India has moved to renew visa services for Canadian citizens, easing a diplomatic row between the two states over the killing of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil.
India announced it would begin reissuing visas for entry, business, medical and conferences on Thursday, reversing a month-long ban. The Indian High Commission, along with India’s consulates in Toronto and Vancouver, will continue to deal with emergency services.
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Canadian Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan welcomed the decision as “good news for Canadians”.
India shut down visa services to Canadians over a month ago after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Delhi of potential involvement in the killing of 45-year-old Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil.
Nijjar was shot dead by masked attackers outside a Sikh temple near Vancouver on June 18.
India had long accused Indian-born Nijjar, who supported an independent Sikh state within India, of terror links, charges he denied.
India vehemently denied any connection to the murder, saying such claims were “absurd” and politically driven.
Canada is home to about 1.4 million people of Indian origin and 777,000 Sikhs, the largest population outside of India.
A minority of Sikhs advocate for a breakaway state called Khalistan in the state of Punjab and other Punjabi-speaking areas of northern India.
The Sikh separatist campaign is largely non-existent within India, which squashed an insurgency in the 1980s in the state of Punjab and has since cracked down on the movement’s leadership and followers, which it brands as “terrorists” and “gangsters”.
However, the separatist movement retains a following among the Indian diaspora, especially in Canada, which has the largest Sikh population outside of Canada.
Delhi has long accused Canada of tolerating Sikh separatist activity it considers “extremism” and says it is providing a “safe haven” to “terrorists” and “criminals”.
Trudeau said in September there were “credible allegations” of potential Indian government involvement in the murder of Nijjar.
“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau said. “Canada is a rule-of-law country, the protection of our citizens and defence of our sovereignty are fundamental.”
India fiercely rejected the claims, but later said it was open to probing any “specific” or “relevant” information Canada has in the case.
Canada and its ally the United States have called on India to fully cooperate in the investigation.
In addition to suspending visa services over the spat, India had also warned Canada it would strip 41 of its diplomats of their immunity, Ottawa said. This prompted Canada to call back 41 of the 62 diplomats it had posted in India.
India said it simply wanted Canada to recall the diplomats to maintain an equal diplomatic presence in both countries.
“Resolving differences requires diplomats on the ground,” Matthew Miller, a Canadian State Department spokesman, said in a statement last week. “We have urged the Indian government not to insist upon a reduction in Canada’s diplomatic presence and to cooperate in the ongoing Canadian investigation.”