OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada is not trying to provoke India by suggesting it is linked to the assassination of a Sikh separatist leader, but wants New Delhi to address the issue appropriately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.
Trudeau announced on Monday that Canadian intelligence agencies were actively pursuing credible allegations linking New Delhi agents to the shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, in British Columbia in June, in a rare such attack on the country’s largest democracy. world.
India quickly dismissed the claim as absurd and said it was expelling a Canadian diplomat, further worsening already poor diplomatic relations between the two G20 members.
Following India’s refusal, 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 foundation 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 consequences in international law.
“The Indian government needs to take this matter with utmost seriousness. We are doing so; we are not seeking to provoke or escalate,” he said.
The issue has derailed prolonged talks on a possible bilateral trade deal.
A source familiar with the situation said Canada’s Sept. 1 decisions pause conversations and on September 15th postpone an important trade mission set for next month, had been directly related to concerns about the assassination.
The source spoke on the condition of not being identified, as he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
Canadian officials have so far refused to say why they believe India might be linked to Nijjar’s murder.
All evidence “will be shared in due course,” said a senior Canadian government source, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.
“The prime minister has not provided any facts. We need to have the evidence that allowed him to reach the conclusions yesterday,” Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters.
Canada has worked very closely with the United States, including on Trudeau’s statement Monday about his country’s concerns about the killing, the government source said.
Nijjar’s son Balraj, 21, said Tuesday he had always suspected India was behind the murder, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
“It was only a matter of time before the truth would come to light,” he said.
Sikh and Muslim organizations welcomed Trudeau’s comments and called on his government to take swift action, including protecting Sikhs in Canada under threat and preventing the entry into Canada of Indian citizens linked to intelligence forces or abuses. of human rights, among other immediate measures.
“To see a Canadian attacked on Canadian soil by a foreign country… I think we can’t underestimate how shocking that news is,” Mukhbir Singh, a board member of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, said at a news conference. press.
National Council of Canadian Muslims executive director Stephen Brown, speaking alongside Singh, added: “This murder was an attack on all of us as Canadians. That’s why we must act.”
New Delhi, which has urged Ottawa to act against anti-Indian elements, has long been dissatisfied with Sikh separatist activity in Canada.
Nijjar supported the creation of a Sikh homeland in the form of a so-called independent state of Khalistan in the northern Indian state of Punjab, the birthplace of the Sikh religion, which borders Pakistan. India designated him a “terrorist” in 2020.
Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside Punjab, and around 770,000 people declared Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census.
India has been particularly sensitive to Sikh protesters in Canada, and some Indian analysts say Ottawa is not stopping them because Sikhs are a politically influential group.
The United States and Australia expressed “deep concern” over Canada’s allegations. US authorities have urged India to cooperate with the investigation, a senior State Department official told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday.
Canada and India have been trying to boost low levels of bilateral trade, which in 2022 amounted to just C$13.7 billion ($10.2 billion) of the total C$1.52 trillion. Both sides have announced that they will freeze the talks.
Meanwhile, Britain said would continue trade negotiations with India despite the accusations.
($1 = 1.3415 Canadian dollars)
Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer; additional reporting by Susan Heavey; edited by Jonathan Oatis and Marguerita Choy
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