Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has claimed that India may have played a role in the assassination of a Sikh activist and separatist leader in Canada in June. Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was the head of the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), was shot dead by masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia. India has denied any involvement and called Trudeau’s allegations “absurd and motivated”.
Who was Hardeep Singh Nijjar?
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was a Canadian citizen of Indian origin who had been living in Canada since 1995. He was the president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib in Surrey, and also the chief of the KTF, a banned terrorist organization that seeks to create a separate state of Khalistan for Sikhs in India. Nijjar was accused by India of being involved in several terrorist attacks and plots in India, including the 2007 Shingar cinema blast in Ludhiana that killed six people and injured 32 others. India had declared him a wanted fugitive and had sought his extradition from Canada. Nijjar had denied any links to terrorism and had claimed that he was being targeted by India for his peaceful activism for Sikh rights.
How was Nijjar killed?
On June 18, 2023, Nijjar was leaving the Sikh temple after attending a prayer service. He was in a hurry to join his wife and two sons who had prepared pizza and his favorite dessert for Father’s Day. As he was driving his truck out of the parking lot, he was ambushed by two heavy-set masked gunmen who fired multiple shots at him. He suffered fatal gunshot wounds and died at the scene. The shooters fled on foot through a nearby park to a getaway car. The police have not identified any suspects or motives for the killing.
What did Trudeau say about India’s role?
On September 18, 2023, Trudeau told the Canadian Parliament that he had raised the issue of Nijjar’s killing with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting at the G20 Summit earlier this month. He said that Canadian security agencies had been pursuing “credible allegations” of a potential link between agents of the Indian government and the killing of Nijjar. He said that any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil was an “unacceptable violation” of Canada’s sovereignty. He asked India to cooperate with Canada to shed light on the situation.
How did India respond to Trudeau’s claim?
India rejected Trudeau’s claim as “absurd and motivated” and said that it had no role in Nijjar’s killing. India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that Trudeau’s statement was based on “unsubstantiated and baseless allegations” and that it reflected Canada’s “lack of seriousness” in dealing with terrorism emanating from its soil. Bagchi said that India had provided “concrete evidence” of Nijjar’s involvement in terrorist activities to Canada and had repeatedly requested his extradition, but Canada had failed to take any action against him. Bagchi also said that India had expelled a Canadian diplomat from New Delhi in retaliation for Canada’s expulsion of an Indian diplomat from Ottawa over the same issue.
What is the impact of this dispute on India-Canada relations?
The dispute over Nijjar’s killing has added to the already strained relations between India and Canada, which have been marred by differences over issues such as human rights, trade, immigration, and agriculture. The two countries have also been at odds over the issue of Sikh separatism, which India considers a threat to its territorial integrity and national security, while Canada has a large and influential Sikh diaspora that supports the cause of Khalistan. The two leaders, Modi and Trudeau, have had a tense relationship since Trudeau visited India in 2018 and faced criticism for his perceived support for Sikh extremists. The latest spat over Nijjar’s killing has further eroded the trust and goodwill between the two countries and has cast a shadow over their future cooperation.