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The Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple in Surrey, B.C., on Sept. 18.CHRIS HELGREN/Reuters

For the Indian government to kill an Indian citizen, without trial, in India would be a grievous wrong. To kill one of its citizens on foreign soil would be worse still: not just extra-judicial but extra-territorial.

But to assassinate a Canadian citizen, in Canada, would take matters to a whole new level. It is the kind of thing one expects of an outlaw state – a Russia or a North Korea – not the world’s largest democracy. Not even China has gone that far.

We do not yet know for certain what involvement, if any, the government of India might have had in the June killing of Sikh community leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, B.C. The Prime Minister was careful in his speech to Parliament Monday not to accuse it directly (“credible allegations of a potential link” with Indian intelligence agents was as far as he would go), though the frostiness of his encounters with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at this month’s G20 summit is more explicable now.

But the evidence of high-level involvement was apparently compelling enough to warrant the expulsion of a senior Indian diplomat, described by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly as the head of Indian intelligence in Canada. Draw your own conclusions.

India has had ample reason over the years to be annoyed by Canada’s indulgence of Sikh separatists, in general, and Sikh terrorists in particular. If the Indian government is too ready to paint every advocate of an independent Khalistan, at home or abroad, as a terrorist, its critics in this country – and some Canadian politicians – are too willing to excuse violence and terrorism as legitimate dissent, especially if there are votes in it.

India kicks out Canadian diplomat after Trudeau says New Delhi was involved in the killing of Sikh activist in B.C.

And yet, as vital as that distinction is in most contexts, it is irrelevant here. Regardless of whether Mr. Nijjar was merely a Sikh separatist or, as India maintains, a terrorist, he was a Canadian citizen, and entitled to the protections of Canadian law. The government of India had no right to kill him, or to do harm to him of any kind – not in India, and certainly not in Canada.

That’s not about sympathy for Mr. Nijjar, or his aims. It’s about the obligation of national governments to act within the rule of law, not least in their dealings with other sovereign states.

For now, the onus is on the government of India to cooperate fully in the investigation of Mr. Nijjar’s killing. At the least it could do Canada the courtesy of officially deploring it, as the Prime Minister demanded.

The language – “I expect it to reiterate that its position on extra-judicial operations in another country is clearly and unequivocally in line with international law” – nevertheless appeared once again to give the Modi government the benefit of the doubt. Such caution is understandable, given the stakes.

India is a country of vast strategic importance to the West, notably as a counterweight to China. We have limited leverage over it, and much reason to want to keep it onside, or at least not offside – and if we did not, our allies, whose opinion we are bound to respect, do. India under Mr. Modi may be drifting toward authoritarianism, but it is nothing like the sort of bestial dictatorship that China or Russia is, and still worth courting as part of a global effort to contain them.

But as much as Canada has a strategic interest in India, it has even more of a strategic interest in defending its sovereignty and protecting its citizens. There will have to be a price paid for the killing of Mr. Nijjar, and a stiff one, lest other bully states be tempted to take similar liberties. One bounced diplomat won’t do it.

What would? The government was right, in hindsight, to have put free trade talks on hold last month. It is probably right, on the other hand, to have ruled out severing diplomatic relations. Between these two options are the murky compromises of diplomacy. India has wronged Canada; pressure will have to be brought to bear on it – which to be effective must be in concert with our allies – to make amends in some fashion.

That’s not the only factor that makes this such a delicate matter. There is also the need to keep the peace domestically. There will be many Sikh Canadians who will be left shaken by Mr. Nijjar’s killing; some will be enraged, and some of them may be tempted to engage in reprisals of some kind. The risk of ethnic and sectarian bloodshed in Canada is real.

That must be avoided at all costs, and it was good to see the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader closing ranks on this point. Justice is the prerogative of the state, to be administered by due process of law, not by vigilantes – even state vigilantes.

A final note: does this prove, as some have claimed, the wisdom of a broader inquiry into foreign interference, beyond China? Only if you think the purpose of an inquiry is to look into foreign interference. It is not: it is to look into the government of Canada’s role in enabling foreign interference. That is, it is to look into things that would not otherwise be looked into.

There has been no evidence of the kind of repeated disregard of intelligence warnings with respect to India that has so marked the current government’s approach to China. Should some emerge, then we can add India to the list.

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