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Assassination on Canadian soil creates high tension between Canada and India

(Photo courtesy of “Canadian and Indian flags.”

Lydia Robert
Connector Contributor

On June 18, Canadian citizen and Sikh activist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple in British Columbia, Canada. The two gunmen responsible for Nijjar’s death have yet to be identified according to Canadian police. In India, Nijjar was well known by Indian officials for his affiliation with an alleged terrorist group, landing himself on a terrorist watch list. Nijjar reportedly received multiple death threats before his assassination and quickly made headlines in India following his death. The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is blaming the Indian government for the murder of Nijjar. Trudeau said, “Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.” Canada has yet to release substantial evidence to prove that the Indian government was behind the assassination. 

Trudeau also brought his concerns to the G20 summit in India on September 9, expressing his concerns directly to the Indian Prime Minister. India’s Ministry of External Affairs responded publicly, stating that “allegations of Government of India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated.”

Canada made the first move against India by expelling the head of India’s spy agency in Canada, a top Indian diplomat. The foreign minister of Canada, Mélanie Joly, accused the Indian diplomat of possible participation in the murder of Najjar. Although Canada’s accusations may seem abrupt, Jarrod Hayes, a UMass Lowell Political Science Professor says, “[I]n a democracy like Canada, political leaders are more restrained. If it became known that India was involved in the murder and the Canadian government sought to downplay it, then that would reflect quite poorly on them.” 

India fired back at Trudeau by refusing to grant new Canadian visas and asking that Canada remove their diplomats from India. India will continue to hold this visa stalemate until Canada makes the evidence from the Nijjar investigation public. India has been “badgering” the Canadians for evidence, according to India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Jaishankar has said India is very open to looking at any evidence the Canadians are willing to supply. He also claims that the Canadians have accepted known Indian terrorists, which has created tension between the two countries for years. 

The Sikhs are known for seeking their independent state within India. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Sikh movement was violent, including the bombing of an Air India flight. After the 1984 Golden Temple Siege, the movement became primarily non-violent, and many Sikhs moved to Canada, where there is now the largest population of Sikhs outside of India. So, if the Indian government is responsible for the murder of Nijjar, it could “re-open the conversation within the movement [the Sikhs]…so rather than quieting the movement, this man’s assassination is much more likely to catalyze renewed violence,” said Professor Hayes. Currently, there is no evidence pointing to India’s involvement in Nijjar’s death, and India will continue to deny all claims unless Canada presents substantial evidence.  

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