India characterised as “absurd and motivated” an accusation by Canada that it was involved in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader, urging the country instead to take legal action against anti-Indian elements operating from its soil.
The dispute deals a further blow to diplomatic ties, with New Delhi unhappy over Sikh separatist activity in Canada, and now threatens trade ties, with talks on a proposed trade deal frozen.
Canada was “actively pursuing credible allegations” linking Indian government agents to the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons on Monday.
Nijjar, who was shot dead outside a Sikh temple in June, had been designated a “terrorist” by India in July 2020, following his support for a Sikh homeland in the form of an independent state of Khalistan.
“Allegations of the government of India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated,” its foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
Similar accusations made by Trudeau to Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been “completely rejected”, it added in a statement.
“We urge the government of Canada to take prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating from their soil,” the ministry said.
Such “unsubstantiated allegations” sought to shift the focus away from “Khalistani terrorists and extremists who have been provided shelter in Canada”, it added.
Canada also expelled India’s top intelligence agent in the country on Monday.
Trudeau said he had raised the issue of the murder directly with Modi on the sidelines of last week’s G20 summit in New Delhi, and urged his government to co-operate with Canada to resolve it.
Modi, in turn, conveyed strong concern to Trudeau over recent demonstrations in Canada by Sikhs calling for an independent state.
Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside the Indian state of Punjab, with about 770,000 people reporting Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census.
Khalistan is an independent Sikh state whose creation has been sought for decades.
What is known about the murder of Sikh separatist leader in Canada
- On the evening of June 18, Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) received a report of a shooting at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship, in the city of Surrey in the British Columbia province.
- First responders located a man, later identified as 45-year old Hardeep Singh Nijjar, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds inside a vehicle. Nijjar succumbed to his injuries on scene, RCMP said.
- The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) took conduct of the investigation.
- Investigators said that two suspects, described as “heavier set males, wearing face coverings,” fled the scene on foot and likely had a vehicle waiting for them closeby from the murder scene. Authorities later said there was a third suspect as well. No arrests have been made.
- In July, investigators released information to the public of the believed route taken by the two suspects after the murder. Authorities later identified the vehicle which was waiting for the suspects as a Silver 2008 Toyota Camry.
- There were suspicions raised by local community members that there may have been foreign interference in the murder of the Sikh separatist leader.
- “We understand there is a lot of speculation regarding the motive of this homicide, but we are dedicated to learning the facts and letting the evidence lead our investigation,” Timothy Pierotti, an official with IHIT, said in the early stages of the probe.
- Trudeau said on Monday Canada had credible information linking Indian government agents to the murder. Trudeau did not directly accuse India of definitely being involved and Foreign Minister Melanie Joly later used more cautious language, saying “if proven true” the allegations would be unacceptable.