India calls Canada arrests over Sikh activist murder ‘political compulsion’

Reacting to Indian nationals’ arrest, Trudeau acknowledges fear in Canada’s Sikh community but underscores ‘rule of law’.

A mural features the image of late Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey
A mural features the image of late Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada [File: Chris Helgren/Reuters]

Canada’s investigation into alleged Indian involvement in the assassination of a Sikh separatist in Vancouver last year is a “political compulsion”, India’s foreign minister has said after three Indian citizens were arrested over the killing.

Canadian police on Friday arrested the trio for the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, saying they were investigating their links to the Indian government, “if any”. He migrated to Canada in 1997 and acquired citizenship 18 years later.

He was wanted by Indian authorities for alleged terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder, the allegations he had denied. On June 18, 2023, he was shot dead by masked assailants in the car park of the Sikh temple he led in suburban Vancouver.

Nijjar’s killing sent diplomatic relations between Ottawa and New Delhi into a tailspin last year after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” linking Indian intelligence to the crime.

India rejected the allegations as “absurd”, temporarily halting the processing of visas and forcing Canada to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country significantly.

“It is their political compulsion in Canada to blame India,” the Press Trust of India news agency quoted India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar as saying on Saturday.

New Delhi has sought to persuade Ottawa not to grant Sikh separatists visas or political legitimacy, Jaishankar said, since they are “causing problems for them [Canada], for us and also for our relationship”.

He added that Canada does not “share any evidence with us in certain cases, [and] police agencies also do not cooperate with us”.

Jaishankar said India will wait for the Canadian police to share information on the arrested men, adding that the suspects “apparently are Indians of some kind of gang background”.

“We’ll have to wait for the police to tell us,” he said. “But, as I said, one of our concerns which we have been telling them is that, you know, they have allowed organised crime from India, specifically from Punjab, to operate in Canada.”

The three Indian nationals, all in their 20s, were arrested in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta province, on first-degree murder and conspiracy charges. They were accused of being the attacker, driver and lookout in his killing last June. The Canadian police said they were aware that “others may have played a role” in the murder.

Meanwhile, Trudeau, speaking on Saturday at an event in Toronto to celebrate Sikh heritage and culture, acknowledged that many Sikhs in Canada are “feeling uneasy, and perhaps even frightened right now”, but urged faith in the justice system.

“Let us remain calm and remain steadfast in our commitment to our democratic principles and our system of justice,” he said.

Trudeau said the arrests were “important because Canada is a rule of law country with a strong and independent justice system, as well as a fundamental commitment to protecting all its citizens”.

Nijjar advocated for a separate Sikh state, known as Khalistan, carved out of India. Thousands of people were killed in the 1980s during the separatist movement, which was put down by the Indian security forces. The movement has largely petered out within India, but in the Sikh diaspora – whose largest community is in Canada, with about 770,000 people – it retains support among a vocal minority.

India has warned governments in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom repeatedly that Sikh separatists were trying to make a comeback.

In November, the US Department of Justice charged an Indian citizen living in the Czech Republic with allegedly plotting a similar assassination attempt on US soil.

A Washington Post investigation found last week that Indian foreign intelligence officials were involved in the plot, a claim rejected by New Delhi.

Source: News Agencies