By: Kate Gruetter
Confrontations between India and Canada continue to escalate following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s accusations against Indian government agents in the death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian Sikh community leader.
After several failed attempts to immigrate, Nijjar moved to Canada in the mid-1990s and built a life for himself, becoming president of a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia. Claiming to be a “Sikh nationalist who believes in and supports Sikhs’ right to self-determination and [the] independence of Indian-occupied Punjab through a future referendum,” Nijjar was an important leader in gathering votes for a Canadian referendum advocating for the creation of a nation labeled Khalistan from a piece of Punjab State in India. However, in 2020, the Indian government declared Nijjar a terrorist and accused him of leading the terrorist group Khalistan Tiger Force. In June, Nijjar was leaving the temple where he worked when a white vehicle blocked his truck. Witnesses reported hearing bursts of gunfire and two masked men running away from Nijjar’s body and his vehicle.
Last month, Trudeau told lawmakers that officials associated “agents of the government of India” with Nijjar’s death. “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” the Canadian prime minister announced. Amidst Trudeau’s allegations, Melanie Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, also disclosed the expulsion of an Indian diplomat who she described as connected to the Indian intelligence agency in Canada.
The Indian government denies all allegations and in response, expelled one of Canada’s senior diplomats residing in India. India also accused Canada of harboring extreme terrorists and funding groups advocating for Khalistan. Currently, Trudeau is in talks with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet following demands for dozens of Canadian diplomats to leave India.
As the conflict continues, the Canadian government has chosen to speak carefully on the matter, deciding on a more private approach. Joly advocates for this attitude, stating, “We will continue to engage privately because we think that diplomatic conversations are best when they remain private.” In accordance with this statement, Trudeau has repeatedly echoed his pursuit of peace amidst the countries’ dispute, stating, “We’re not looking to escalate, as I’ve said, we’re going to be doing the work that matters in continuing to have constructive relations with India….We’re taking this extremely seriously and we’re going to continue to engage responsibly and constructively.”
(Sources: AP News, NY Times)