The Indian government has resumed processing visa applications by Canadians after suspending the service amid a dramatic downturn in relations with Canada last month.
India’s high commission in Canada said Wednesday it will begin processing visa applications at its diplomatic mission in Ottawa as well as at consulates in Toronto and Vancouver.
This ends a suspension that began in September after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly accused India of being behind the gangland-style slaying of Canadian Hardeep Singh Nijjar this past June in Surrey, B.C.
The pause in processing visas created a major headache for travellers, including tens of thousands Canadians of Indian origin who travel to India each year.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan told reporters it was a good signal that India had relented on the halting of visa services.
“It would have been nice that they didn’t take it in the first place. As I want to remind Canadians, everybody, that there was a Canadian that’s killed on Canadian soil and we’ve been asking for greater co-operation with the investigation,” he said.
Mr. Sajjan said the restoration of visa services will be welcomed by Canadians and Indians because many of them can now travel to take part in important events like weddings and funerals.
“Those are two very important events that we want to make sure that people can go back and forth. So it is good news for Canadians as well,” he added.
Indo-Canadians cheered the development.
“After a few months of tension, finally there’s some good news,” said Bobby Sidhu, a Mississauga paralegal who last month put on hold plans to visit his family’s ancestral property in Punjab.
Since then, he’s heard of other families in the large Indo-Canadian community who have had to cancel plans for travel to India.
With this week’s developments, he said he’ll likely rebook his own trip for February or March of next year.
“It’s a very positive development,” he said.
Toronto-based immigration consultant Kubeir Kamal, who works extensively with Indian nationals and within Indo-Canadian communities, said all the clients he’s spoken with are “very happy.”
The news “gives some sense of relationships returning to some normalcy,” he said.
“With wedding season and holiday season coming up and a lot of people normally travelling back to India, this is certainly a huge relief.”
Relations between Ottawa and New Delhi have been in crisis since the Prime Minister’s accusation. Mr. Nijjar was an outspoken advocate for the creation of an independent homeland for Sikhs – Khalistan – in the Indian state of Punjab. India had designated him a terrorist.
Last week India unilaterally stripped 41 Canadian diplomats of their diplomatic immunity in the South Asian nation, Canada said. Canada moved the diplomats out of India before the measure took effect and Ottawa has since accused India of breaking international rules and norms with this action. It has said India effectively expelled the diplomats.
Both Britain and the United States last week publicly backed Canada in this dispute, urging New Delhi not to insist Canada scale back its diplomatic mission in India. “Resolving differences requires diplomats on the ground,” the U.S. State Department said Oct. 20, adding that it expects “India to uphold its obligations under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
Australia and New Zealand also offered their support for Canada in the dispute Wednesday, meaning all the members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance have now backed Canada on the matter.
The Indian government has not acknowledged the suspension or resumption of visa processing for Canadians was related to the diplomatic row.
In a press release Wednesday, it said the initial suspension owed to “safety and security considerations” and that the resumption followed a “careful review of the security situation that takes into account some recent Canadian measures in this regard.”
The Indian government has repeatedly complained publicly in recent months about its fears that pro-Khalistan demonstrations had threatened the safety of its high commission and consulates in this country.
India’s decision to force dozens of Canadian diplomats to leave Indian territory last week remains a major problem for bilateral relations.
New Delhi has defended its actions, saying it was merely requiring parity with Canada to ensure Ottawa cut its diplomatic presence in India to match India’s presence in Ottawa.
But the Canadian government says India cannot justify stripping foreign diplomats of their protective immunity status by citing a treaty right to require parity, or equal numbers of envoys, from each country.
India has said it is authorized under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to force Canada to reduce its diplomatic mission in the South Asian country to 21 from 62.
But Canada’s Department of Global Affairs noted in a recent statements to The Globe and Mail that the decades-old treaty doesn’t feature the word parity.
“The word ‘parity,’ repeated by the Indian side, is not in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and does not carry an agreed definition between states,” Geneviève Tremblay, a spokesperson for Global Affairs, said.
This covenant, signed more than 60 years ago, codified long-standing rules and norms governing the exchange of treatment of foreign diplomats.
Given the state of Canada-India relations today, New Delhi said, it’s within its right to demand the reduction.
“The state of our bilateral relations, the much higher number of Canadian diplomats in India, and their continued interference in our internal affairs warrant a parity in mutual diplomatic presence in New Delhi and Ottawa.”
But Canada says the Vienna treaty does not specify how a reduction in diplomatic presence should be achieved. “Friendly nations find ways to achieve this in a sensible and predictable way,” Global Affairs’ Ms. Tremblay said.