India has suspended visa applications from Canadian nationals, according to a third-party processor used by the Indian government, a sharp escalation of the diplomatic row that followed Canada’s claim that Indian agents were behind a assassination in June on Canadian soil.
The processing company, BLS International, issued the notice Thursday. Contacted by The New York Times, an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said he could not confirm that visa processing had been disrupted. A ministry press conference was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
India and Canada have been locked in a bitter standoff since Monday, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a speech to Parliament that Canadian intelligence services had information linking the Indian government to the assassination of a Sikh separatist in British Columbia on June 18.
The Indian government on Tuesday forcefully rejected allegations that it was involved in the assassination of Canadian Sikh citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, and accused Canada of harboring terrorists seeking to create a Sikh homeland from Indian territory .
India then decided to expel a high-ranking Canadian diplomat from New Delhi. Canada had expelled an Indian diplomat – described as the head of New Delhi’s intelligence agency – to Canada the day before.
India’s foreign ministry on Wednesday advised Indian citizens living or traveling to Canada to “exercise extreme caution” due to what it described as an increase in “anti-Indian activities and hate crimes.” and criminal violence politically tolerated in Canada.
“Recently, threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community who oppose the anti-Indian agenda,” the report said. saidadding that Indian nationals should avoid traveling to regions and sites in Canada that have witnessed such incidents.
Dominic LeBlanc, Canada’s public safety minister, rejected India’s travel warning in remarks to reporters in Ottawa.
“People can read into it whatever they want,” he said. “Canada is a safe country. What we are doing is ensuring that a proper criminal investigation is conducted into these circumstances.
The Canadian government has yet to release details of its intelligence findings into Mr. Nijjar’s death, saying it could harm the police investigation and reveal the country’s intelligence-gathering methods. Canada has requested India’s assistance in the investigation.
“We are not looking to provoke or escalate,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday. “We are simply stating the facts as we understand them and we want to work with the Indian government. »
Relations between India and Canada plunged this week to what officials and analysts call the lowest point in history after years of simmering tension.
The Indian government has long accused Canada and other Western countries of inaction as extremist Sikh groups in the Indian diaspora — including the one led by Mr. Nijjar — support a secessionist movement that threatens India’s sovereignty.
Canada has said it respects the right of all its citizens to freedom of expression when defending political causes. Indian officials say Canadian politicians are reluctant to curb Sikh extremism because of the lobbying influence of the group, the largest population of Sikhs outside India.
Indian officials have accused Canada, Britain, the United States and Australia of standing idly by while those pushing for what is known as Khalistan, the independent nation that Sikh secessionists want to establish in the Punjab region of India, have vandalized Indian diplomatic missions and threatened Indian diplomats.
As tensions soar, Canada announced Wednesday that it was withdrawing some of its diplomats from India to ensure their safety. Some diplomats reportedly received threats on social media.