Nijjar, whom India had declared a wanted terrorist, was gunned down on June 18 in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver that is home to a major Sikh community. Pic: Twitter
New Delhi/Toronto: In a dramatic development that holds wider implications for ties between India and the West, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India on the floor of the Canadian Parliament on Monday of involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a pro-Khalistan radical whom India regarded as a terrorist and the alleged head of the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), after which Canada expelled a senior Indian diplomat, with India later retaliating and expelling a senior Canadian diplomat.
New Delhi swiftly rubbished the Canadian PM’s allegations, calling them "absurd", adding India was a "democratic polity with a strong commitment to the rule of law" It also turns out that Mr Trudeau had raised the matter pertaining to Nijjar’s killing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the recent G-20 summit in New Delhi and Mr Modi had rejected his claims. Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, was gunned down in June this year in the parking lot of a gurdwara at Surrey in the western Canadian province of British Columbia.
Media reports from Toronto said Canada had expelled Indian diplomat Pavan Kumar Rai, who is learnt to be the head of the RAW station in Canada, while India expelled Canadian diplomat Olivier Sylvester, believed to be the head of the Canadian intelligence unit in New Delhi. Canada’s high commissioner to New Delhi Cameron MacKay was also summoned to the external affairs ministry and told about India’s decision, with New Delhi accusing Canada of granting shelter to pro-Khalistan terrorists and extremists threatening India’s sovereignty and giving space to a "range of illegal activities, including murders, human trafficking and organised crime", adding that "the inaction of the Canadian government on this matter has been a long-standing and continuing concern".
In a fierce reaction to the Canadian allegations, the MEA said: "We have seen and reject the statement of Canada’s Prime Minister in their Parliament, as also the statement by their foreign minister. Allegations of the Government of India's involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated. Similar allegations were made by the Canadian PM to our Prime Minister, and were completely rejected. We are a democratic polity with a strong commitment to the rule of law."
The MEA added: "Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The inaction of the Canadian government on this matter has been a long-standing and continuing concern. That Canadian political figures have openly expressed sympathy for such elements remains a matter of deep concern. The space given in Canada to a range of illegal activities, including murders, human trafficking and organised crime is not new. We reject any attempts to connect the Government of India to such developments. We urge the Government of Canada to take prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating from their soil."
In a second statement, New Delhi said: "The high commissioner of Canada to India was summoned today and informed about the decision of the Government of India to expel a senior Canadian diplomat based in India. The concerned diplomat has been asked to leave India within the next five days. The decision reflects the Government of India’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities."
Mr Trudeau informed the House of Commons in Ottawa on Monday (early Tuesday IST): "I am rising to inform the House of an extremely serious matter. I have also informed the leaders of the Opposition directly… 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, Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Canada is a rule of law country. The protection of our citizens and defence of our sovereignty are fundamental. Our top priorities have been – one, that law enforcement and security agencies assure the continued safety of all Canadians; and two, that all steps be taken to hold the perpetrators of this murder to account."
Mr Trudeau further said: "Canada has declared its top concerns to the top security and intelligence officials of the Indian government. Last week, at the G-20, I brought them (up) personally and directly to Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi in no uncertain terms. Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free open and democratic societies conduct themselves. As you would expect, we’ve been working closely and coordinating with our allies on this very serious matter."
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, quoting unnamed government sources, said Mr Trudeau had briefed some key foreign leaders, including US President Joe Biden, British PM Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron on the matter.
The Canadian PM added in Parliament: "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. I also expect it to reiterate that its position on extra judicial operations in another country is clearly and completely in line with international law. I know many Canadians, particularly members of the Indo-Canadian community, are feeling angry or perhaps frightened right now. Let us not allow this to change us. Let us remain calm and steadfast inour commitment to democratic principles and adherence to the rule of law. This is who we are and what we do as Canadians."