During Question Period on Monday, Justin Trudeau alleged that his intelligence agencies had “credible evidence” that the Indian government was behind the killing of 45-year-old Hardeep Singh Nijjar. The Sikh leader, whose support of the Khalistan separatist movement landed him on India‘s “terrorist” list, was gunned down on June 18 outside his Surrey, BC gurdwara. Nobody has been arrested in connection with his death.
Nijjar’s death has had diplomatic consequences, with both Canada and India expelling diplomats, cancelling planned visits, and suspending trade talks.
“Over the past number of weeks, Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen,” Trudeau explained.
“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves.”
The prime minister added that officials have “been working closely and co-ordinating with our allies on this very serious matter in the strongest possible terms,” and urged the government of India to “cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter.”
Trudeau noted that during the G20 Summit last week in New Delhi, he raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, demanding action “in no uncertain terms.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly announced later Monday that diplomat Pavan Kumar Rai, the Canadian head of an Indian intelligence agency, had been ordered to leave the country “as a consequence.” India responded on Tuesday by expelling a Canadian diplomat, however their identity has not been released.
India responded to the allegations, calling them “absurd and motivated.”
India had an arrest warrant for Nijjar, accusing him of “conspiring to create an atmosphere of fear and lawlessness, and inciting people to rise in rebellion against the Government of India” by advocating for the creation of a separate Sikh state. He was also listed by Interpol as a “key conspirator” in the 2007 bombing of a cinema in Punjab.
Nijjar left India in 1997 and applied for refugee status in Canada using a fradulent passport. His application was rejected, and he soon married a Canadian citizen, who sponsored him. His application was denied yet again, and he lost an appeal in 2001. Since then, he has identified himself as a Canadian citizen, though Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada was unable to confirm or deny whether he was.
Nijjar settled in British Columbia, where he worked as a plumber. At the time of his death, he owned his own business, served as president of the Guru Nanak gurdwara, and had a wife and two sons. He was a beloved leader in the Sikh community not just in Surrey, but across the province and beyond.
India has a decades-long history of going after Sikh separatists, however the idea that the government may now be targeting those who live outside the country is concerning to many, especially those who fled to Canada in hopes of freeing themselves from the often oppressive Indian government.