Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday to provide Canadians with hard evidence that agents of the Indian government were behind the slaying of a prominent Sikh leader that has led to a deep chill in Indo-Canadian relations.
The Prime Minister announced Monday that Ottawa had credible intelligence that India carried out the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar and it expelled India’s top foreign intelligence officer in the High Commission in Ottawa.
Mr. Trudeau’s bombshell revelation came shortly after The Globe and Mail broke the news that Canadian security agencies had credible evidence that India was behind Mr. Nijjar’s slaying.
On Tuesday, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly denied the allegations and said he was expelling a Canadian diplomat in turn. He said the New Delhi-based diplomat had five days to leave the country.
“The Prime Minister needs to come clean with all the facts. We need to know all the evidence possible so that Canadians can make judgments on that,” Mr. Poilievre told reporters, a day after he told the House of Commons that India must account for its conduct if the allegations are true.
Asked whether the Trudeau government should take stronger action than expelling an Indian diplomat, the Conservative Leader responded: “We need to see more facts.” He suggested the government is taking a stronger approach to New Delhi than it did with China after the 2018 arrest of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
“I find it interesting that he knew about vast foreign interference by Beijing for many years at the same time Beijing kept two citizens hostage and he said nothing and he did nothing,” he said.
On his way into a cabinet meeting, Mr. Trudeau defended his actions. He said the government had worked closely with Canadian intelligence agencies over the summer as they gathered evidence on India’s alleged role in the mid-June assassination of Mr. Nijjar, who was gunned down in a parking lot of a Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C..
But he did not say whether Ottawa would provide Canadians with the evidence to substantiate the allegations. He acknowledged his government became aware of India’s involvement shortly after Mr. Nijjar’s slaying.
“We wanted to make sure we took the time to talk with our allies and share what we knew. We wanted to make sure we fully shared with the government of India the seriousness and depth of our preoccupations and indeed conclusions,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters. “We are going to follow the evidence and make sure that the work is one to hold people to account.”
New Delhi described Mr. Trudeau’s allegations, which he also made in person to his Indian counterpart at the G20 summit last week, as “absurd” and part of a pattern of his government in supporting the separatist Khalistan movement, which seeks to create a homeland for Sikhs in India’s northern state of Punjab.
“Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs statement said. “The inaction of the Canadian government on this matter has been a long-standing and continuing concern.”
It expressed “deep concern” that Canadian political figures have “openly expressed sympathy” for Sikh separatists and accused Canada of giving space “to a range of illegal activities including murders, human trafficking and organized crime.”
For his part, Mr. Trudeau urged India to take the Canadian allegations “extremely seriously”, adding the Canadian government does not want to “provoke or escalate” already tense relations with Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Both Mr. Nijjar’s lawyer and the World Sikh Organization (WSO) have said the slain man had previously told them he had been warned by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) that his life was in danger. CSIS has not confirmed this.
Mukhbir Singh, a director with the WSO, urged Ottawa to take drastic measures in the wake of the Nijjar slaying – an incident he called a “terrorist act” – some of which would have a major impact on relations with New Delhi.
“India cannot be allowed to disregard the rule of law and the sovereignty of foreign states,” Mr. Singh told reporters.
The WSO is calling on Canada to take six steps, including identifying and bringing to justice those involved in the shooting death of Mr. Nijjar, he said.
Other recommendations, some of which would likely invite retaliation from India, include: immediate protection for any Sikh adherents in Canada “who face a threat from India and its agents;” a thorough and ongoing review of all India diplomats in Canada to identify and remove those found to be involved in foreign interference and espionage; new measures to block all Indian citizens from entering Canada who belong to New Delhi’s intelligence services or have been implicated in human rights abuses; immediately stop all intelligence-sharing with India and ensure the upcoming public inquiry on foreign interference also probes India’s meddling in Canada.
The killing of a Sikh leader and Indian foreign interference
WHAT HAPPENED:Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the president of a Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C. and an outspoken advocate for Sikh separatism, was shot and killed outside the gurdwara on June 18, 2023. The homicide prompted a flare-up of old tensions that have simmered since the Air India bombing involving Sikh extremists in 1985.
ALLEGATIONS OF FOREIGN INTERFERENCE:Three months after the shooting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Indian government agents of killing Mr. Nijjar, citing credible intelligence from Canadian national-security authorities. The Government of India denied any involvement and dismissed Mr. Trudeau’s claims as “unsubstantiated.”
THE AFTERMATH:Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly expelled the head of Canadian operations of India’s foreign intelligence agency. Hours later, New Delhi responded in kind, expelling an as-yet unidentified “senior Canadian diplomat.”
REACTION FROM CANADA’S SIKH COMMUNITY:The World Sikh Organization of Canada, a non-profit that says it advocates for the interests of Canadian Sikhs, said it had alerted Ottawa that India actively targets Sikhs in Canada.
THE BIGGER PICTURE:The Nijjar slaying has cast a chill over Canada-India relations. Canada suspended talks on a trade deal with India, and Ottawa said an early October Canadian trade mission to India has been postponed.