Mint Explainer: Why does India want big cuts in Canada’s diplomatic strength?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: AP)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: AP)


  • The move could affect the visa applications of thousands of Indians and further hamper the two countries' efforts to boost trade and defence ties

According to numerous media reports, India has asked Canada to sharply reduce the number of diplomats it has in the country. This is a significant move as Canada’s mission in India is among its largest anywhere in the world. It may also reflect that the spat between the two countries hasn’t cooled just yet.

What has happened, exactly?

A diplomatic row broke out between India and Canada after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged last month that India may have been involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a pro-Khalistan leader and Canadian citizen. Diplomats were expelled and India suspended visa services in Canada.

New Delhi then announced it was seeking “parity in rank and diplomatic strength" between the two countries. Since Canada maintains a large diplomatic presence in the country, its strength would have to be reduced to match India’s presence in Canada. The Financial Times reported that 41 Canadian diplomats have been asked to leave India by 10 October or face losing diplomatic immunity.

How has Canada reacted?

Trudeau spoke about the importance of Canada having a diplomatic presence in India. “Obviously we are going through an extremely challenging time with India right now, but that’s why it is so important for us to have diplomats on the ground working with the Indian government and to support Canadians and Canadian families," he said. Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said Canada would continue talking to India on the matter.

What does this mean for the wider row?

Prior to this incident, it seemed as if the Canadian government had chosen to de-escalate tensions with India. Prime Minister Trudeau said as much and stressed the importance of his country’s relationship with India. This latest clash demonstrates that diplomatic reprisals may yet be in the offing. Mint had earlier reported that the Indian government was planning to cancel a dozen Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cards over pro-Khalistan activities.

Who will be adversely affected by this move?

Observers have noted that a reduction in diplomatic staff may make it difficult for Canada to process the huge number of visa applications it receives from Indians. Around 40% of Canada’s large international student population is from India, as is a significant chunk of the 1.3 million immigrants who settled permanently in the country from 2016 to 2021. 

The reduction in diplomatic staff may also mean slower progress on ambitious plans to boost trade ties and deepen the two countries’ relationship on defence.

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