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Canada-India tensions rise amid suspected assassination of Sikh activist

Trudeau said his government has been working closely and coordinating with Canada’s allies on the case.

“In the strongest possible terms I continue to urge the government of India to cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter,” he said.

Trudeau said he knows there are some members of the Indo-Canadian community who feel angry or frightened, and he called for calm.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Canada’s national security advisor and the head of Canada’s spy service have travelled to India to meet their counterparts and to confront the Indian intelligence agencies with the allegations.

He called it an active homicide investigation led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Joly said Trudeau also the raised the matter with US President Joe Biden.

A photograph of late temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar is seen on a banner outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib in Surrey, British Columbia.Credit: AP

Opposition Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre said if the allegations are true they represent “an outrageous affront to our sovereignty”.

The Khalistan movement is banned in India, where officials see it and affiliated groups as a national security threat. But the movement still has some support in northern India, as well as beyond, in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom which are home to a sizable Sikh diaspora.

India is also a member of the Quad, the strategic grouping that includes Australia, Japan and the US.

Context on Canada and India

Canada has the highest population of Sikhs outside their home state of Punjab in India, and the country has been the site of many protests that have irked India. Indian leaders say there are some fringe groups in Canada that are still sympathetic to the cause of an independent Sikh state, carved out of India.

September 2023: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed strong concerns about protests in Canada against India to Trudeau on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi.

While a Sikh insurgency was suppressed in India in the 1990s, authorities have been wary of any revival of agitation, with a particular focus on small groups of Sikhs in Canada, who support the separatist demand and occasionally stage protests outside Indian embassies.


June 2023: India’s foreign minister, S. Jaishankar, hit out at Canada for allowing a float in a parade depicting the 1984 assassination of then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, perceived to be glorification of violence by Sikh separatists.

Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 by two Sikh bodyguards after she allowed the storming of the holiest Sikh temple, aimed at flushing out Sikh separatists who demanded an independent homeland to be known as Khalistan. The storming of the temple had angered Sikhs around the world.

March 2023: India summoned Canada’s High Commissioner to convey concern over pro-Khalistan protesters in Canada who breached the security of India’s diplomatic mission and consulates.

The Sikh insurgency of the 1980s and 1990s killed some 30,000 people. Sikh militants were blamed for the 1985 bombing of an Air India Boeing 747 flying from Canada to India in which all 329 people on board were killed.

The Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib centre in Surrey, British Columbia, where temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar was gunned down.

The Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib centre in Surrey, British Columbia, where temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar was gunned down.Credit: AP

In 2018, Trudeau assured India that Canada would not support anyone trying to revive a separatist movement in India but he has repeatedly said he respects the right to free speech and assembly of protesters to demonstrate.

AP with staff reporter

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