Title: India Halts Visa Issuance for Canadians Amidst Row Over Sikh Separatist Murder
Date: 21 September 2023
India has suspended the issuance of visas to Canadian citizens in response to an escalating dispute regarding the killing of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil. The temporary move comes as India claims “security threats” are hampering its missions in Canada.
Tensions between the two nations intensified when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested on 18th June that India may have been involved in the murder. However, Trudeau clarified on Thursday that he did not intend to provoke India with the allegation.
India firmly rejected the claim, deeming it “absurd.” During a press conference at the UN General Assembly in New York, Trudeau emphasized the necessity of continued collaboration with India, stating it is a country of growing importance. He also stressed Canada’s commitment to the rule of law and the protection of its citizens.
The deteriorating relations between India and Canada, long-standing trade and security partners as well as allies of the United States, have now reached an unprecedented low, according to analysts.
India’s government announced that the suspension of visa services also applies to Canadians in a third country. A spokesperson from India’s Foreign Affairs Ministry revealed that threats had been made to their embassy and consulates in Canada, impairing their normal operations. The spokesperson further cited Canadian diplomatic interference in India’s internal affairs as a reason for seeking parity in rank and diplomatic strength between the two countries’ missions.
In response to the escalating tensions, Canada announced a reduction in personnel in India, citing threats received by diplomats on social media. However, Canada’s visa services in India remain open.
The stakes are high for both nations, given their historic close ties. Canada is home to 1.4 million people of Indian origin, more than half of whom are Sikhs, comprising 3.7% of the country’s population. Additionally, India sends the largest number of international students to Canada, with 320,000 Indian students accounting for 40% of the total overseas student population in 2022.
The conflict between the two countries came to the forefront when Canada linked India to the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, was shot dead by two masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia. Trudeau revealed that Canada’s intelligence agencies were investigating whether “agents of the government of India” were involved in the killing. India vehemently rejected the allegations, instead blaming Canada for providing refuge to Khalistani terrorists and extremists.
When pressed on the evidence linking India to the murder, Trudeau did not provide further details but stressed the seriousness with which the allegations were made. He called on Indian officials to cooperate with the investigation into the killing. In response, the Indian foreign ministry spokesperson stated that specific information regarding Nijjar’s murder has not been shared with India.
The Khalistan movement, centered in the Sikh-majority Punjab state, witnessed a peak in violence during the 1980s insurgency. Although it has lost traction within India, the movement remains popular among segments of the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, Australia, and the UK.
As tensions continue to rise, the future of bilateral relations between India and Canada remains uncertain.