The United Kingdom says it is in close touch with its Canadian partners about “serious allegations” from Ottawa that the Indian government was involved in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia province earlier this year.
Australia also is “deeply concerned” by the allegations, a spokesperson for the country’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Tuesday.
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday said it was “actively pursuing credible allegations” linking Indian government agents to the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia.
Nijjar, 45, was shot dead outside a Sikh temple on June 18 in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh population. He supported a Sikh homeland in the form of an independent Khalistani state and was designated by India as a “terrorist” in July 2020.
“We are in close touch with our Canadian partners about these serious allegations,” a British government spokesperson said. “It would be inappropriate to comment further during the ongoing investigation by the Canadian authorities.”
In April, India had asked Britain for increased monitoring of UK-based supporters of a Sikh separatist movement.
New Delhi was upset after protesters carrying “Khalistan” banners detached the Indian flag from the diplomatic mission’s building in London.
The spokesperson for Australian foreign minister Wong said Australia is “deeply concerned by these allegations and notes ongoing investigations into this matter”.
“We are closely engaged with partners on developments. We have conveyed our concerns at senior levels to India,” said the Australian official.
Trudeau said in an emergency statement to the House of Commons that any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen was “an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty”.
“We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau earlier today,” US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement released late on Monday night.
Trudeau did not directly accuse India of being involved in the murder. The Canadian foreign minister later used more cautious language, saying that “if proven true” the allegations would be unacceptable.
British Columbia’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said last month there were three suspects, though no arrests have been made.
India dismissed the accusation as “absurd and motivated” and urged Canada instead to take legal action against anti-Indian elements operating from its soil.
Meanwhile, Canada expelled India’s top intelligence agent in the country, while New Delhi, in a tit-for-tat move, expelled a senior Canadian diplomat.
Escalation in tensions
Trudeau’s comments mark a significant escalation in tensions between Canada and the world’s largest democracy, with New Delhi unhappy over Sikh separatist activity in Canada.
Modi conveyed his strong concerns to Trudeau at the Group of 20 (G20) summit over recent demonstrations in Canada by Sikhs calling for an independent state.
The diplomatic strains are now threatening trade ties, with talks on a proposed trade deal now frozen. Canada has given few details for the impasse while India has cited “certain political developments”.
Bilateral trade in 2022 amounted to just 13.7 billion Canadian dollars ($10.2bn) out of Canada’s total of 1.52 trillion Canadian dollars ($11.3 trillion), according to Statistics Canada.
Canada has the highest population of Sikhs outside their home state of Punjab in India, and the country has been the site of many demonstrations that have irked India.
Canada is also home to one of the largest overseas communities of Indian origin, which number about 1.4 million out of an overall Canadian population of 40 million. About 770,000 people reported Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census.
Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc said several senior Canadian government officials had visited India recently to express Ottawa’s concerns.