Credible allegations of potential India link: Trudeau on Hardeep Nijjar killing

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said there are “credible allegations of a potential link” between Indian government agents and the killing of Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June, a claim made against the backdrop of an all-time low in bilateral relations.

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a statement in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (AP photo)

Soon after Trudeau made the claim in a statement in Canada’s Parliament, foreign minister Mélanie Joly announced the expulsion of a “top Indian diplomat” as a consequence. Joly’s office identified the diplomat as Pavan Kumar Rai, the head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in Canada, according to public broadcaster CBC.

The development came a little more than a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Trudeau during a meeting on the margins of the G20 Summit in New Delhi that India expects Canada to cooperate in tackling pro-Khalistani elements based in Canada that are “promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats”.

Also Read: India could be behind killing of Canadian Sikh Hardeep Nijjar, says Trudeau

There was no immediate response to Trudeau’s comments from Indian officials.

Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, was shot dead in the parking lot of Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in the town of Surrey in British Columbia on June 18. Nijjar was earlier designated a terrorist by the Indian government for his involvement in pro-Khalistan activities.

In a speech to Canada’s House of Commons on Monday, Trudeau said he wished to inform the House of an “extremely serious matter” that he had discussed with opposition leaders.

“Over the past number of weeks, 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 is a rule of law country. The protection of our citizens and defence of our sovereignty are fundamental,” he said.

He added: “Canada has declared its deep concerns to the top intelligence and security officials of the Indian government. Last week, at the G20, I brought them, personally and directly, to Prime Minister Modi in no uncertain terms. Any involvement of a foreign government in a killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”

Soon after, Joly told the media that the “allegations that a representative of a foreign government may have been involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen…on Canadian soil is not only troubling but it is completely unacceptable”. She added: “As of today and as a consequence, we’ve expelled a top Indian diplomat from Canada.”

Though Joly didn’t name the Indian diplomat, her office subsequently identified him as the RAW station chief in Canada. While it is not unusual for countries to expel operatives of a foreign intelligence agency, it is rare for them to identify the expelled official.

Joly also said she had conveyed Canada’s principles regarding seeking the truth, protecting Canadians at all times and protecting Canada’s sovereignty to here Indian counterpart and sought “India’s full collaboration to get to the bottom” of the matter. She added that Canada wouldn’t “tolerate any form of foreign interference”.

While addressing the Canadian media on the margins of the G20 Summit, Trudeau had said he had raised the issue of foreign interference in Canada’s internal affairs with his Indian counterpart.

Asked at the same news conference about India’s concerns over the activities of pro-Khalistan elements, Trudeau said Canada will always defend freedom of peaceful protest but simultaneously asserted it will prevent violence.

“Canada will always defend freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of peaceful protest and it is extremely important to us,” he had said. “At the same time, we are always there to prevent violence and to push back against hatred. I think on the issue of the community, it is important to remember that the actions of the few do not represent the entire community or Canada,” he added.

India-Canada relations are in tatters over the issue of the activities of pro-Khalistan elements on Canadian soil. In recent months, the extremist elements have organised rallies and protests in support of Khalistan in Canadian cities and targeted Indian diplomatic facilities and officials. They have also held a so-called referendum on the creation of Khalistan in several cities.

The Indian side was particularly angered when a float at a recent rally eulogised the assassins of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.

While India has not formally commented on Nijjar’s killing, a senior Indian official recently told HT categorically that it was not involved in any manner and was hopeful that the case is solved quickly.

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