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Activists of Sikh organisations shout pro-Khalistan and anti-government slogans in Amritsar, India, on June 6, 2021.NARINDER NANU/Getty Images

Ottawa can help repair frosty relations with New Delhi by cracking down on diasporic funding of the Sikh independence movement that is seeking to create a sovereign homeland known as Khalistan, India’s new envoy to Canada says.

Sanjay Kumar Verma told The Globe and Mail that India has long been concerned that some segments of the Sikh community in Canada are offering support and money to secessionists who want to separate Punjab from India. Punjab is an Indian state where the Sikh religion is the majority.

Mr. Verma was accredited as India’s High Commissioner to Canada last week.

“We think that there are a lot of illegal channels which are being used by those Canadians of Indian origin who are trying to push for the dismemberment of India or secession from India – which is not only illegal under any international law, it is illegal under the UN charter,” he said.

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Asked if his government considers Canada one of the worst countries in terms of Khalistan supporters, the High Commissioner replied: “It is difficult for me to comment. I will leave it to your interpretation.”

However, Mr. Verma said New Delhi would like Ottawa to put a stop to illegal funding and interference in the internal affairs of India.

“It goes against the foundations of bilateral relations between two countries. So I would say the sooner such tendencies are arrested, the better it will be.”

He noted that India would never have supported Quebec separatism.

The High Commissioner has made the request after a separatist group, Sikhs for Justice, recently organized a referendum in Brampton and Mississauga, as part of a global Khalistan vote that asks the diaspora whether they support a homeland in Punjab.

The group is banned in India, which has strongly condemned the ballot and the Canadian government for allowing it to take place.

Canada is home to about 770,000 who reported Sikhism as their religion in the last census, comprising 2.1 per cent of the population. A small but influential number of these Sikhs support the idea of Khalistan.

Although Ottawa has said that it respects India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Mr. Verma said New Delhi would like to see Canada speak out more forcefully on the issue.

“I would certainly like the government of Canada, including at the leadership level, to talk about the illegality of such processes, the illegality of such movements based out of the geography of Canada.”

The Indian envoy also expressed concerns about Jagmeet Singh, who before becoming NDP Leader in 2017 had participated in events where Sikh extremists denounced India and called for an independent Khalistan. In a recent Punjabi interview with a Vancouver radio station, Mr. Singh said people “have the right to seek freedom” and self-determination when asked about the Sikh independence movement.

Asked about Mr. Singh’s past involvement in Khalistan events, Mr. Verma said: “I would say such things should be avoided by anyone, including a public figure.”

Canada-India relations have been frayed for some time. In 2020, India also accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of inciting “extremist activities” after he raised concerns about New Delhi’s response to farmers protesting a law they feared would leave them vulnerable to exploitation by corporations. Mr. Trudeau also said Canada would always support the right of farmers to be heard.

Mr. Verma said Mr. Trudeau should have picked up the phone and called Prime Minister Narendra Modi if he had concerns about a new law: “Should such things be done through the media? I have my doubts.”

The Trudeau government has recently signalled its intentions to boost relations with the South Asian country, particularly in trade through the coming Indo-Pacific strategy. In a recent speech, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly stressed the importance of India, where annual economic output is expected to grow from US$2.5-trillion to US$5-trillion over the next decade.

Mr. Verma said India is interested in buying Canadian critical minerals, liquefied natural gas, agricultural products and co-operating on technological innovations.