OTTAWA, Sept 19 (Reuters) – Canada is not trying to provoke India by suggesting it was linked to the killing of a Sikh separatist leader, but wants New Delhi to properly address the issue, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.
Trudeau announced Monday that Canadian intelligence agencies are actively pursuing credible allegations linking New Delhi agents to the June shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, in British Columbia, in a rare such attack on the world’s largest democracy.
India quickly dismissed the claim as absurd, saying it was expelling a Canadian diplomat, further worsening already poor diplomatic relations between the two G20 members.
In the wake of India’s denial, Trudeau was pressured by the conservative opposition to make public the evidence he had.
Trudeau said Tuesday that Ottawa decided to speak now because “we wanted to make sure we had a solid basis to understand what was going on … we wanted to make sure we took the time to talk to our allies .”
He told reporters that the case had far-reaching implications in international law.
“The Government of India has to take this matter with utmost seriousness. We do; we do not seek to provoke or escalate,” he said.
The affair has derailed protracted negotiations on a potential bilateral trade agreement.
A source familiar with the situation said Canada’s decisions on Sept. 1 to pause talks and on Sept. 15 to postpone a major trade mission set for next month were directly linked to concerns over the killing.
The source spoke on the grounds that they could not be identified as they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
Canadian officials have so far declined to say why they believe India may be linked to Nijjar’s murder.
The evidence “will all be shared over time,” said a senior Canadian government source, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.
“The prime minister has not presented any facts. We need the evidence that allowed the prime minister to reach the conclusions yesterday,” Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters.
Canada has been working very closely with the United States, including on Trudeau’s statement Monday about his country’s concerns over the killing, the government source said.
Nijjar’s son Balraj, 21, said Tuesday that he always suspected India was behind the killing, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
“It was just a matter of time before the truth would come out,” it quoted him as saying.
Sikh and Muslim organizations welcomed Trudeau’s remarks and urged his government to act quickly, including protecting Sikhs in Canada under threat and barring Indian nationals tied to intelligence forces or human rights abuses from entering Canada, among other immediate steps.
“To see a Canadian attacked on Canadian soil by a foreign country — I don’t think we can understate how shocking that news is,” Mukhbir Singh, board member of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, said at a news conference.
National Council of Canadian Muslims executive director Stephen Brown, speaking alongside Singh, added: “This assassination was an attack on all of us as Canadians. That’s why we must take action.”
New Delhi, which urged Ottawa to act against anti-India elements, has long been unhappy with Sikh separatist activity in Canada.
Nijjar supported the creation of a Sikh homeland in the form of an independent state called Khalistan in the northern Indian state of Punjab, the birthplace of the Sikh religion, which borders Pakistan. India designated him as a “terrorist” in 2020.
Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside of Punjab, with about 770,000 people reporting Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census.
India has been particularly sensitive to Sikh protesters in Canada, and some Indian analysts say Ottawa will not stop them because the Sikhs are a politically influential group
The United States and Australia expressed “deep concern” over Canada’s accusations. US authorities have urged India to cooperate with the investigation, a senior State Department official told reporters at a news briefing on Tuesday.
Canada and India have sought to boost low levels of bilateral trade, which in 2022 amounted to just C$13.7 billion ($10.2 billion) out of Canada’s C$1.52 trillion total. Both sides have announced that they are stopping the negotiations.
Britain, meanwhile, said it would continue trade talks with India despite the allegations.
($1 = 1.3415 Canadian dollars)
Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer; additional reporting by Susan Heavey; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Marguerita Choy
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