Canada has expelled a senior Indian diplomat and accused India of interfering in its internal affairs, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were credible allegations that India was connected to the killing of a Sikh activist in Canada.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh independence advocate who was gunned down on June 18 outside a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia, was wanted by Indian authorities, who accused him of involvement in an alleged attack on a Hindu priest in India and had offered a cash reward for information leading to his arrest.
Trudeau told Parliament Monday that Canadian security agencies were investigating “credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen.”
“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” he said.
India rejected the allegations as “absurd and motivated,” and accused Canada of harboring “terrorists and extremists.”
“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,” it wrote in a statement issued earlier Tuesday.
India expels Canadian diplomat in retaliation
India responded by expelling a senior Canadian diplomat on Tuesday and summoning the Canadian high commissioner in New Delhi, the top diplomat in the country, to lodge a strong protest.
India’s foreign ministry said it had asked the Canadian diplomat to leave the country “for indulging in activities incompatible with his status.”
It also said it had conveyed its “strong displeasure” over Trudeau’s remarks and demanded that Canada take “immediate steps” to stop any anti-India activities on its soil.
India has long demanded that Canada take action against the Sikh independence movement, which is banned in India but has support in countries like Canada and the U.K. with sizable Sikh diaspora populations.
Canada has a Sikh population of more than 770,000, about 2% of its total population.
Sikh separatist movement seeks independent homeland
The Sikh separatist movement, also known as the Khalistan movement, is a campaign to create an independent homeland for Sikhs by establishing an ethno-religious sovereign state called Khalistan (Punjabi: ਖ਼ਾਲਿਸਤਾਨ, lit. ‘land of the Khalsa’) in the Punjab region.
The movement began as an armed insurgency in the late 1980s among Sikhs demanding a separate homeland. It was centered in northern Punjab state, where Sikhs are the majority, though they make up about 1.7% of India’s total population.
The movement was sparked by a series of events that alienated many Sikhs from the Indian state, such as the imposition of emergency rule by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the suppression of Sikh political demands, and the 1984 Operation Blue Star, a military raid on separatists in a major temple that led to the assassination of Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards and a wave of anti-Sikh violence.
The violent movement lasted more than a decade and was suppressed by an Indian government crackdown in which thousands of people were killed, including prominent Sikh leaders.
Today, the movement’s most vocal advocates are primarily among the Punjabi overseas diaspora. Some Sikhs have organized unofficial referendums on Sikh independence from India, while others have staged protests and rallies to raise awareness and support for their cause.
India considers the movement as a threat to its national security and territorial integrity, and has accused foreign countries of providing safe havens and funding to Khalistani militants.