Surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada led to allegations around Sikh killing, official says

The official said the communications involved Indian officials and Indian diplomats in Canada and that some of the intelligence was provided by a member of the “Five Eyes”

September 22, 2023 07:25 am | Updated 06:16 pm IST - TORONTO

A man walks into the Canadian High-Commision in New Delhi on September 21, 2023.

A man walks into the Canadian High-Commision in New Delhi on September 21, 2023. | Photo Credit: SHASHI SHEKHAR KASHYAP

The allegation of India’s involvement in the killing of a Sikh Canadian is based on surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada, including intelligence provided by a major ally, a Canadian official familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on September 21.

The official said the communications involved Indian officials and Indian diplomats in Canada and that some of the intelligence was provided by a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand, in addition to Canada.

The Hindu Editorial | Serious allegations: On Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s charges against India

The official did not say which ally provided intelligence or give specific details of what was contained in the communications or how they were obtained. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the matter publicly.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation first reported the intelligence.

Earlier September 21, India stopped issuing visas to Canadian citizens and told Canada to reduce its diplomatic staff as the rift widened between the once-close allies over Ottawa’s allegation that New Delhi may have been involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a 45-year-old Sikh separatist, in a Vancouver suburb in June.

Ties between the two countries have plunged to their lowest point in years since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on September 18 that there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the assassination.

Nijjar, a plumber who was born in India and became a Canadian citizen in 2007, had been wanted by India for years before he was gunned down outside the temple he led in the city of Surrey.

Speaking on September 21 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Mr. Trudeau acknowledged the complicated diplomatic situation he faces.

"The decision to share these allegations on the floor of the House of Commons was not done lightly,” he said. “There is no question that India is a country of growing importance and a country that we need to continue to work with."

“We are not looking to provoke or cause problems but we are unequivocal around the importance of the rule of law and unequivocal about the importance of protecting Canadians.”

The bombshell allegation set off an international tit-for-tat, with each country expelling a diplomat. India called the allegations “absurd.”

Canada has yet to provide public evidence to back Mr. Trudeau's allegations, and Canada's U.N. ambassador, Bob Rae, indicated that might not come soon.

“This is very early days,” Mr. Rae told reporters on September 21, insisting that while facts will emerge, they must “come out in the course of the pursuit of justice.”

"That’s what we call the rule of law in Canada,” he said.

On September 21, the company that processes Indian visas in Canada announced that visa services had been suspended until further notice.

The suspension means Canadians who don’t already have visas cannot travel to India. Canadians are among the top travellers to India: In 2021, 80,000 Canadian tourists visited the country, according to India’s Bureau of Immigration.

Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi blamed the visa suspension, which includes visas issued in third countries, on safety issues.

“Security threats being faced by our High Commission and consulates in Canada have disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly, they are temporarily unable to process visa applications,” Mr. Bagchi told reporters. He gave no details on the alleged threats.

Mr. Bagchi, the Indian foreign ministry spokesman, also called for a reduction in Canadian diplomats in India, saying they outnumbered Indian diplomats in Canada.

The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi said on September 21 that its consulates in India are open and continue to serve clients. It said some of its diplomats had received threats on social media, adding that Canada expects India to provide security for its diplomats and consular officers working there.

On September 20, India warned its citizens to be careful when travelling to Canada because of “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate-crimes.”

India's security and intelligence branches have long been active in South Asia and are suspected in a number of killings in Pakistan. But arranging the killing of a Canadian citizen in Canada, home to nearly 2 million people of Indian descent, would be unprecedented.

India has criticised Canada for years over giving free rein to Sikh separatists, including Nijjar. New Delhi had accused him of links to terrorism, which he denied.

Nijjar was a local leader in what remains of a once-strong movement to create an independent Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan.

While the active insurgency ended decades ago, the Indian government has warned that Sikh separatists are trying to stage a comeback and pressed countries like Canada, where Sikhs comprise over 2% of the population, to do more to stop them.

At the time of his killing, Nijjar was working to organise an unofficial Sikh diaspora referendum on independence from India.

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