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India, Canada in diplomatic row after killing

By RENA LI in Toronto | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-09-22 10:41
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Visa services for Canadians suspended amid Ottawa allegations over Sikh separatist's death

India suspended all visa services for Canadians on Thursday amid an escalating diplomatic row between New Delhi and Ottawa following allegations from Canada that India's government may have been involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen in British Columbia.

"Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 Sept. Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice," the BLS Indian Visa Application Center in Canada said in a statement.

BLS is the agency that processes visa requests for India, including for entry, tourist, student and employment visas. The center has physical locations in cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Canada is a popular destination for Indians, especially students. In 2022, nearly 300,000 Indians were pursuing higher education in Canada.

The notice also affects Canadians who do not already have visas. According to India's Bureau of Immigration, 80,000 Canadian tourists visited India in 2021, making them the fourth-largest group.

Tensions have continued to escalate between the two countries this week since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Parliament that Canada has "credible intelligence" linking agents of the Indian government to the killing of a Canadian citizen at a Sikh temple in British Columbia.

Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, was killed in June by two masked men in the parking lot of a Sikh temple in Surrey, where he served as president.

The case remains under investigation by BC's Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.

In the wave of tension, Mukhbir Singh of the World Sikh Organization called on the Canadian government to better protect the community, according to CBC News.

"There have been a number of cases where officials have warned them that there was a threat to their life," he told a news conference Tuesday.

New Delhi called the Canadian accusation "absurd and motivated" and urged it to instead take legal action against anti-Indian elements operating on its soil.

India has accused Canada of giving free rein to Sikh separatists, including Nijjar, for years. Nijjar, who denied the allegation, was working to organize an unofficial Sikh diaspora referendum on independence from India at the time of his killing.

In its advisory on Wednesday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) warned Indian nationals and students in Canada that "threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community".

"In view of growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada, all Indian nationals there and those contemplating travel are urged to exercise utmost caution," the advisory said.

On Thursday, the MEA cited Ottawa's "interference in internal matters" and called for a comparable diplomatic response.

Addressing a media briefing, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: "Their numbers here are very much higher than India's diplomatic presence. … We have seen Canadian diplomatic interference in our internal affairs. This is being taken into account, and parity is being sought in rank and diplomatic strength."

Stating that Canada did not share any specific information with India on the Nijjar case, Bagchi said, "Canada should worry about its growing reputation as a place and a safe haven for terrorists."

He said New Delhi had provided specific information with Canada on anti-India activities carried out on Canadian soil.

"Safe haven is being provided in Canada. … We want the Canadian government to not do so and take action against those who have terrorism charges or send them here to face justice. … We've sought either extradition request or assistance related to that, at least more than 20 to 25 individuals we've requested over the years, but the response has not been helpful at all," Bagchi said.

Hours after Ottawa expelled an Indian diplomat, a senior Canadian diplomat was ordered Tuesday to leave India within five days,

The dueling expulsions of diplomats have escalated tensions. Trudeau had frosty encounters with Modi during the Group of 20 meeting held in New Delhi in early September, and a few days later, Canada canceled a trade mission to India planned for the fall, according to The Associated Press.

Ottawa had already been discussing the matter with key allies such as the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance, which also includes the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The results so far have been muted, Reuters reported. The UK refused to publicly criticize India and said bilateral trade talks will continue as planned. A statement from Foreign Secretary James Cleverly about the affair did not mention India by name.

US national security adviser John Kirby said that the White House was "deeply concerned" and encouraged Indian officials to cooperate in any investigation.

The unprecedented escalation of tensions with Canada has triggered concerns over potential ripple effects in a range of areas, including trade and people-to-people ties.

According to the data on the India MEA website, there are 1,689,055 overseas Indians in Canada, or 5.26 percent of the total overseas. In Canada, there also are 178,410 non-resident Indians and 1,510,645 persons of Indian origin.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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