Diplomatic crisis over the assassination of a Sikh leader in Canada: India’s warning for those traveling to the North American country

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the G20 Summit in New Delhi, India (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP) (Sean Kilpatrick/)

India on Wednesday advised its citizens to be careful when traveling to Canada, as the rift between the two nations widens in the wake of accusations from Ottawa that India may be involved in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in suburban Vancouver.

The Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi issued an updated travel advisory, urging its citizens and especially those studying in the North American country to be cautious due to the “increasing anti-India activities and politically tolerated hate crimes.”

Indians should also avoid places in Canada where “Threats have been especially directed at Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community who oppose the anti-India agenda.“said the ministry.

Ottawa and New Delhi, two strategic partners on security and trade, are locked in a diplomatic dispute after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged that India was linked to the murder of the Sikh independence advocate on its territory. in June.

Modi and Trudeau (Reuters)
Modi and Trudeau (Reuters) (POOL/)

Canada has yet to provide any evidence of India’s involvement in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh leader from 45 year old murdered by masked gunmen in Surrey, outside Vancouver.

For years, India said Nijjar, a Canadian citizen born in India, had links to terrorism, a charge he denied. At the time of his assassination, Nijjar was working to organize an unofficial referendum of the Sikh diaspora on Indian independence.

Trudeau’s announcement was followed by Canada’s expulsion of an Indian diplomat in Ottawa. New Delhi responded by rejecting Trudeau’s accusation as “absurd and motivated” and subsequently expelled a Canadian diplomat.

After the travel advisory was issued on Wednesday, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, Dominic LeBlancsaid that Canada is a safe country.

“What we are doing is ensure that there is a proper criminal investigation into these circumstances“, said.

What to know about the Sikh movement at the center of tensions between India and Canada
The Sikh movement at the center of tensions between India and Canada (Darryl Dyck/)

Indian authorities declared Nijjar a terrorist in 2020 and accused him of supporting the demand for an independent homeland for Sikhs, known as Khalistan, which began as an insurgency in the Indian state of Punjab in the decades of 1970 and 1980 and was crushed by the repression of the Indian government.

The movement has since lost much of its political power, but continues to have followers in Punjab, where Sikhs are in the majority, as well as among the sizeable Sikh diaspora abroad.

The Indian Foreign Ministry also stated that Trudeau’s accusations “are intended to divert attention from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been sheltered in Canada and who continue to threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India.”

The Ministry regularly issues travel warnings. In September last year, it asked Indian citizens to be careful while traveling to Canada due to the “sharp rise in incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities”.

The modern Sikh independence movement dates back to the 1940s but morphed into the insurgency of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1984, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a raid to capture armed separatists sheltering in the holiest shrine of Sikhism.

Hundreds of people were killed in the raid, and she was assassinated shortly afterwards by two of Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards. In response, anti-Sikh riots broke out across India, in which members of the minority were taken from their homes and killed.

And although the insurgency was quelled long ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has repeatedly warned that Sikh separatists were trying to make a comeback. The Modi government has asked several countries – including Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom – to take legal action against Sikh separatists.

India has also been accusing Canada for years of giving free rein to Sikh separatists, including Nijjar.

The two expulsions of diplomats have aggravated tensions: Trudeau had a cold meeting with Modi during the Group of 20 meeting held this month in New Delhi, and a few days later Canada canceled a trade mission to India scheduled for the fall.

Canada remains one of the top study destinations for Indian students. In 2022, the country had almost 300,000 Indian students pursuing higher education there.

(With information from AP)