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India reacts to Nijjar murder charges, claims Canada welcomes criminals

Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot and killed in Surrey in June 2023
India’s Foreign Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar says Canada is his country’s “biggest problem” when it comes to Sikh separatism. India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar waits for Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as he makes a courtesy visit to Kishida at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo, Friday, March 8, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hiro Komae

India’s Foreign Affairs Minister says Canada is his country’s “biggest problem” when it comes to Sikh separatism.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar also accused Canada of welcoming criminals when asked about his reaction to developments in the case of a homicide that has roiled tensions between the two countries.

RCMP charged three Indian nationals last Friday in the death of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot dead last June as he left a temple in Surrey, B.C.

His death sparked a wave of protests and rallies against Indian diplomats in Canada, particularly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused New Delhi of playing a role in the homicide.

Jaishankar says the protests in Canada have gone beyond the limits of free speech, and he reacted to last week’s arrest by repeating claims that Ottawa allows Indian criminals to immigrate to Canada.

He also accused Canadian politicians of various stripes of giving electoral clout to people wanting to carve out a Sikh homeland separate from India, called Khalistan.

Jaishankar made the comments Saturday at an event in the eastern city of Bhubaneswar at a forum of intellectuals.

One attendee asked Jaishankar about countries like the U.S. and Canada wanting to partner with India while allowing people to support a separatist movement there, which New Delhi deems to be unconstitutional. Another attendee inquired about last Friday’s arrests, and Jaishankar addressed both questions.

“It’s not so much a problem in the U.S.; our biggest problem right now is in Canada,” Jaishankar said, adding the governing Liberals as well as other parties “have given these kinds of extremism, separatism, advocates of violence a certain legitimacy, in the name of free speech.”

Jaishankar said he has asked Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly about “attacks or threats” to India’s diplomatic missions and staff in Canada.

“I tell the foreign minister (Joly) saying, ‘Suppose it happened to you. if it was your diplomat, your embassy, your flag, how would you react?’ So, we have to keep our position strong,” he said.

Jaishankar reiterated his ministry’s insistence that Ottawa is allowing criminal elements to operate in Canada and affiliate with Sikh separatists.

“Somebody may have been arrested; the police may have done some investigation. But the fact is (a) number of gangland people, (a) number of people with organized crime links from Punjab, have been made welcome in Canada,” he said.

“These are wanted criminals from India, you have given them visas … and yet you allow them to live there.”

New Delhi raised that same concern a week before Trudeau announced that India was suspected of involvement in Nijjar’s death last September. In its readout of Trudeau’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Jaishankar’s ministry had called out “the nexus of (Khalistan separatism) forces with organized crime, drug syndicates and human trafficking.”

But Ottawa has repeatedly insisted India has not proven that people it accuses of terrorism have actually done anything that meets the threshold under Canada’s criminal code.

In February, a senior Canadian foreign-service bureaucrat told MPs that Canadian officials have been offering their Indian counterparts “workshops” on the rule of law, because India’s definition of terrorism “does not always compute in our legal system.”

In his remarks Saturday, Jaishankar also said “there will be pushback” to calls for Khalistan separation, but he didn’t specify where that may come from.

“It’s no longer a world which runs as a one-way street,” he said. “There will be a reaction; others will take steps or counter it.”

India’s high commission in Ottawa did not immediately respond when asked whether Jaishankar referred to pushback from India or by non-state elements.

Joly’s office also did not immediately respond when asked for comment. Joly has previously said she wants to conduct diplomacy with India in private.

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Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press