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India stops visas to Canadians after Canada expels Indian diplomat suspected of murdering Canadian Sikh

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CANADA: India has stopped issuing visas to Canadian citizens amid an escalating row over the killing of a Canadian Sikh separatist on Canadian soil. India called the move “temporary” due to “security threats” disrupting work at its missions in Canada, ostensibly in a tit for tat as Canada expelled an Indian “diplomat” on suspicion of murdering Canadian Sikh Hardeep Nijjar.

Tension flared this week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said evidence pointed to India being behind the 18 June killing, although he said on Thursday he was not looking to provoke India with the allegation.

India has angrily rejected the allegation, calling it “absurd”. Speaking to reporters in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Mr Trudeau said: “There is no question that India is a country of growing importance and a country we need to continue to work with.”

He said Canada was unequivocal about the importance of the rule of law and protecting Canadians.

Canada announced it was reducing its personnel in India, saying some diplomats had received threats on social media. “In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats,” a statement said. Canada’s visa services remain open in India.

The two countries have historic close ties – and much is at stake.

Relations between the countries – key trade and security partners, and US allies – have been strained for months. Analysts say they are now at an all-time low.

India’s government warned that the suspension of visa services also “applies to Canadians in a third country”.

“There have been threats made to our high commission [embassy] and consulates in Canada,” a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman in Delhi said. “This has disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly [they] are temporarily unable to process visa applications.”

He said: “India is looking for parity in rank and diplomatic strength between the diplomatic missions of the two countries. This is being sought because of Canadian diplomatic interference in our internal affairs.”

Canada has 1.4 million people of Indian origin – more than half of them Sikhs – making up 3.7% of the country’s population, according to the 2021 census. India also sends the highest number of international students to Canada – in 2022, they made up 40% of total overseas students at 320,000.

According to Indian government statistics, about 80,000 Canadian tourists visited India in 2021, behind only the US, Bangladesh and UK.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) shakes hand with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of the G20 Leaders' Summit in New Delhi on September 9, 2023IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau (left) had a difficult meeting with Indian PM Narendra Modi in Delhi this month

The row burst into the open on Monday after Canada linked India with the murder of separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen who was shot dead in his vehicle by two masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada’s intelligence agencies were investigating whether “agents of the government of India”, known in other countries that accuse India of subversion as Research And Analysis Wing (RAW), were involved in the killing of Nijjar – who India designated a terrorist in 2020.

India reacted strongly, accusing Canada of trying to “shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists” who had been “given shelter there”. The Indian government has often reacted sharply to demands by Sikh separatists in Western countries for Khalistan, or a separate Sikh homeland.

On Thursday, Mr Trudeau was pressed by some journalists about what evidence there was that suggested India was linked to the murder. He did not share further details, but said “the decision to share these allegations was not made lightly”.

“It was done with the utmost seriousness,” Mr Trudeau said, urging Indian officials to cooperate with the investigation into the killing.

The Khalistan movement peaked in India in the 1980s with a violent insurgency centred in Sikh-majority Punjab state. It was quelled by force and is still popular, even among the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, Australia and the UK. –BBC/NP

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