- Canadian security agencies allege the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar can be linked to Indian government agents
- Mr. Nijjar, a Canadian citizen and leader in Surrey’s Sikh community, was shot dead in his truck in June outside a temple
- Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has expelled the head of Canadian operations of India’s foreign intelligence agency
- Government of India responded to allegations and denied any involvement
- Justin Trudeau says he has briefed U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
- Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says India must account for its conduct; NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says Canada and its allies must send a strong signal to India
Canada has expelled an Indian diplomat over revelations detailed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canadian national-security authorities have credible intelligence that “agents of the government of India” carried out the mid-June fatal shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh leader in British Columbia.
Mr. Nijjar, whom New Delhi designated a terrorist, was part of a separatist movement seeking an autonomous state for adherents of Sikhism.
Mr. Trudeau said he informed opposition leaders before telling Canadians of India’s involvement in the slaying, which he said he raised personally “in no uncertain terms” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in New Delhi last week.
He made the announcement in the House of Commons one day after the Prime Minister’s Office learned that The Globe and Mail planned to publish the story based on national-security sources.
“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,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly later told reporters that Monday morning she had expelled Pavan Kumar Rai, the senior-most member in Canada of New Delhi’s Research and Analysis Wing, the Indian foreign intelligence agency.
The Canadian government has privately ruled out severing diplomatic relations with New Delhi but is considering measures to respond to what Ms. Joly said is a “grave violation” of Canadian sovereignty.
A senior government source said Ottawa is expecting India to expel a Canadian diplomat in return. The Globe is not identifying the source who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The Prime Minister told MPs the government had “declared its deep concerns to the top intelligence and security officials of the Indian government” and urged New Delhi to work with Canada to “get to the bottom of this matter.”
“I also expect it to reiterate that its position on extra-judicial operations in another country is clearly and unequivocally in line with international law,” he said. “It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves.”
The government of India responded to the allegations on Monday night and denied any involvement in the Nijjar slaying.
“Allegations of government of India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated,” the country’s ministry of external affairs said in a statement posted on its website.
The statement also said Mr. Modi dismissed these accusations when they were raised with him by Mr. Trudeau. “Similar allegations were made by the Canadian Prime Minister to our Prime Minister, and were completely rejected.”
It said Canada has for too long given a safe haven to extremists.
“Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Indian government said. “The inaction of the Canadian government on this matter has been a long-standing and continuing concern.” New Delhi urged Canada “to take prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating from their soil.”
Mr. Trudeau has also raised the matter with U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Ms. Joly said, adding she will also be discussing the slaying with her G7 counterparts at the United Nations in New York on Monday evening.
Late on Monday, the White House released a statement saying that it is “deeply concerned” over accusations linking Indian government agents to Mr. Nijjar’s murder.
“We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau earlier today,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in the statement. “We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice.”
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and Mr. Trudeau’s national-security adviser, Jody Thomas, also recently visited India to discuss Mr. Nijjar’s slaying.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said India must account for its conduct.
“If these allegations are true, they represent an outrageous affront to Canada, to Canada’s sovereignty. Our citizens must be safe from extrajudicial killings of all kinds, most of all, from foreign governments,” Mr. Poilievre said. “We call on the Indian government to act with utmost transparency as authorities investigate this murder, because the truth must come out.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Canada and its allies must send a strong signal to India “about what it means that a foreign nation kills a Canadian on Canadian soil” – and that there will be repercussions.
“We know that the practice of the Indian government has been one of division, of violence, persecution, attacking those that are critical of the government. It is now an important time to send a clear message as a democratic country,” said Mr. Singh, a Sikh who has in the past attended Khalistan rallies before becoming leader in 2017.
He said he never could have imagined Canada would one day publicly accuse India of state-sponsored assassination.
“I grew up hearing many stories that if you raise concerns about human-rights violations in India, that you might be denied a visa; that if you went back to India, you could suffer violence, torture and even death. I grew up hearing those stories. But to hear the Prime Minister of Canada corroborate a potential link between a murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil by a foreign government is something I could never have imagined,” Mr. Singh said.
Mr. Nijjar was shot dead in his truck by two masked gunmen outside the Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple in Surrey, B.C., a brazen killing that outraged his supporters and intensified global tensions between Sikh separatists and Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Canada is home to about 770,000 people who reported Sikhism as their religion in the last census. Some support the Sikh independence movement, which seeks to create a sovereign homeland known as Khalistan from the state of Punjab in northern India. The Indian government fiercely opposes this.
There are signs that the Nijjar slaying is already casting a chill over Canada-India relations.
News broke Sept. 1 that Canada suspended talks on a trade deal with India, and, by mid-September, Ottawa said an early October Canadian trade mission to India has been postponed. While the government offered little explanation for these actions, two sources say they stem directly from the investigation. The Globe is not identifying the sources who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The Nijjar killing was raised in tense talks between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Modi on the sidelines of the Sept. 9-10 Group of 20 summit in New Delhi.
Mr. Modi’s office later publicly criticized the Canadian government for allegedly tolerating “anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada,” while Mr. Trudeau only told reporters he raised concerns over foreign interference in Canadian politics.
Mr. Nijjar has been accused by Indian officials of terrorism. India’s counterterrorism National Investigation Agency (NIA) has alleged he conspired to kill a Hindu priest in Punjab and in 2022 it announced a reward equivalent to $16,200 for information leading to his arrest.
In Canada, he promoted Sikh independence and urged Sikhs to vote in a non-binding international referendum among the global diaspora on whether the northern Indian state of Punjab should secede. It was part of a campaign by Khalistan supporters.
After the slaying, Mr. Nijjar’s New York-based lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun and the World Sikh Organization of Canada said the 45-year-old father of two had been alerted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service as early as last summer of a likely assassination plot against him.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which is investigating the slaying, did not respond to a Globe and Mail request for comment on the allegations against India.
Canada’s spy agency was circumspect when asked about India’s role in the killing.
“There are important limits to what I can publicly discuss given the need to protect sensitive activities, techniques, methods, and sources of intelligence. These limitations are essential to ensure the safety, security, and prosperity of Canada, and for these reasons, I cannot provide more information,” CSIS spokesman Eric Balsam said in a statement to The Globe.
India High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma did not return calls for comment.
The most immediate impact of cooling relations is trade.
India and Canada have been negotiating a trade agreement and, in May, International Trade Minister Mary Ng and her Indian counterpart had announced they aimed to strike an initial deal this year to boost trade and expand investment while setting out a mechanism to deal with disputes.
Ms. Ng had been scheduled to visit Mumbai in October with Canadian business leaders. Her office declined to say why the trip has been shelved or when it is likely to occur.
“At this time, we are postponing the coming trade mission to India,” press secretary Alice Hansen said in a statement last week. “In the next year we will be taking businesses to Japan, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam.”
India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal recently told the Indian news outlet Firstpost that this pause with Canada was needed to make sure that “geopolitically and economically” the countries are on the same page.
“We have had certain issues which are of serious concern,” he said, noting that Mr. Modi discussed these issues with Mr. Trudeau at the G20 summit. “We are hoping for resolution of some of these issues before we take it forward.”
Police have called the Nijjar slaying a “targeted incident” although no arrests have yet been made.
Mr. Nijjar’s death is the second in two years of a prominent member of the Sikh community in Canada: Last July, Ripudaman Singh Malik, one of two men acquitted of murder and conspiracy charges related to the 1985 Air-India bombing, was also shot and killed in Surrey.
Mr. Nijjar was the third prominent Sikh leader to have died suddenly in recent months.
Avtar Singh Khanda, who was said to be the head of the Khalistan Liberation Force, died in the United Kingdom in June.
In May, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, who was designated a terrorist by India, was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province.
The roots of the Khalistan movement date back to the end of the British Empire in India. The movement is fiercely opposed by the Indian government and is not supported by the Canadian government.
Late last year, Mr. Verma, the Indian envoy, told The Globe that New Delhi is concerned that some segments of the Sikh community in Canada are offering financial and other support to secessionists who want to separate Punjab from India. He called on Ottawa to crack down on diasporic funding of the Sikh independence movement.
Mr. Pannun, who is also New York-based general counsel for Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), wrote to Mr. Trudeau, accusing Mr. Verma of interfering in Canadian domestic affairs and seeking to conscript Ottawa to promote the Indian government’s political ends.
The federal government has said it does not support Sikh separatism but defends the rights of Canadian Sikhs to free speech as long as it is lawful.
Ottawa-New Delhi relations have been frosty since Mr. Trudeau became Prime Minister in 2015, including an ill-fated trip in 2018 where Jaspal Atwal, convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister in 1986, was invited to dine with the Prime Minister during the visit. The invitation was rescinded after it came to light, but he was photographed with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and then-infrastructure minister Amarjeet Sohi at an earlier event in Mumbai.
In 2020, India also accused Mr. Trudeau of inciting “extremist activities” after he raised concerns about New Delhi’s response to farmers protesting against a law that they feared would leave them vulnerable to exploitation by corporations. Mr. Trudeau said Canada would always support the right of farmers to be heard.
The Liberal and Conservative parties have said they support a united India while supporting the rights of Canadian Sikhs to peacefully advocate for an independent Punjab.
The NDP’s Mr. Singh has declined to say where he stands on the issue. The NDP has demanded that Mr. Verma present evidence of illegal funding to law enforcement.
- With a report from Reuters