Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling for India’s help to investigate the killing of a Sikh independence activist on Canadian soil, while New Delhi says Canada has provided no information on the case.
Trudeau told Parliament on Monday there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who had been wanted by India for years and was gunned down in June outside the B.C. temple he led.
Canada expelled an Indian diplomat, and India followed suit by kicking out a Canadian representative on Tuesday.
At the United Nations on Thursday, Trudeau said during a news conference that taking the decision to address the Commons “was not done lightly.”
The prime minister said he wants India to take the matter seriously and work with Canada to ensure accountability and justice.
Trudeau stressed that Canada would not waver on the importance of the rule of law, protecting Canadians and standing up for the country’s values.
“We have a rigorous and independent justice system and robust processes that will follow their course,” he said. “And we call upon the government of India to engage with us to move forward on getting to the truth of this matter.”
India has called the allegations being investigated in Canada absurd and an attempt to shift attention from the presence of Nijjar and other wanted suspects in Canada.
At a briefing Thursday, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said it appears Canada’s allegations “are primarily politically driven.”
“No specific information has been shared by Canada on this case. We are willing to look at any specific information, we have conveyed this to the Canadians,” Bagchi said.
He also accused Canada of being a safe haven for extremists.
“Very specific evidence about criminal activities by individuals based on Canadian soil has been shared with the Canadian authorities on a regular basis, but not been acted upon.”
Nijjar was working to organize an unofficial referendum among the Sikh diaspora on independence from India at the time of his killing. He had denied India’s accusation that he was a terrorist.
The second stage of B.C. voting on whether a Sikh homeland should be established in India’s Punjab province is scheduled to be held on Oct. 29.
The Vancouver Police Department beefed up security outside India’s consulate after Trudeau’s announcement this week.
Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, suggested a need for patience as investigators do their work.
“Facts will come out. Facts will emerge,” he said Thursday at the UN. “If a crime has been committed you don’t normally ask the prime minister … ‘Where’s your evidence?’”
At an event Thursday, Trade Minister Mary Ng avoided directly answering whether the allegations are the reason Canada recently put trade talks with India on pause and cancelled a planned trade mission to the country.
Ng took the position she can’t say more because she doesn’t want to pull the focus away from the police investigation.
Saskatchewan Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison said the Liberals have not kept provinces abreast of trade talks with India, and didn’t inform him about the Nijjar case after he chastised Ottawa for suspending negotiations.
Tensions between Ottawa and New Delhi intensified, meanwhile, as India temporarily halted all visa services for citizens of Canada.
“Security threats being faced by our high commission and consulates in Canada have disrupted their normal functioning,” Bagchi said.
“Accordingly, they are temporarily unable to process visa applications. We will be reviewing the situation on a regular basis.”
Foreign citizens need a visa to enter India, meaning New Delhi is effectively barring entry to all Canadians for the time being.
Bagchi called for a reduction in Canadian diplomats in India, saying they outnumbered India’s staff in Canada.
Global Affairs Canada said Thursday that its high commission and all of its consulates in India are open and continue to serve clients.
The department said some of its diplomats had received threats on social media, prompting it to assess its “staff complement in India.”
It added that Canada expects India to provide security for its diplomats and consular officers working there.