Mint Primer: Why India-Canada relations have soured

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses his country’s parliament on Monday. (AP)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses his country’s parliament on Monday. (AP)

Summary

  • Relations have suddenly nosedived over allegations of an Indian hand in the killing of pro-Khalistan leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada. Mint brings you the background of the case

Relations between India and Canada have suddenly nosedived over allegations of an Indian hand in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a pro-Khalistan leader in Canada. Tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats followed. Mint brings you the background of the case:

Who is the man behind the slide in ties?

Hardeep Singh Nijjar became a prominent face in the pro-Khalistan movement in Canada after moving there in 1996. He took on a key role in groups like Sikhs for Justice and founded the Khalistan Tiger Force. Earlier this year, India designated the KTF as a terrorist organization, saying it received financial and logistical support from foreign handlers to carry out terrorist activities in India. For this reason, Indian authorities pursued Nijjar for years. In 2018, his name was on a list of wanted criminals handed to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In June, Nijjar was shot dead in Canada outside a Sikh cultural centre by gunmen.

What did Justin Trudeau say?

Ever since Nijjar’s killing, his supporters have claimed that India may have had a hand in the assassination. On Monday, Trudeau told the Canadian parliament that the country’s intelligence agencies were investigating “credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar". He went on to say that Canada had made its concerns clear to the Indian government. “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty," he added.

What has happened since the statement?

After Trudeau’s statement, foreign minister Melanie Joly announced that Canada would expel an Indian diplomat, later identified as Pavan Kumar Rai. India, denying the allegations as “absurd and motivated", summoned the high commissioner in New Delhi and informed him of its decision to expel a Canadian diplomat for “involvement in anti-India activities".

Will there be an impact on bilateral ties?

Some of the fallout has already been felt on the economic side. Prior to publicly making these allegations, Canada called for a pause in talks on a free trade agreement. According to media reports, the two sides were earlier hoping to sign an early progress trade agreement this year. These political tensions could upset plans to boost bilateral trade and investment. Increased cooperation in defence and the Indo-Pacific as well as the broader political relationship could also be casualties of this diplomatic spat.

Any implications for India’s reputation?

Trudeau has already spoken to world leaders like US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron. A White House National Security Council spokesperson said the US was “deeply concerned" about the Canadian allegations. Britain and Australia also expressed concern. While the exact impact of these allegations on India’s reputation is unclear, much will depend on the response from Indian leaders and officials in the coming days.

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