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Khalistan flags are seen outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib in Surrey, B.C., Monday, Sept. 18, 2023.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he does not want to escalate tensions further with India, on a day when Canada’s allies showed signs they are unwilling to join Ottawa’s public condemnation of New Delhi for its alleged role in the gangland-style slaying of a prominent Canadian Sikh leader.

As he entered a cabinet meeting Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau sought to dial back his dramatic criticism of India after New Delhi ordered Canadian diplomat Olivier Sylvestre out of the country in a tit-for-tat response to Ottawa’s expulsion of an Indian foreign intelligence officer from its High Commission in Ottawa.

The government had already suspended free-trade talks with New Delhi and postponed a Canadian trade mission because of concerns surrounding the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an advocate of a separate Sikh homeland in the northern India state of Punjab whom the Indian government had designated a terrorist.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons, on Parliament Hill, September 19, 2023.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

“We are not looking to provoke or escalate. We are simply laying out the facts as we understand them and we want to work with the government of India to lay everything clear and to ensure that there is proper process,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters. “The government of India needs to take this matter with the utmost seriousness.”

Andrew Coyne: Did India assassinate a Canadian citizen?

Mr. Trudeau and his national-security adviser Jody Thomas had buttonholed Western leaders and officials at the G20 summit in New Delhi earlier this month to say they had credible intelligence that India was behind the slaying of Mr. Nijjar. The Prime Minister made the case directly to U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Despite these efforts, the United States, Britain and other allies have declined to criticize publicly the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which they see as a counterweight to China and a huge economic market of more than one billion people.

“We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson told reporters. “We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice.”

Britain will continue trade talks with India despite the Canadian allegations, the British Prime Minister’s office said in a statement.

“When we have concerns about countries we are negotiating trade deals with, we will raise them directly with the government concerned. But with regards to the current negotiations with India, these are negotiations about a trade deal, and we’re not looking to conflate them with other issues,” the statement said.

Australia, for its part, said it was deeply concerned by the allegations raised by Canada. The statement by a spokesperson for foreign minister Penny Wong said Canberra had also conveyed its concerns to senior levels in India.

Weeks before the Prime Minister made the bombshell accusation in the House of Commons on Monday, Ottawa asked its allies to publicly condemn the slaying and they refused to do so, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

“The overtures were rebuffed, underscoring the diplomatic balancing act facing the Biden administration and its allies as they work to court an Asian power seen as a crucial counterweight to China,” The Post reported.

The federal government called the report false and insisted Ottawa was merely briefing its allies.

“The claim reported in the Washington Post that Canada asked Allies to publicly condemn the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, and were subsequently rebuffed, are false,” Emily Williams, press secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, said in an e-mailed statement.

“We will continue to keep our Allies, including at the officials level, apprised of relevant information while Canadian security agencies work fast to get to the bottom of the matter.”

Stephanie Carvin, a former national-security analyst and an associate professor of international relations at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, said Canada should not expect a strong rallying of support from allies in the same way it was roundly backed during its campaign against China’s jailing of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

“India’s a much harder case, because everyone’s trying to woo India right now. And no one wants to risk upsetting that,” she said. “At the end of the day, you have to consider the fact that India is useful countering China and we’re not.”

She noted the U.S. in its comments implicitly backed Canada’s version of events but was muted in its criticism of India. “I think that this is the best we could probably hope for in this situation.”

The unwillingness of Canadian allies to denounce India comes as Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called on Mr. Trudeau to provide Canadians with hard evidence that India was behind the slaying of Mr. Nijjar that has led to a deep chill in Indo-Canadian relations.

“The Prime Minister needs to come clean with all the facts. We need to know all the evidence possible so that Canadians can make judgments on that,” Mr. Poilievre told reporters, a day after he told the Commons that India must account for its conduct if the allegations are true.

He suggested the government is taking a stronger approach to New Delhi than it did with China after the 2018 arrest of the two Michaels.

“I find it interesting that he knew about vast foreign interference by Beijing for many years at the same time Beijing kept two citizens hostage and he said nothing and he did nothing,” Mr. Poilievre said.

In an exchange with reporters Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau said the government had worked closely with Canadian intelligence agencies over the summer as they gathered evidence on India’s alleged role in the mid-June slaying of Mr. Nijjar, who was gunned down in a parking lot of a Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C.

But he did not say whether Ottawa would provide Canadians with the evidence to substantiate the allegations. He acknowledged his government became aware of India’s involvement shortly after Mr. Nijjar was killed.

“We wanted to make sure we took the time to talk with our allies and share what we knew. We wanted to make sure we fully shared with the government of India the seriousness and depth of our preoccupations and, indeed, conclusions,” Mr. Trudeau said.

New Delhi described Mr. Trudeau’s allegations, which he also made in person to his Indian counterpart at the G20 summit last week, as “absurd” and part of a pattern of his government in supporting the separatist Khalistan movement.

“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,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement. “The inaction of the Canadian government on this matter has been a long-standing and continuing concern.”

It expressed “deep concern” that Canadian political figures have “openly expressed sympathy” for Sikh separatists and accused Canada of giving space “to a range of illegal activities including murders, human trafficking and organized crime.”

Former Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Richard Fadden, who also served as national-security adviser to Mr. Trudeau and his predecessor Stephen Harper, said Canada should suspend intelligence-sharing or co-operation with India.

He said Canada should prepare for a long period of chilled relations with India but should also attempt to find a way to ensure New Delhi never does something like this again.

Mr. Fadden said there is a remote possibility that rogue elements of the Indian government killed Mr. Nijjar. “It’s within the realm of the possible. I don’t think it’s likely but it’s within the realm of the possible,” he said.

“Was this as a result of a member of the Indian intelligence establishment, who, on his or her own, just decided to do something? Was it the Indian intelligence agency which thought that they had the authority to do this and order for it to be done?” he said. “Or was it the Indian government and ministerial or prime ministerial level? I mean, until we know exactly what the chain of authority was, it won’t be clear.”

He said the Canadian government needs to pour more effort into fighting foreign interference. “We need to monitor more carefully people who are coming into this country.”

Mr. Fadden said law enforcement and security agencies must develop better relationships with diaspora communities. “I think if you ask the Sikh community today what is their relationship with CSIS and the RCMP, they’d argue it’s transactional and I don’t think that’s good enough.”

With reports from James Griffiths, Associated Press and Reuters

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