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Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder: Canada launches drastic diplomatic drawdown in India

A sign outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple is seen after the killing on its grounds in June 2023 of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada September 18, 2023.—Reuters.File

The High Commission of Canada in India Thursday announced its decision to temporarily “modify” its staff presence within the country due to threats received by some diplomats on social media platforms, CNN reported. 

This development has further exacerbated the escalating tensions between the two nations.

The high commission’s statement came shortly after an Indian company initially posted a notice indicating the suspension of visa services for Canadian citizens in response to a communication from the Indian mission. 

However, this notice was retracted briefly before being reissued.

BLS International, an Indian firm that provides visa services, disclosed on Wednesday that the Indian mission in Canada had cited “operational reasons” for the temporary suspension of visa services, with services expected to remain halted until further notice.

Queries directed to the spokespeople of both the Canadian High Commission and the Indian foreign ministry regarding these two incidents went unanswered.

According to AFP, Tensions between Canada and India escalated earlier this week when Canada asserted that it was actively pursuing credible allegations linking Indian government agents to the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia back in June.

 In response, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government emphatically rejected Canada’s suspicions regarding any connections between Indian agents and the alleged murder.

With both nations expelling one diplomat each, analysts have noted that relations between the two countries have reached their lowest point in recent times.

“In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats,” the Canadian High Commission said in a statement.

“With some diplomats having received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada is assessing its staff complement in India,” it said, referring to the Canadian government department which manages Ottawa’s diplomatic and consular relations.

“As a result, and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily adjust staff presence in India,” it said, without elaborating on what it meant by adjusting staff presence.

“In the context of respect for obligations under the Vienna conventions, we expect India to provide for the security of our accredited diplomats and consular officers in India, just as we are for theirs here.”

After the tit-for-tat expulsions of senior diplomats, the two countries issued tit-for-tat travel advisories on Tuesday and Wednesday, with India urging its nationals in Canada, especially students, to exercise “utmost caution”.

Threat to trade ties

The tensions were sparked on Monday after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa was investigating “credible allegations” about the potential involvement of Indian government agents in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia in June.

Canadian officials have so far declined to say why they believe India could be linked to Nijjar’s murder.

New Delhi has also not provided evidence or details of specific incidents leading to its travel advisory that refers to “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada”.

Canada is a safe country, its public safety minister Dominic LeBlanc said hours after India’s advisory.

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.

Some Indian analysts say Ottawa does not curb Sikh protesters as they are a politically influential group.

The spat is also threatening trade ties, with talks on a proposed trade deal frozen last week.

Canada is India’s 17th largest foreign investor, pouring in more than $3.6 billion since 2000, while Canadian portfolio investors have invested billions of dollars in Indian stock and debt markets.

Since 2018, India has been the largest source country for international students in Canada.

In 2022, their number rose 47% to nearly 320,000, accounting for about 40% of total overseas students, the Canadian Bureau of International Education says, which also helps universities and colleges provide subsidised education to domestic students.

Industry estimates show the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Canada and India could boost two-way trade by as much as $6.5 billion, yielding a GDP gain of $3.8 billion to $5.9 billion for Canada by 2035.

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