20 September 2023

India advises citizens to be careful if travelling to Canada as rift escalates

20 September 2023

India has advised its citizens to be careful when travelling to Canada as a rift between the two nations escalates further in the wake of Ottawa’s allegations that India may have been involved in the killing of a Sikh separatist leader in suburban Vancouver.

The Foreign Ministry in New Delhi issued an updated travel advisory, urging its nationals and especially those studying in the North American country to be cautious because of “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate crimes”.

Indians should also avoid going to venues in Canada where “threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community who oppose the anti-India agenda”, the ministry said.

Ottawa and New Delhi, two key strategic partners on security and trade, are locked in a diplomatic rift after Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged that India was connected to the killing of a Sikh independence advocate on its soil in June.

Canada has yet to provide any evidence of Indian involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a 45-year-old Sikh leader killed by masked gunmen in Surrey, outside Vancouver.

For years, India has said Mr Nijjar, a Canadian citizen born in India, has links to terrorism, an allegation he denied, saying he was working to organise an unofficial Sikh diaspora referendum on independence from India at the time of his killing.

Mr Trudeau’s announcement was followed by Canada expelling an Indian diplomat in Ottawa.

New Delhi responded by rejecting Mr Trudeau’s accusation as “absurd and motivated” and later expelling a Canadian diplomat.

Indian authorities designated Mr Nijjar a terrorist in 2020 and accused him of supporting demands for an independent Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan, that started as an insurgency in India’s Punjab state in the 1970s and 1980s and was crushed in an Indian government crackdown.

The movement has since lost much of its political power but still has supporters in Punjab, where Sikhs are in a majority, as well as among the sizable overseas Sikh diaspora.

India’s Foreign Ministry also said Mr 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 ministry regularly issues travel advisories.

In September last year, it asked Indian citizens to remain cautious while travelling in Canada because of a “sharp increase in incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities” there.

The modern Sikh independence movement reaches back to the 1940s but eventually morphed into the 1970s and 1980s insurgency.

In 1984, then-prime minister Indira Gandhi ordered a raid to capture armed separatists taking refuge in Sikhism’s holiest shrine.

The raid killed hundreds of people, and two of Ms Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards assassinated her shortly after.

In response, anti-Sikh riots took place across India in which members of the minority were dragged out of their homes and killed.

And though the insurgency was suppressed long ago, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has warned repeatedly that Sikh separatists were trying to make a comeback.

Mr Modi’s government has been asking several countries – including Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom – to take legal action against Sikh separatists.

India has also for years accused Canada of giving free rein to Sikh separatists, including Mr Nijjar.

The duelling expulsions of diplomats have escalated tensions – Mr Trudeau had frosty encounters with Mr Modi during this month’s Group of 20 meeting in New Delhi, and a few days later Canada cancelled a trade mission to India planned for the autumn.

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