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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau upon his arrival to the G20 Summit, in New Delhi, India, on Sept. 9.POOL/Reuters

An explosive accusation by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in regards to the killing of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia is escalating already-tense foreign relations between India and Canada.

On Sept. 18, Mr. Trudeau said Canadian authorities have credible intelligence that the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar can be linked to Indian government agents. The accusation led Canada to expel an Indian diplomat, and India retaliated by denying the claims and kicking out a Canadian diplomat hours later.

What is the Khalistan movement, and how was Hardeep Singh Nijjar involved?

The issue of Sikh activism has long been a thorn in India-Canada relations. Canada is home to more Sikhs than anywhere else outside India and is a major hub for the Khalistan movement, which seeks to create a homeland for Sikhs in India’s northern state of Punjab. But this has long attracted the ire of New Delhi, which has outlawed the movement.

Here’s a timeline of events that led to this moment.

June 2016: Nijjar’s letter to Trudeau

In 2016, Mr. Nijjar wrote to Mr. Trudeau, asking for federal security agencies to clear his name amid media reports in the Times of India that Indian intelligence agents were identifying him as a terrorism suspect.

Mr. Nijjar was accused by Indian officials of terrorism and designated a terrorist by New Delhi, leading authorities to place his name on Interpol’s wanted list, according to a report from the CBC.

“I have never believed in, supported or been involved with any violent activity,” he wrote in the letter.

February 2018: Trudeau visits India

On a trip to India in 2018, Mr. Trudeau said that Canada supports a united India and condemns violent extremism, but will not crack down on those advocating peacefully for an independent Sikh state because that is a freedom-of-speech issue.

July 14, 2022: Ripudaman Singh Malik shot dead in Surrey

Ripudaman Singh Malik, who was acquitted in the Air India terrorist bombings, was killed in what police described as a targeted shooting in Surrey, B.C.

Mr. Malik was among three people charged with the 1985 bombing of an Air India Boeing 747. The explosion over the Atlantic Ocean killed 329 passengers, most of them Canadian citizens.

A 2010 public inquiry report on the terrorist act, by retired Supreme Court justice John Major, blamed Ottawa’s security officials for lacking sufficient urgency in dealing with a threat they did not understand. The Air India Flight 182 tragedy was the result of “a cascading series of errors,” Mr. Major wrote. The report blamed failures by police, intelligence officers and air safety regulators and prompted then-prime minister Stephen Harper to apologize to the victims’ families.

July 22, 2022: Indian authorities offer reward for Nijjar’s arrest

India’s counterterrorism National Investigative Agency announced a cash reward for information leading to Mr. Nijjar’s arrest, accusing him of involvement in an alleged attack on a Hindu priest in India.

Mr. Nijjar’s New York-based lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun and the World Sikh Organization of Canada have said he had been alerted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service as early as summer of 2022 of a likely assassination plot against him.

June 18, 2023: Hardeep Singh Nijjar is killed

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Community members exit the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib temple, in Surrey, B.C., on June 19.JENNIFER GAUTHIER/The Canadian Press

Mr. Nijjar was shot and killed on the grounds of the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Surrey.

As Mr. Nijjar was pulling out of the temple’s parking lot in his grey Dodge Ram pickup truck, two gunmen ran up to the driver-side window and fired several times before fleeing. Footage later viewed by The Globe and Mail showed Mr. Nijjar slumped in his vehicle, with his window blown out. On the ground near the truck were 10 to 15 spent shells. He died at the scene.

July 4, 2023: Joly pledges to protect Indian diplomats

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly vowed to safeguard Indian diplomats in Canada, as posters circulating from Khalistan rallies at Delhi’s Vancouver and Toronto consulates feature the phrase “Kill India” and label its senior diplomats in this country as “killers.”

Posters for the July 8 rallies featured a pen piercing a rifle and photos of Sanjay Kumar Verma, India’s high commissioner to Canada, as well as its two consuls-general, with a caption identifying them as the “killers” of Mr. Nijjar.

“Canada takes its obligations under the Vienna Conventions regarding the safety of diplomats very seriously,” she wrote. “We know that the actions of a few do not speak for an entire community, or Canada.” Article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 says the host state “shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack” on a diplomat’s “person, freedom or dignity.”

July 8, 2023: Sikh protests

Demonstrations were held at India’s consulates in the wake of the shooting.

The secessionist group Sikhs for Justice helped to promote the protests. The organization – headquartered in Washington and banned in India – supports the formation of a separate Sikh homeland called Khalistan.

In Toronto, the rally was “heated” and officers made one arrest – though that person was not charged. Sikh separatists squared off with counter protesters supporting the government of India at the Indian consulate in Toronto, with both sides shouting at each other for hours from behind barrier fences.

There were similar demonstrations in Vancouver, London, San Francisco and Melbourne.

Sept. 1, 2023: Canada calls for ‘pause’ on India treaty talks

Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma said Ottawa requested a pause on talks for an Early Progress Trade Agreement, a proposed trade treaty with India that the countries aimed to seal with an initial agreement this year.

They have been negotiating a deal since March 2022 that would be restricted to certain industries, instead of spanning the entire economy.

Sept. 9-10, 2023: G20 summit in India

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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a press conference after the closing session of the G20 summit in New Delhi on Sept. 10.MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

Mr. Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a tense exchange on the sidelines of the summit, during which the Indian leader accused Sikhs in Canada of “promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship,” according to an Indian readout.

Sept. 10, 2023: B.C. Sikh referendum vote

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The Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, in Surrey, B.C. on Sept. 18, where temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar was gunned down in his vehicle while leaving the parking lot in June.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

Organizers of an unofficial worldwide referendum on Punjabi independence, Sikhs for Justice, staged a vote in Surrey asking whether Mr. Verma, the high commissioner, was responsible for the “assassination” of Mr. Nijjar. The first stage of voting in B.C. attracted more than 135,000 voters, and prompted a second stage planned for Oct. 29.

The vote was part of a series of non-binding referendums held in several countries such as Britain, Italy, Switzerland and Australia to vote on the creation of a Sikh homeland.

The first ballots in Sikhs for Justice’s campaign were cast in London in October, 2021, then Rome in 2022, and Melbourne early this year. The greatest response was in the Greater Toronto Area, where tens of thousands of people cast ballots during two rounds of voting last year and a third round in July.

Sept. 15, 2023: Trade mission pushed

Canada announced it would postpone an October trade mission to India. Federal Trade Minister Mary Ng was set to visit Mumbai on Oct. 9 with Canadian business leaders to form ties with their counterparts, for a five-day trip known as a “Team Canada” trade mission.

The trade mission, the first in Asia under Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy, was meant to be focused on boosting Canadian clean-technology companies as a way to help meet India’s need for renewable energy.

Sept. 18, 2023: Trudeau says evidence shows India was involved in killing

Mr. Trudeau told Parliament that Canada has credible intelligence that “agents of the government of India” carried out the fatal shooting of Mr. Nijjar.

“Over the past number of weeks, 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, Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”

Ottawa promptly expelled Pavan Kumar Rai, the most senior member in Canada of India’s Research and Analysis Wing, the country’s foreign intelligence agency.

Ottawa said Mr. Trudeau had briefed both U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about the allegations regarding Mr. Nijjar’s killing, and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will discuss them with her G7 counterparts at the United Nations in New York.

Sept. 19, 2023: India responds

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Security personnel stand guard in front of the High Commission of Canada in New Delhi on Sept. 19.ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images

India quickly responded in kind, expelling an as-yet unidentified “senior Canadian diplomat.” In a statement, the country’s Ministry of External Affairs said the person has been asked to leave India within five days, adding that their expulsion reflected the government’s “growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities.”

In a separate statement posted online, New Delhi described Mr. Trudeau’s allegations as “absurd” and part of a pattern of supporting the separatist Khalistan movement.

Sept. 20, 2023: New Delhi urges Indian citizens not to visit Canada

India warned its citizens against travelling to Canada amid the worsening diplomatic crisis. In an advisory, New Delhi gave notice to citizens considering travel to Canada of “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate crimes and criminal violence.” In particular, it urged students to “exercise extreme caution.” India is the largest source of international students to Canada, with Indians making up about 40 per cent of all overseas students.

Sept. 21, 2023: Canada reduces diplomatic staff; India suspends visa services

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The High Commission of India is seen in Ottawa, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. India's visa processing centre in Canada suspended services Thursday as a rift widened between the countries.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

The Canadian government reduced its diplomatic staff in India, safety concerns.

“In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats. With some diplomats having received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada is assessing its staff complement in India,” Global Affairs spokesman Jean-Pierre Godbout said in a statement.

Meanwhile, India has temporary suspended all visa services for Canadians, including e-visas and visas issued in third countries.

Sept. 21, 2023: U.S. presses India to help with Canadian investigation

At a White House briefing, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States has not abandoned Canada even though none of Ottawa’s allies has joined Mr. Trudeau’s public condemnation of India. He said the U.S. has urged the government of Mr. Modi to work with Canada to arrest the people responsible for the killing of Mr. Nijjar: “We are in constant contact with our Canadian counterparts. We are consulting with them. We support the efforts that they are undertaking in this investigation and we have also been in contact with the Indian government.”

Meanwhile, CBC reported that the evidence gathered in the investigation of the Nijjar slaying included intelligence from a Five Eyes ally as well as communications involving Indian diplomats in Canada.

Sept. 26, 2023: NDP Leader says he was briefed on secret intelligence

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was provided with a classified intelligence briefing that points to the Indian government’s role in killing of Mr. Nijjar. Mr. Singh told reporters that he received a briefing from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a second briefing from Canadian security officials on Sept. 21.

“It was very clear to me, as the Prime Minister said, that there is credible information that the Indian government was involved in the killing of a Canadian on Canadian soil,” he said.

Mr. Singh said he was able to hear the evidence because he was given a high-level security clearance earlier this year to see classified documents involving allegations of Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

Oct. 3, 2023: Joly urges talks after India reportedly orders dozens of Canadian diplomats to leave

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly urged India to thaw frosty bilateral relations though quiet diplomatic talks after New Delhi reportedly ordered two-thirds of Canadian diplomats out of the country.

Ms. Joly would not comment on a report by the Financial Times that India had told Ottawa it must withdraw 41 of 62 Canadian diplomats by October 10 but she acknowledged the importance of having a diplomatic presence in each country.

“In moments of tension because these are tensions between both our governments, it is more than ever important that diplomats be on the ground,” she told reporters on her way into a cabinet meeting. “That is why we believe in the importance of having a strong diplomatic footprint in India.”

With reports from Robert Fife, Steven Chase, James Griffiths, Colin Freeze, The Canadian Press and Reuters

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