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Banner outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, B.C., on Sept. 18, where Sikh community leader and temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

The last time Balraj Nijjar saw his dad was the morning of Father’s Day. Before he left that day, Balraj, 21, and his younger brother, Methab, 20, gave their dad the new pair of dark jeans they’d bought him.

Hardeep Nijjar, 45, who had begun dieting – halfheartedly, his elder son adds – joked that they’d bought him the wrong size pants. Balraj promised to buy him a new pair if he ever managed to shed a few pounds.

Just before 8:30 that night, as Mr. Nijjar was rushing home from the temple – worried he would be late to his own Father’s Day dinner – he was gunned down, a killing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday may have been carried out by “agents of the government of India.”

Mr. Nijjar, 45, was shot dead outside the Guru Nanak Gudwara in Surrey, B.C., of which he had been president for four years. He was an outspoken supporter for the creation of the separate Sikh state of Khalistan and volunteered with Sikhs for Justice, a U.S.-based group spearheading the movement, said Bhupinder Singh Hothi, the general secretary of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Society, in June.

A Canadian citizen and leader in Surrey’s Sikh community, Mr. Nijjar had been accused by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) of being a terrorist. He had spoken of the dangers of advocating for Sikh rights, and privately confided in friends that he had been alerted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that he was being targeted for violence. His lawyer confirmed CSIS’s warning in a statement in June.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons that Canadian national-security authorities have what they consider credible intelligence that India was behind the fatal shooting but he did not provide further detail. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly told reporters she had already expelled from Canada a “top Indian diplomat,” Pavan Kumar Rai, Canadian head of New Delhi’s Research and Analysis Wing – the Indian foreign intelligence agency.

What we know about the killing of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar

Campbell Clark: Canada once more forced to reckon with era of foreign intimidation

Balraj says he felt a huge sense of relief when he heard Mr. Trudeau’s remarks. It put to rest the idea circulating in media that his father’s death may have been the result of temple politics or some other “petty issue.”

Mr. Nijjar’s closest friend, Moninder Singh, said on Monday it was “almost like there was a black mark” over Mr. Nijjar and his family in the months since his death. “The reality was, Hardeep stood up for something he believed in. And he died for it.”

There was anger and a palpable sense of fear at the gurdwara. Some of the Indian students who spoke to The Globe and Mail were fearful of being photographed because the Indian government routinely denies visa requests to those who speak in support of Khalistan.

“We want to believe we will be safe, especially here in Canada. But it is not safe to be a Sikh in India right now,” said Guri Singh. “If we speak about Khalistan, we can be thrown in jail, tortured.”

Moninder Singh says he felt the killing was intended to “put fear into Sikhs.” He believes Mr. Nijjar’s death will serve to “intensify the movement for Khalistan.”

The night he died, Mr. Singh rushed to the scene, where his friend lay slumped in his truck. But he couldn’t bring himself to say goodbye. “It felt too unfinished – like I owed a debt to him. I can say goodbye once justice is done, once Hardeep’s killers are found.”

Reaction in B.C. to Mr. Trudeau’s announcement was immediate, with many calling for the release of more information. B.C. Premier David Eby said CSIS briefed him on the allegations after Mr. Trudeau spoke in Ottawa. He said he was deeply disturbed by the information and that Canadians must be safe from the interference of foreign governments.

“In light of these revelations, we will do all we can to enhance protection for the people of British Columbia against the violence or threats of state actors,” the Premier said in a statement.

“I call, yet again, on the federal government to share all relevant information related to any known ongoing foreign interference and transnational organized crime threats with our provincial authorities and our government, so we may act in co-ordination and protect those at risk.”

Read statements from the Prime Minister and opposition leaders on slaying of Sikh leader

Dave Hayer is a former Surrey Liberal MLA whose father, a Sikh journalist, was left partly paralyzed in a 1988 shooting and then fatally shot in 1998 – a crime that remains unsolved. He said he was shocked at Monday’s news and called for national-security authorities to release what they know.

“We definitely need to hear from law enforcement agencies and not politicians,” Mr. Hayer said.

“This is a huge step, making allegations against a country, that they are involved in the murder of a Canadian citizen. I hope that they provide information to the public so we can understand, because all of a sudden, I’m pretty sure the relationship will get worse than where we are now, with India and the Trudeau government.”

The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) said it had alerted Ottawa to Indian interference in Canada for years.

“Today, the Prime Minister of Canada has publicly said what Sikhs in Canada have known for decades: India actively targets Sikhs in Canada,” said WSO president Tejinder Singh Sidhu in a statement. His organization called upon the federal government to “immediately identify and bring to justice those individuals who were involved “and also to put in place “immediate protection for Sikhs in Canada who face a threat from India and its agents.”

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who heads Sikhs for Justice and was Mr. Nijjar’s New York-based lawyer, said Mr. Trudeau’s revelation demands forceful action from Ottawa, including the immediate expulsion of Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma.

“The assassination of Nijjar is an act of terrorism on Canadian soil,” Mr. Pannun said in a phone call from New York. “I’m expecting that the Canadian government take very strong action; expelling an intelligence officer is not the solution and does not do justice to the killing of Nijjar.”

With a report from Colin Freeze

The killing of a Sikh leader and Indian foreign interference

    Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the president of a Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C. and an outspoken advocate for Sikh separatism, was shot and killed outside the gurdwara on June 18, 2023. The homicide prompted a flare-up of old tensions that have simmered since the Air India bombing involving Sikh extremists in 1985.
    Three months after the shooting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Indian government agents of killing Mr. Nijjar, citing credible intelligence from Canadian national-security authorities. The Government of India denied any involvement and dismissed Mr. Trudeau’s claims as “unsubstantiated.”
    Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly expelled the head of Canadian operations of India’s foreign intelligence agency. Hours later, New Delhi responded in kind, expelling an as-yet unidentified “senior Canadian diplomat.”
    The World Sikh Organization of Canada, a non-profit that says it advocates for the interests of Canadian Sikhs, said it had alerted Ottawa that India actively targets Sikhs in Canada.
    The Nijjar slaying has cast a chill over Canada-India relations. Canada suspended talks on a trade deal with India, and Ottawa said an early October Canadian trade mission to India has been postponed.

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