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White House rejects reports of tension with Canada over India interference allegation

White House denies tension

The White House is pushing back against reports that Canada-U.S. relations are straining under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's seismic allegation that the government of India was involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says the U.S. shares Canada's "deep concerns" and denies any suggestion of a wedge between the two countries.

Recent U.S. efforts to woo India as an economic and geopolitical ally have fuelled speculation that the White House was hedging its bets with its neighbour and vital trading partner.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh leader and avowed separatist the Indian government viewed as a terrorist, was killed outside a B.C. temple in June.

A Canadian official told The Associated Press that the allegation of India's involvement is based on surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada, including intelligence provided by a major ally.

The official said the communications involved Indian officials and Indian diplomats in Canada and that some of the intelligence was provided by a member of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand, in addition to Canada.

The official did not say which ally provided the intelligence or give any details of the communications or how they were obtained. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

"We are consulting with (Canada) closely, we support the efforts that they are undertaking in this investigation, and we have also been in touch with the Indian government as well," Sullivan told the White House press briefing Thursday.

"I firmly reject the idea that there is a wedge between the U.S. and Canada. We have deep concerns about the allegations, and we would like to see this investigation carried forward and the perpetrators held to account."

As he wrapped up two days at the UN General Assembly on Thursday, Trudeau urged India to co-operate with its investigation and work with Canada to ensure accountability and justice.

But he steadfastly refused to elaborate on the evidence that prompted him to tell the House of Commons of "credible allegations" of Indian involvement, except to say it "was not done lightly."

Canada and India each expelled one of the other's diplomatic emissaries in the ensuing fallout.

"We have a rigorous and independent justice system and robust processes that will follow their course," Trudeau said. "And we call upon the government of India to engage with us to move forward on getting to the truth of this matter."

India, which has halted visa services for Canadian citizens, called the allegations absurd and an attempt to shift attention from the presence of Nijjar and other wanted suspects in Canada.

At a briefing Thursday, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said it appears Canada's allegations "are primarily politically driven."

"No specific information has been shared by Canada on this case. We are willing to look at any specific information, we have conveyed this to the Canadians," Bagchi said.

He also accused Canada of being a safe haven for extremists.

"Very specific evidence about criminal activities by individuals based on Canadian soil has been shared with the Canadian authorities on a regular basis, but not been acted upon."

Nijjar was working to organize an unofficial referendum among the Sikh diaspora on independence from India at the time of his killing. He had denied India's accusation that he was a terrorist.

The second stage of B.C. voting on whether a Sikh homeland should be established in India's Punjab province is scheduled to be held on Oct. 29.

"There is not some special exemption you get for actions like this," Sullivan said.

"Regardless of the country, we will stand up and defend our basic principles. And we will also consult closely with allies like Canada as they pursue their law enforcement and diplomatic process."



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