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Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly arrives at the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on June 8. She is pledging to protect India's diplomats in Canada ahead of plannedAdrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is vowing to safeguard Indian diplomats in Canada, as posters circulating for secessionist 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 Saturday’s “Khalistan Freedom” rallies that are scheduled to end at India’s consulates in Toronto and Vancouver feature 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 a Surrey, B.C., man who also advocated for Sikh independence.

Canada is home to about 770,000 people who reported Sikhism as their religion in the last census. Some of them support the Sikh independence movement as it seeks to create a sovereign homeland known as Khalistan, a proposal fiercely opposed by the Indian government.

Mr. Verma, in an interview, said the posters indicate a threat to the safety of Indian diplomats in Canada and he wants Canada to prevent the rallies from taking place. “They are not demonstrators,” he said. “They are thugs.”

He said India has raised its concerns about the July 8 rallies to various levels of the federal government. “I want them to stop the hate speech. I want them to stop the act of hate,” Mr. Verma said of the Canadian government.

Gurpatwant Pannun, the New York-based general counsel for Sikhs for Justice, a secessionist group, said in an interview that he made the posters and that “Kill India” is a reference to his group’s desire to see the Indian state of Punjab break off from India and form its own country. He said the phrase is not intended to incite violence.

His group has been conducting a referendum on Punjab independence, taking the ballot to multiple countries around the world where the Indian diaspora live, as part of a global campaign on the matter.

Mr. Pannun defended labelling the Indian diplomats as killers because he believes India is responsible for the June shooting death in Surrey, B.C., of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Police are still investigating the death of Mr. Nijjar, whom India’s National Investigation Agency had accused of being a terrorist.

The posters declare that the pictured Indian diplomats, the high commissioner to Canada and the consuls-general in Toronto and Vancouver, are “the faces” of Mr. “Nijjar’s killers.”

Ms. Joly, in a Twitter post that addressed the rally posters, said Canada would live up to its obligations to protect Indian diplomats.

“Canada remains in close contact with Indian officials in light of some of the promotional material circulating online regarding a protest planned for July 8,” she said, calling the material “unacceptable.”

“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.”

Ms. Joly made no commitment to stop the July 8 rallies.

Dan Stanton, a former executive manager of operations at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service who is now the director of the national-security program at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute, said Canada will have to boost security at the consulates for the rallies.

“Certainly we would need a ramping up of police presence,” he said.

He said these posters have to be condemned, saying he believes they could incite hate.

Mr. Stanton, whose CSIS work included Sikh extremism, questioned how many Sikhs support the Khalistan movement today.

“My understanding is the Khalistan movement in India is a bit of a fringe movement and not a lot of Sikhs in Punjab buy into it and the same for the Sikh community here,” he said. “It looks to me like you’ve got extremists trying to hijack the movement and take us back to years ago.”

Mr. Pannun, who said he has dual American and Canadian citizenship, plans to attend one of Saturday’s rallies. He accused the Indian government of overreacting.

“When did we call for that somebody should be killed? It’s a simple poster [saying] that we are going to kill the Indian system, not the Indian people,” he said of the promotional material and his referendum drive. Mr. Pannun has also been accused by India of being a terrorist.

Mr. Verma said “mindless threats” against his country have ended up curtailing his freedom as a diplomat in Canada.

“I get anguished when I look at those who are spreading hate being allowed to do whatever they want to.”

Last week, The Globe and Mail reported that India had made a formal complaint to the Department of Global Affairs about “the safety and security” of its diplomatic premises in Canada, citing in particular a protest by Sikhs in March outside its high commission in Ottawa.

The Ottawa Police Service said it was investigating the March incident, including the “possible use of smoke canisters during the protest.”

Mr. Verma told The Globe that staff at the high commission felt threatened by the March 23 demonstration at their diplomatic mission in Ottawa’s New Edinburgh neighbourhood. He said protesters adopted a “quite frightening” posture during their demonstration.

“They came just next to our fence and they put their posters on it and then they tried to shake the fence, et cetera. So it was very threatening,” he said.

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