PM Trudeau says Indian government linked to murder of Sikh leader in B.C.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar in 2019 Photo by Nick Procaylo/Postmedia/File

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Canada has credible information that the government of India was involved in the murder of a prominent British Columbia Sikh leader on Canadian soil in June.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot dead in his truck by two masked gunmen as he left his Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C., on June 18. He was the president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara and a vocal supporter of the establishment of a separate state, called Khalistan, for Sikhs in India.

Trudeau said that Canadian security agencies have spent the last several weeks “actively pursuing credible allegations” that agents of the government of India were responsible for Nijjar’s death.

Trudeau made the startling announcement Monday afternoon in the House of Commons. He said he raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the recent G20 meetings.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau said. “Canada declared its deep concerns to the top intelligence and security officials of the Indian government last week at the G20. I brought them personally and directly to Prime Minister Modi.”

Canada recently cancelled trade talks with India and a proposed Team Canada trade mission was cancelled over the weekend. Trudeau said the protection of Canadians is the primary focus.

“Canada is a rule of law country. The protection of our citizens and defence of our sovereignty are fundamental.”

Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said the allegation was troubling and a violation of Canadian sovereignty. She said U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have been notified.

She said she spoke with her Indian counterpart, had expeleld a high-ranking Indian diplomat and made it clear that Canada wanted the Indian government to work closely with Canadian law enforcement.

“I’ve also told him that we expect India’s full collaboration to make sure that we get to the bottom of this and as of today, and as a consequence, we’ve expelled a top Indian diplomat from Canada.”

Joly identified the expelled diplomat as the head of the country’s intelligence agency in Canada.

Neither Joly or Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc identified any specific barriers that India had thrown up to the investigation. LeBlanc emphasized the RCMP in British Columbia are still trying to get answers.

“This is also an active homicide investigation, led by the RCMP in British Columbia so one needs to be very careful to not prejudice the ability of law enforcement and we hope ultimately, prosecutors to hold the perpetrators to account for this murder.”

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre stood in the House after Trudeau to address the allegation. He encouraged the Indian government to come clean and reveal what it knows about the attack.

“If these allegations are true, they represent an outrageous affront to Canada’s sovereignty,” he said. “Canadians deserve to be protected on Canadian soil. We call on the Indian government to act with utmost transparency as authorities investigate this murder, because the truth must come out.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who has been denied a visa to travel to India, said the news would resonate deeply with Canada’s Sikh community.

“It is outrageous. It is shocking and it is going to have deep and devastating impacts on Canadians,” he said. “I grew up hearing many stories that if you raise concerns about human rights violations, in India, that you might be denied a visa that if you went back to India, you could suffer violence, torture and even death.”

Vivek Dehejia, an associate professor at Carleton University, said the issue of Khalistan and support for it in Canada has long been a major irritant between the two countries.

“Diaspora groups bring grievances from their home countries,” he said. “Even though many Sikh Canadians are first-, second- or third- generation Canadians, that issue resonates.”

The Indian government’s 1984 siege of the Golden Temple in Amritsar — Sikhism’s holiest site — caused a deep and irreconcilable schism in the Sikh community, he said — one that persists in Canada to this day.

“There’s a lot of history there,” Dehejia said.

While much of India has moved on, Dehejia said, Canada remains a reliable hotbed of Khalistan support, including some extremist elements. With the most notable example of that extremism being the June 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182.

“There’s no serious insurgency in Punjab the way there was in the 1980s. I think most Sikhs in India are very pragmatic and know it would never allow one of its major provinces to separate,” he said.

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