India suspends visas for Canadians as row escalates
In the midst of an escalating dispute over the killing of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil, India has opted to halt the issuance of visas to Canadian citizens. India attributed this temporary action to “security threats” that have disrupted the operations of its missions in Canada.
Tensions between the two nations escalated recently when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that India might have been involved in the killing that occurred on June 18th. However, Mr. Trudeau clarified on Thursday that he had no intention of provoking India with this assertion.
During his remarks in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Trudeau emphasized the growing importance of India and the need for continued collaboration between the two countries. He stressed that Canada’s aim was not to antagonize India or create issues with such allegations but underscored the significance of upholding the rule of law and ensuring the safety of Canadians.
Relations between these countries, which are vital trade partners, security allies, and US collaborators, have been strained for several months, with analysts describing the current situation as reaching an unprecedented low. It’s important to note that India’s suspension of visa services also applies to Canadians located in a third country.
“There have been threats made to our high commission [embassy] and consulates in Canada,” a foreign affairs ministry spokesman in Delhi said. “This has disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly [they] are temporarily unable to process visa applications.”
He said: “India is looking for parity in rank and diplomatic strength between the two countries’ diplomatic missions. This is being sought because of Canadian diplomatic interference in our internal affairs.”
Hours earlier Canada had announced it was reducing its personnel in India, saying some diplomats had received threats on social media.
“In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats,” a statement said.
Canada’s visa services remain open in India.
The two countries have historic close ties – and much is at stake.
Canada has 1.4 million people of Indian origin – more than half of them Sikhs – making up 3.7% of the country’s population, according to the 2021 census. India also sends the highest number of international students to Canada – in 2022, they made up 40% of total overseas students at 320,000.
According to Indian government statistics, about 80,000 Canadian tourists visited India in 2021, behind only the US, Bangladesh, and UK.
The row burst into the open on Monday after Canada linked India with the murder of separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen who was shot dead in his vehicle by two masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada’s intelligence agencies were investigating whether “agents of the government of India” were involved in the killing of Nijjar – who India designated a terrorist in 2020.
India reacted strongly, saying Canada was trying to “shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists” who had been given shelter there. The Indian government has often reacted sharply to demands by Sikh separatists in Western countries for Khalistan, or a separate Sikh homeland.
On Thursday, Mr Trudeau was pressed by journalists about what evidence there was that suggested India was linked to the murder.
He did not share further details, but said “The decision to share these allegations was not done lightly”.
“It was done with the utmost seriousness,” Mr Trudeau said, urging Indian officials to cooperate with the investigation into the killing.
A spokesperson for the Indian foreign ministry said Canada has not shared specific information with India on Nijjar’s murder.
“We have conveyed this to the Canadian side, made it clear to them that we are willing to look at any specific information that is provided to us,” said Arindam Bagchi on Thursday. “But so far we have not received any such specific information.”
The Khalistan movement peaked in India in the 1980s with a violent insurgency centered in Sikh-majority Punjab state.
It was quelled by force and has little resonance in India now, but is still popular among some in the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, Australia, and the UK.