As Canada doubles down on Nijjar allegations, New Zealand says its stand on investigation has not changed

Comments come after New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters reportedly questions the evidence provided by Canada thus far, setting off diplomatic storm

March 14, 2024 11:46 am | Updated 01:01 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Khalistan Tiger Force Chief, who was shot dead in Canada. File

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Khalistan Tiger Force Chief, who was shot dead in Canada. File | Photo Credit: Arrangement

Canada said on Thursday that it continues to “actively” investigate the killing of Khalistani separatist Canadian Hardeep Singh Nijjar. The comment, that came in response to statements by New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters during his visit to Delhi, where he spoke about the case in Canada, and evidence shared thus far by Canadian authorities. Canada and New Zealand are part of the “five eyes” intelligence sharing network along with the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia, that regularly coordinate on security issues.

“Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Canada is a rule of law country and the protection of our citizens and the defence of our sovereignty are fundamental,” the spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian Foreign Ministry, told The Hindu in a written response, doubling down on allegations made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Parliament last year. The spokesperson added that the Canadian authorities remain engaged with New Delhi on this “serious matter” and that it was “pivotal to respect the justice process.”

 On Wednesday, Mr. Peters had said that the evidence of Indian government’s involvement, as alleged by Mr. Trudeau, would only be known in its entirety when Canada takes the case to trial in court. In an interview to the Indian Express earlier this week, Mr. Peters seemed to question the quality of evidence, indicating  a shift in New Zealand’s position. 

“As a trained lawyer, I look okay, so where’s the case? Where’s the evidence? Where’s the finding right here, right now? Well, there isn’t one,” Mr. Peters was quoted as saying, in comments that set off a diplomatic flurry. 

On Wednesday evening, Mr. Peters appeared to clarify the comments by saying that he meant that until the trial in the Nijjar case begins, the full extent of evidence would not be known. 

“When you go to court that’s when you find out all the evidence. If there is something suspicious, you wait for all the facts to come out,” he told The Hindu, while speaking to journalists at a reception in his honour. Significantly, Canadian High Commissioner to India Cameron McKay attended the reception as well and is understood to have discussed the comments with Mr. Peters.

The New Zealand foreign Ministry spokesperson also issued a statement on Thursday morning, walking back the Minister’s comments.

“New Zealand’s position on the allegations remains unchanged — if they are proven correct then that would be of serious concern….The Minister’s point is that this an ongoing criminal investigation. It needs to run its course before clear conclusions can be drawn,” the spokesperson said, in written comments to the media.

The Ministry of External Affairs has not thus far responded to the comments, that favoured India’s stand denying its involvement in the killing, over an issue that has significantly damaged India-Canada relations in the past year.

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