NEW DELHI — India on Tuesday expelled a Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move after Canadian officials accused Indian government operatives of gunning down a Sikh leader in British Columbia and threw out an Indian diplomat they identified as an intelligence officer.
The alleged assassination, disclosed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during an explosive speech before parliament on Monday, sent bilateral relations between the two nations tumbling toward its lowest point, but also held broader ramifications for ties between the U.S.-led alliance and India, which the Biden administration has assiduously courted as a strategic counterweight to China.
The expelled Canadian diplomat was not named in an Indian government statement but was identified by the Hindustan Times as the Canadian intelligence station chief in New Delhi.
The Indian government issued a statement Tuesday rejecting Trudeau’s allegations as “absurd and motivated.” India’s Foreign Ministry went on to say Trudeau’s 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. The inaction of the Canadian Government on this matter has been a long-standing and continuing concern.”
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was designated a terrorist by Indian security agencies in 2020 and accused of planning attacks inside India’s Punjab state, which is home to about 16 million Sikhs. The Khalistan movement he was part of seeks to form a breakaway state in the Punjab region called Khalistan and has supporters both within India and among the large global Sikh diaspora.
Months before Nijjar was shot by masked gunmen in the parking lot of a Sikh temple outside Vancouver on June 18, India ratcheted up a campaign to pressure countries including Canada, Australia, Britain and the United States, home to significant Sikh communities and frequent pro-Khalistan protests, to crack down on the movement.
In London and San Francisco, protesters stormed the grounds of Indian diplomatic missions to raise their movement’s flag, angering the New Delhi government.
Trudeau on Monday said he had recently expressed “deep concerns” to Indian security and intelligence officials about the killing and also conveyed them “personally and directly” and “in no uncertain terms” to Modi at the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi this month. He said Canada was looking into the killing with allied nations.
Trudeau’s India visit was fraught, with Modi’s office announcing at the time that the two leaders had discussed the Khalistan issue and Modi conveying “India’s strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada.”
Trudeau stayed a day longer than planned in New Delhi, which the Canadian embassy attributed to a technical problem in his airplane.