HomeNews41 Canadian diplomats exit India as Sikh leader controversy intensifies

41 Canadian diplomats exit India as Sikh leader controversy intensifies

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Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly photographed as she attends the G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting in New Delhi, India, March 2, 2023. AFP/File 

Canada announced on Thursday that it has withdrawn 41 of its diplomats from India, marking a significant deterioration in bilateral relations. 

The withdrawal comes as a result of an ongoing dispute regarding the killing of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly confirmed the move and disclosed that New Delhi had threatened to revoke diplomatic immunity for all but 21 of Canada’s diplomats and their families by Friday, thereby compelling Ottawa to recall the remaining personnel. 

“We have facilitated their safe departure from India,” Joly said. “This means that our diplomats and their families have now left.”

Tensions between the two nations have been on the rise since Canada publicly linked Indian intelligence to the murder of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar near Vancouver in June. 

Nijjar was a vocal advocate for a separate Sikh state, often referred to as Khalistan, carved out of India. Canada has demanded India’s cooperation in the investigation, but New Delhi has vehemently denied the allegations and taken retaliatory measures, including the suspension of visa services for Canadians. Additionally, Ottawa recently expelled an Indian diplomat in response to the issue.

Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, speaking in New York last month, expressed India’s willingness to examine any evidence presented by Canada. He also noted, “We have actually been badgering the Canadians. We’ve given them loads of information about organized crime leadership which operates out of Canada,” referring to Sikh separatist elements. 

Furthermore, Jaishankar pointed out that Indian diplomats have been threatened, Indian consulates have been attacked, and comments have been made that constitute interference in Indian politics.

The Sikh separatist movement, which seeks an independent state of Khalistan, has largely waned within India, where security forces used deadly force to quell the insurgency in the 1980s. However, Canada is home to a substantial Sikh population of approximately 770,000, constituting about two percent of the country’s population. Within this community, a vocal faction continues to advocate for the creation of Khalistan.

Last month, hundreds of Sikh protesters rallied outside Indian diplomatic missions in Canada, igniting tensions further by burning flags and trampling on pictures of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Joe Hotha, a member of the Sikh community in Toronto, voiced concerns, saying, “We are not safe back home in Punjab, we are not safe in Canada.”

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