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India, Canada trade diplomatic blows over murder allegations

Randy Thanthong-Knight and Ragini Saxena, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India’s government of masterminding the assassination of a prominent Sikh leader, an explosive allegation that threatens to alter perceptions of the South Asian democracy among U.S. allies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration on Tuesday forcefully denied any involvement in the June murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen who has been at the forefront of a movement calling for an independent Sikh homeland in India called Khalistan. Canada expelled a top Indian diplomat, prompting Modi’s government to do the same in a tit-for-tat action.

“Allegations of the government of India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated,” its Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement Tuesday. It accused Canada of failing to take action against “Khalistani terrorists and extremists.”

Canada’s accusation puts the U.S. and its allies in an awkward spot shortly after leaders including President Joe Biden hailed close ties with India at the Group of 20 summit earlier this month. They were instrumental in bolstering India’s position as a counterweight to China, agreeing to watered-down language over the war in Ukraine with a broader goal of propping up the U.S.-world order among emerging economies that constitute the Global South.

But the burgeoning partnership between India and the West now faces a critical test after Trudeau on Monday said there were “credible allegations” of India’s involvement in Nijjar’s murder. His government has yet to lay out the evidence.

“Canada has declared its deep concerns to the top intelligence and security officials of the Indian government,” he said in the House of Commons in Ottawa. “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” he said.


Modi on Tuesday made no reference to Canada’s allegations when he addressed parliament in a 40-minute speech, focusing instead on India’s potential to become one of the top three economies in the world.

The U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the allegations disclosed by Trudeau, National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in an emailed statement. “It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice,” Watson said.

Australia also weighed in, with a spokesperson for Foreign Minister Penny Wong expressing concern. “We are closely engaged with partners on developments,” the spokesperson said. “We have conveyed our concerns at senior levels to India.”

Trudeau told lawmakers he raised these concerns “personally and directly” with Modi at the G-20 meetings. Modi, meanwhile, used the informal exchange to criticize the Canadian government for allegedly allowing Sikh secessionist groups to operate in the country.


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