Canada on Monday accused the Indian government of being involved in the assassination of a Canadian Sikh leader near Vancouver last June and expelled the intelligence chief from New Delhi to Ottawa in retaliation.
This diplomatic decision plunged relations between Ottawa and New Delhi, already tense, to a new dramatic low.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a mid-afternoon emergency session of the parliamentary opposition that his government had “credible allegations” linking Indian agents to the assassination of a Sikh leader in exile, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in June in British Columbia.
“The involvement of a foreign government in the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil constitutes an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau said.
He called “in the strongest possible terms” on the Indian government to cooperate in resolving this matter.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Jolie said the Trudeau government had taken immediate action.
“Today we expelled a senior Indian diplomat from Canada,” she said, without naming the official.
Jolie said the expelled Indian was the head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s foreign intelligence agency, in Canada.
Nijjar, who India had declared a wanted terrorist, was shot dead on June 18 in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb that is home to a large Sikh community. Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside of Punjab, India.
Nijjar advocated the creation of an independent Sikh state, carved out of parts of northern India and perhaps part of Pakistan. India has accused Nijjar of carrying out terrorist attacks in India, a charge he has denied.
Tensions between India and Canada have escalated over the unsolved killings and Indian dissatisfaction with Ottawa’s treatment of right-wing Sikh separatists.
New Delhi accuses Ottawa of turning a blind eye to the activities of Sikh nationalists who seek to create a separate Sikh homeland in northern India.
A former Trudeau adviser, Jocelyn Coulon, said Canada’s accusation would have “the effect of a bomb on a global scale.”
India will join “the group of nations that assassinate political opponents” abroad, much like Saudi Arabia orchestrated the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018, said Coulon, now an independent researcher.
New Delhi did not immediately respond to Canada’s accusations.
Tensions between the two countries further escalated earlier this month during the G20 summit in New Delhi, which Trudeau attended.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed “deep concerns over continued anti-India activities by extremist elements in Canada” during a meeting with Trudeau, according to an Indian government statement.
India has often complained about the activities of the Sikh diaspora abroad, particularly in Canada, which New Delhi believes could revive a Sikh separatist movement.
The Indian state of Punjab, which is 58 percent Sikh and 39 percent Hindu, was rocked by a violent separatist movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, during which thousands died .
Canada also recently suspended negotiations for a free trade agreement with India.
Trudeau later told media that Canada would always defend “freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and the freedom to peacefully protest” while taking action against hatred.