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Trudeau says intelligence shows India was behind murder of Sikh leader in Surrey, B.C.

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A mourner wears a T-shirt bearing a photograph of Sikh community leader and temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia, June 25, 2023. Nijjar was shot dead in his vehicle as he left the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib car park in June. .DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons on Monday that Canadian national security authorities have what they consider credible intelligence that India was behind the deadly shooting in mid-June of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh leader from British Columbia designated a terrorist by New Delhi. and is part of a separatist movement seeking an autonomous state for followers of Sikhism.

Mr. Trudeau said he briefed opposition leaders before telling Canadians that India was responsible for the assassination, but he did not provide further details, which he personally spoke of “in no uncertain terms.” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in New Delhi last year. week.

“In recent weeks, Canadian security agencies have actively pursued credible allegations regarding a potential link between Indian government agents and the murder of Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar,” he said. “Any involvement by a foreign government in the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil constitutes an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. “

The prime minister said the government had “expressed its deep concerns to the Indian government’s top intelligence and security officials” and urged New Delhi to work with Canada to “get to the bottom of this matter.”

“I also expect him to reiterate that his position on extrajudicial operations in another country is clearly and unequivocally consistent with international law,” he said. “This is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves.”

The Canadian government has privately ruled out severing diplomatic ties with New Delhi, but is considering steps to respond to what it sees as a serious violation of Canadian sovereignty, sources say.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said India must be held accountable for its conduct.

“If these allegations are true, they represent a scandalous affront to Canada, to Canadian sovereignty. Our citizens must be safe from extrajudicial killings of all kinds, especially at the hands of foreign governments,” said Mr. Poilievre. “Canadians deserve to be protected on Canadian soil. We call on the Indian government to act with utmost transparency as authorities investigate this murder, because the truth must come out. »

Mr. Nijjar was shot dead in his truck by two masked gunmen outside the Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Temple in Surrey, British Columbia, a brazen killing that outraged his supporters and escalated global tensions between Sikh separatists and the Hindu nationalist government by Narendra Modi.

Canada has approximately 770,000 people who declared Sikhism as their religion in the last census. Some support the Sikh independence movement, which seeks to create a sovereign homeland known as Khalistan from the northern Indian state of Punjab. The Indian government is fiercely opposed to this.

There are signs that Nijjar’s assassination is already putting a damper on Canada-India relations.

News broke on September 1 that Canada had suspended negotiations on a trade deal with India, and in mid-September Ottawa said a Canadian trade mission to India in early October had been postponed. Although the government has given little explanation for these actions, sources say they are a direct result of the investigation.

Nijjar’s killing was raised during tense discussions between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Indian prime minister on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit on September 9-10 in New Delhi.

Mr Modi’s office then publicly criticized the Canadian government for allegedly tolerating “anti-India activities by extremist elements in Canada”, while Mr Trudeau only told reporters that he had raised his concerns regarding foreign interference in Canadian politics.

The Indian government denies responsibility for the Nijjar shooting and says Ottawa’s investigation was misled by accusations by Canadian Sikhs involved in the Khalistan separatist movement, according to another source. The source said India views allegations that Mr. Nijjar was killed as unfounded, comparing them to false claims by the U.S. administration of former President George W. Bush that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein developed a weapon of mass destruction.

The Globe is not identifying sources who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly because they could face prosecution under the Security of Information Act.

Mr. Nijjar has been accused of terrorism by Indian officials. India’s National Anti-Terrorism Investigation Agency (NIA) alleged he conspired to kill a Hindu priest in Punjab and announced a reward in 2022 equivalent to $16,200 for information leading to his arrest.

In Canada, he promoted Sikh independence and urged Sikhs to vote in a non-binding international referendum among the global diaspora on the secession of the northern Indian state of Punjab. This was part of a campaign by Khalistan supporters.

After the killing, Mr. Nijjar’s lawyer, New York-based Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, and the World Sikh Organization of Canada said the 45-year-old father of two had been alerted by the Canadian Service of security intelligence as early as last summer of a probable assassination plot against him.

The office of Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly did not respond to request for comment.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which is investigating the killing, also did not respond to a Globe and Mail request for comment on the allegations against India.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service was circumspect when asked about India’s role in the killing.

“There are significant limits to what I can discuss publicly given the need to protect sensitive intelligence activities, techniques, methods and sources. These limitations are essential to ensuring the safety, security and prosperity of Canada, and for these reasons I cannot provide further information,” CSIS spokesperson Eric Balsam said in a statement to the Globe .

Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma did not respond to calls for comment.

The most immediate impact of the cooling of relations is on trade.

India and Canada are negotiating a trade deal, and in May, International Trade Minister Mary Ng and her Indian counterpart announced plans to reach an initial agreement this year to boost trade and increase investment while establishing a mechanism to resolve disputes.

Ms Ng was due to visit Mumbai in October with Canadian business leaders. His office declined to say why the trip was postponed or when it is likely to take place.

“At this time, we are postponing the next trade mission to India,” press secretary Alice Hansen said in a statement last week. “Next year, we will take companies to Japan, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.”

Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal recently told Indian media outlet Firstpost that this break with Canada was necessary to ensure that “geopolitically and economically” the two countries were on the same page. .

“We have had some issues that are very concerning,” he said, noting that Mr. Modi had discussed these issues with Mr. Trudeau at the G20 summit. “We hope some of these issues will be resolved before we move forward.”

The police called the Nijjar killing a “targeted incident” although no arrests have yet been made.

Mr. Nijjar’s death is the second in two years of a prominent member of the Sikh community in Canada: last July, Ripudaman Singh Malik, one of two men acquitted of murder and conspiracy charges linked to the Air India bombing in 1985, was also shot down. and killed in Surrey.

Mr Nijjar is the third prominent Sikh leader to die suddenly in recent months.

Avtar Singh Khanda, believed to be the leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force, died in the UK in June.

In May, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, designated a terrorist by India, was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province.

The roots of the Khalistan movement date back to the end of the British Empire in India. The movement faces fierce opposition from the Indian government and is not supported by the Canadian government.

Late last year, Indian High Commissioner to Canada Sanjay Kumar Verma told the Globe that New Delhi was concerned that some segments of Canada’s Sikh community were offering financial and other support to secessionists who wish to separate Punjab from India. He called on Ottawa to crack down on diasporic funding of the Sikh independence movement.

Mr. Pannun, who is also general counsel for the New York-based Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), wrote to Mr. Trudeau, accusing Mr. Verma of interfering in Canadian internal affairs and seeking to enlist Ottawa to promote political objectives of the Indian government.

The federal government has said it does not support Sikh separatism, but defends the right of Canadian Sikhs to free speech as long as it is legal.

Relations between Ottawa and New Delhi have been frosty since Mr. Trudeau became prime minister in 2015, including an ill-fated trip in 2018 during which Jaspal Atwal, convicted of attempting to assassinate an Indian minister in 1986, was invited to dinner with the Prime Minister. during the visit. The invitation was canceled after it was revealed, but he was photographed with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and then-Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi at an earlier event in Mumbai.

In 2020, India also accused Mr Trudeau of inciting “extremist activities” after he raised concerns about New Delhi’s response to farmers protesting a law they feared would leave them vulnerable to exploitation by companies. Mr. Trudeau said Canada would always support farmers’ right to be heard.

Both the Liberal and Conservative parties have said they support a united India while supporting the right of Canadian Sikhs to peacefully advocate for an independent Punjab.

But NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who previously participated in rallies in Khalistan before becoming leader in 2017, refused to say what his position is on the issue. The NDP demanded that Mr. Verma present evidence of illegal financing to law enforcement.

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