed they face persecution, surveillance, and ongoing threats under the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while New Delhi has repeatedly accused the separatist movement of plotting violence.

    India has vehemently denied any involvement in Nijjar’s killing, dismissing the suggestion as “absurd.” Nijjar, an activist and business owner, was fatally shot by two masked assailants as he left a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18.

    In an interview with The Canadian Press, Nijjar’s 21-year-old son, Balraj Singh Nijjar, revealed that his father had been regularly meeting with Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers to discuss threats to his life. Balraj Singh Nijjar recalled attending a meeting where his father was advised to “stay at home.”

    Family friends, in media interviews, attested that the late Nijjar peacefully supported the Sikh separatist movement and exercised his right to free speech in Canada. Balraj Singh Nijjar emphasized the need to exert pressure on India and called attention to the importance of addressing the matter. He said, “You can’t just come to a foreign country and kill a citizen who’s speaking against you.”

    The crisis in Canada-India relations extends to Indian authorities designating Nijjar as a “terrorist” in 2020, seeking his arrest on allegations of conspiracy to commit murder. Nijjar had denied these charges, as reported by the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

    However, India has consistently criticized Canada for harboring what it considers Sikh “terrorists and extremists.”

    This acrimony was palpable when Trudeau visited New Delhi earlier this month for the Group of 20 (G20) summit. During a brief sideline meeting at the event, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi confronted Trudeau over Sikh-led protests in Canada, including a parade float depicting a controversial assassination from Indian history.

    In a statement at the time, New Delhi accused the protesters of “promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada.”

    Canada boasts the largest Sikh population outside of India.

    Trudeau has defended his decision to publicly announce the investigation, emphasizing that it followed months of deliberation and consultation with allies. This situation has placed several of Canada’s allies, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, in an awkward position, as they have sought to strengthen ties with India in recent years.

    Both Washington and Canberra expressed “deep concern” over the revelations, while London stated it was “in close touch” with Canadian authorities. On Wednesday, the White House National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson rejected suggestions that the United States sought to downplay the situation or avoid condemning India. Watson asserted that they are closely coordinating and consulting with Canada on the matter and engaging with the Indian government.

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