Canada Ousts Senior Indian Diplomat Amid Inquiry into Sikh Activist’s Assassination; India Refutes Claims

by Michael Nguyen
Diplomatic Tensions between India and Canada


Canada has ejected a high-ranking Indian diplomat as part of an ongoing investigation into credible claims suggesting possible Indian governmental ties to the murder of a Sikh advocate in Canada. India dismissed these claims as “baseless” on Tuesday.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau informed the Parliament on Monday that the country’s intelligence services have been probing these allegations after the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent advocate for Sikh independence, on June 18. The incident took place outside a Sikh cultural facility in Surrey, British Columbia.

Nijjar had been coordinating an unofficial vote in India for the establishment of an autonomous Sikh state when he was killed. Previously, Indian authorities had announced a monetary reward for information leading to Nijjar’s apprehension, alleging his involvement in a purported attack on a Hindu cleric in India.

Although India has officially outlawed the Sikh independence movement, known as Khalistan, it retains a level of support both in northern India and in countries with significant Sikh populations, such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

In a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the recent G20 summit, Trudeau conveyed that any involvement of the Indian government in the assassination would be wholly unacceptable. Trudeau also requested Indian cooperation in the investigation.

“Direct participation of any foreign government in the assassination of a Canadian citizen on Canadian territory violates our national sovereignty,” Trudeau declared. “I continue to strongly encourage the Government of India to collaborate with Canada in resolving this issue.”

India’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Tuesday repudiating the allegations, labeling them as “unfounded and politically motivated.” The ministry noted that Trudeau had raised similar concerns with Modi.

“These unwarranted claims aim to divert attention from Khalistani militants and radicals who have found refuge in Canada and persist in jeopardizing India’s sovereignty and territorial unity,” the statement remarked.

Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly confirmed that a senior Indian diplomat, believed to be the chief of Indian intelligence in Canada, has been expelled as a result.

“Should these allegations be substantiated, it would constitute a severe breach of diplomatic norms and our national sovereignty,” Joly observed. “As a result, we have expelled a leading Indian diplomat.”

Tensions between Canada and India have escalated, affecting trade discussions and leading to the cancellation of a scheduled Canadian trade mission to India.

At the G20 meeting, Modi voiced “serious reservations” regarding Canada’s management of the Punjab independence movement among its Sikh diaspora, according to an official statement by India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

The Indian government categorized the Sikh movement as “fomenting separatism and provoking violence” against Indian diplomats and urged Canada to cooperate with India in addressing what India sees as a threat to its diaspora in Canada.

With a Sikh community numbering over 770,000, Canada has a Sikh population that makes up approximately 2% of the country’s total populace.

Canada’s Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc stated that senior Canadian security officials have gone to India to engage with their Indian counterparts and present the allegations formally. He described the situation as an active homicide investigation led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Joly disclosed that the matter was also raised with U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“The allegations mentioned by Prime Minister Trudeau are a cause for deep concern,” said White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson. “It is imperative that the Canadian investigation moves forward and those responsible are held accountable.”

Ahead of the United Nations General Assembly, Joly intends to discuss the issue with her G7 counterparts in New York City on Monday evening.

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the Canadian opposition New Democrats and a Sikh himself, termed the situation as shocking and outrageous. Singh disclosed that he had grown up hearing that criticizing India’s human rights record could have repercussions on one’s ability to travel to the country.

“The affirmation by Canada’s prime minister of a potential connection between a foreign government and the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is beyond anything I could have ever envisioned,” Singh noted.

David Eby, Premier of British Columbia, revealed that he was “profoundly disturbed” by a briefing he received from Canadian intelligence regarding Nijjar’s assassination.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada described Nijjar as a vocal proponent of Khalistan who “routinely led peaceful demonstrations against human rights abuses currently taking place in India and in favor of Khalistan.”

Nijjar had previously articulated fears for his life, claiming that he was on the radar of Indian intelligence agencies, according to a statement from the organization.

Nijjar’s attorney based in New York, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, stated that Nijjar had received warnings from Canadian intelligence that he was at risk of assassination by “hired killers” prior to his death.

Janice Stein, a political scientist and expert in international relations at the University of Toronto, commented that the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil was astonishing.

“This is a grave situation for Canada, which already has to navigate foreign interference challenges with the two major Asian economies, China and India,” Stein said. “We have sizable diasporas from both nations, and this is certainly not the kind of issue we would like to be dealing with.”

Indian authorities have been clamping down on Sikh separatism since the 1980s, a period that saw a militant insurgency erupt for an independent Sikh state in Punjab.

The government’s crackdown intensified in 1984 when Indian troops attacked the Golden Temple in Amritsar to evict Sikh militants. The contentious operation resulted in approximately 400 deaths, based on official accounts, although Sikh organizations claim the number to be higher.

Indira Gandhi, the then-prime minister who ordered the operation, was later assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, leading to a wave of anti-Sikh violence across northern India.

Under Modi’s administration, the crackdown on Sikh separatists has further intensified. During the 2021 farmers’ protests, the government initially sought to undermine Sikh participants by labeling them as “Khalistanis.”

Authorities also detained a 22-year-old climate activist that year for backing the farmers and sharing an online document that, according to the government, incited the protesters to violence. She was also accused of affiliating with supporters of Sikh independence.

In a more recent development, Indian police apprehended a popular leader advocating for an autonomous Sikh state after a month-long manhunt.

Reported by Gillies from Toronto. Contributed to by Aamer Madhani, a journalist with Big Big News, from New York.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Canada-India diplomatic tensions

What led to Canada expelling an Indian diplomat?

Canada expelled a top Indian diplomat following credible allegations that the Indian government may have had links to the assassination of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia.

What was Hardeep Singh Nijjar involved in at the time of his death?

Hardeep Singh Nijjar was organizing an unofficial referendum for an independent Sikh state, known as Khalistan, at the time of his assassination. He was a strong supporter of Sikh independence.

What is India’s stance on the allegations?

India’s foreign ministry has dismissed the allegations of involvement in the assassination as “absurd and motivated.” They assert that such claims seek to distract from Khalistani terrorists and extremists in Canada who pose a threat to India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

How have the diplomatic tensions affected Canada-India trade relations?

Trade talks between Canada and India have been derailed as a result of the diplomatic tensions. Canada also canceled a planned trade mission to India scheduled for the fall.

What international forums have been used to discuss this issue?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought up the issue of Nijjar’s slaying with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit. Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said she would also raise the issue with her G7 peers ahead of the United Nations General Assembly.

What steps is Canada taking to investigate the assassination?

Canada’s national security adviser and the head of Canada’s spy service have traveled to India to confront Indian intelligence agencies regarding the allegations. The investigation is being led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

How has the Canadian opposition responded to the issue?

Jagmeet Singh, the New Democrat leader who is also Sikh, called the allegations of a foreign government’s involvement in the murder of a Canadian citizen “outrageous and shocking.”

What is the Sikh population in Canada?

Canada has a Sikh population of more than 770,000, which constitutes about 2% of its total population.

What is the historical context of Sikh separatism in India?

Sikh separatism has been targeted by Indian authorities since the 1980s. The movement was especially prominent in Punjab state, and the Indian government has taken various measures over the years to suppress it.

What are other countries’ stances on this issue?

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson expressed deep concern about the allegations. British Columbia Premier David Eby also mentioned he was “deeply disturbed” after receiving a briefing on the assassination.

More about Canada-India diplomatic tensions

  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement in Parliament
  • India’s Ministry of External Affairs statement dismissing allegations
  • Briefing on Canada-India trade relations
  • Profile of Hardeep Singh Nijjar
  • Background on Sikh separatism in India
  • G20 Summit Meeting highlights
  • Statement by Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly
  • Report by Canada’s national security adviser and head of spy service
  • Jagmeet Singh’s comments on the issue
  • U.S. National Security Council statement on Canada-India tensions
  • Historical context of the 1984 Golden Temple incident
  • Overview of Canada’s Sikh population statistics

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Sara Williams September 19, 2023 - 9:19 am

Seriously, this is tense! India and Canada have so much at stake, especially with trade talks falling apart. Hope they resolve the issue peacefully.

Rachel Adams September 19, 2023 - 11:11 am

Kinda alarming that this could derail trade between two important countries. Considering the economic times, this isn’t good news for anyone.

Timothy Grant September 19, 2023 - 12:21 pm

I’ve been following Sikh activism for a while, and Hardeep Singh Nijjar was a prominent figure. His assassination is not just a loss for the Sikh community but raises serious questions bout foreign govts involvement.

Mike O'Donnell September 19, 2023 - 12:36 pm

never thought I’d see the day where Canada and India would be at such odds. This could have global ramifications, not just bilateral.

John Smith September 19, 2023 - 2:26 pm

Wow, this is a diplomatic bombshell. Canada expelling an Indian diplomat over an assassination is unheard of. What’s gonna happen next in Canada-India relations?

Emily Parker September 19, 2023 - 8:50 pm

Does anyone know if there’s an ongoing investigation by the RCMP? I mean, if these allegations turn out to be true, it’s not just a violation of sovereignty, it’s a major diplomatic crisis.

Paul Johnson September 20, 2023 - 1:09 am

What’s intriguing is that Trudeau talked to Modi at the G20 about this. Makes me wonder how many other world leaders are in the loop.

Anita Patel September 20, 2023 - 1:49 am

As an Indian-Canadian, I’m deeply concerned about this development. It’s more than just politics; it’s about people’s lives and international trust.


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