Canada expelled a top Indian diplomat Monday as it investigates what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called credible allegations that India’s government may have had links to the assassination in Canada of a Sikh activist.
Trudeau said in Parliament that Canadian intelligence agencies have been looking into the allegations after Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a strong supporter of an independent Sikh homeland known as Khalistan, was gunned down on June 18 outside a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia.
“Over the past number of weeks, Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen,” Trudeau said in Parliament Monday.
Trudeau said that he brought up the links between Nijjar’s murder and the Indian government with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G-20 last week “in no uncertain terms,” adding that “any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”
Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said the head of Indian intelligence in Canada has been expelled as a consequence. “If proven true this would be a great violation of our sovereignty and of the most basic rule of how countries deal with each other,” Joly said. “As a consequence we have expelled a top Indian diplomat.”
The Indian Embassy in Ottawa did not immediately answer phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The World Sikh Organization of Canada on Monday said that Canadian intelligence and law enforcement agencies were aware of threats to Nijjar and other Sikh activists in Canada, having been alerted of the dangers by a number of sources.
“Nijjar had publicly spoken of the threat to his life for months and said that he was targeted by Indian intelligence agencies,” the organization said.
Trudeau said his government has been working closely and coordinating with Canada’s allies on the case.
“In the strongest possible terms I continue to urge the government of India to cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter,” he said.
“I know many Canadians, particularly members of the Indo-Canadian community, are feeling angry, or perhaps frightened, right now,” Trudeau added.
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Canada’s national security adviser and the head of Canada’s spy service have traveled to India to meet their counterparts and to confront the Indian intelligence agencies with the allegations.
He called it an active homicide investigation led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Joly said Trudeau also raised the matter with President Joe Biden.
Joly also said she would raise the issue with her peers in the G7 on Monday evening in New York City ahead of the United Nations General Assembly
Opposition Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre said if the allegations are true, they represent “an outrageous affront to our sovereignty.”
“Canadians deserve to be protected on Canadian soil. We call on the Indian government to act with utmost transparency as authorities investigate this murder, because the truth must come out,” Poilievre said.
Opposition New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, who is himself Sikh, called it outrageous and shocking. Singh said he grew up hearing stories that challenging India’s record on human rights might prevent you from getting a visa to travel there.
“But to hear the prime minister of Canada corroborate a potential link between a murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil by a foreign government is something I could never have imagined,” Singh said.
The Khalistan movement is banned in India, where officials see it and affiliated groups as a national security threat. But the movement still has some support in northern India, as well as beyond, in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom which are home to a sizable Sikh diaspora.
Nijjar had talked about an unofficial Khalistan referendum vote seeking a separate Sikh state. Indian authorities announced a cash reward last year for information leading to Nijjar’s arrest, accusing him of involvement in an alleged attack on a Hindu priest in India.