India, Canada expel diplomats as ties sour over Sikh murder

By Pratap Chakravarty - RFI
India  Chris HelgrenReuters
SEP 19, 2023 LISTEN
© Chris Helgren/Reuters

India has expelled a Canadian diplomat, a day after Canada did the same to an Indian diplomat amid tensions over the killing of a Sikh separatist in Surrey.

India said Tuesday it had asked a Canadian diplomat to leave the country within five days. Media identified him as Olivier Sylvestere, Ottawa's intelligence chief in Delhi.

“The decision reflects the government of India's growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities," the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement.

On Monday, Ottawa gave the marching orders to an Indian diplomat in connection with the 18 June killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia, which is home to a large Sikh community.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told parliament Monday that Indian agents allegedly killed the separatist activist on Canadian soil.

“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,” said Trudeau, who depends on the support of Canada's 800,000 Sikhs, who make up two percent of the population, to stay in power.

“In the strongest possible terms, I continue to urge the government of India… to get to the bottom of this matter," he said.

Murder, he said

Trudeau said he had brought up the matter in talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the G20 summit in Delhi earlier this month.

Delhi rejected allegations that India had been involved in Nijjar's death.

“We are a democratic polity with a strong commitment to rule of law,” India said, before retaliating with a counterattack on the Canadian diplomatic corps.

“The space given in Canada to a range of illegal activities including murders, human trafficking and organised crime is not new,” the statement said, asking Canada to take down all "anti-India elements" operating from its soil.

US concern

The United States, meanwhile, expressed "deep concern" about allegations of a "possible link between Indian government agents and the shooting of Nijjar near a Sikh temple”.

“It is critical that Canada's investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice,” White House spokesperson Adrienne Watson told local media in Washington, DC.

Trudeau has also reportedly spoken to US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – two leaders who were present at the G20 talks in Delhi.

Summit of snubs

In Delhi, Modi did not hold a formal meeting with Trudeau and publicly expressed “strong concern” over what he called a Sikh insurgency in Canada.

Trudeau was snubbed on his arrival when he was picked up in an old Toyota car, while others were accorded glitzy Audis and Mercedes.

Also, Delhi did not post the customary “welcome” note as Trudeau landed with his son Xavier.

On his return Trudeau was stranded for nearly two days in Delhi after his official flight developed a snag and broke down.

India-Canada ties soured in 2020 when Delhi accused Trudeau of interference after he spoke up in favour of thousands of farmers agitating for months to oppose the draft legislation they feared would turn them into paupers.

Last week, Canada postponed its trade mission to India in October but gave no reasons.