India freezes new visas for Canadians, asks Ottawa to scale back missions as row escalates

  • India cited security risks in suspending new visas.
  • Canada asked to reduce diplomatic presence
  • Canada says it has found evidence of India’s involvement in the killing of a Sikh separatist.
  • New Delhi says Canada did not share information about the killing.
  • India says it has informed some P5 countries of its position.

NEW DELHI, Sept 21 (Reuters) – India on Thursday suspended new visas for Canadians and asked Ottawa to scale back its diplomatic presence in the country, prompting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s New Delhi to become a Sikh separatist. Controversy escalated rapidly after allegations of a link to the murder.

India’s foreign ministry said Canada had not shared any specific information regarding the allegations against Trudeau and New Delhi was ready to see it if it was provided.

India’s complete suspension of new visas for a Western country is unheard of and marks a low point for India-Canada relations.

The announcement came hours after the Canadian High Commission in India would temporarily “adjust” staff presence in the country after some diplomats received threats on social media platforms.

But India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arndam Bagchi said Ottawa has been asked to reduce the number of its diplomatic missions in India to bring parity between the missions of the two countries.

Bagchi said India has suspended the issuance of new visas to Canadian citizens due to “security threats” to its staff at its consulates in Canada.

India has not provided any evidence or details about the nature of such security threats, and Canadian Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc responded on Wednesday that Canada is a safe country.

“You are aware of the security threats facing our high commissions and consulates in Canada. This has disrupted their normal operations,” Bagchi told reporters at a weekly briefing on Thursday.

“Accordingly our High Commission and Consulates are temporarily unable to process visa applications,” he said, adding that the security situation would be regularly reviewed.

According to Indian government data, Canada is the fourth largest source of foreign tourists with 350,000 visitors in 2019, a number that fell after the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Reputation Threat’

Unusual tensions flared Monday after Trudeau said Ottawa was investigating “credible allegations” about the possible involvement of Indian government agents in the June killing of Hardeep Singh Najjar in British Columbia.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has denied any link to the alleged murder.

Canadian officials have so far refused to say why they believe India may be involved in Najjar’s murder.

The two countries, whose relations have been strained in recent years over the issue of Sikh separatists, have since announced the expulsion of senior diplomats and issued tit-for-tat travel advisories.

Bagchi said India is ready to look at “any specific information, we have conveyed it to Canada, clarified them … but so far, we have not received any such specific information”.

Canada has discussed the issue with key allies such as the Five Eyes Intelligence Sharing Alliance, which includes the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand, with Washington, London and Canberra expressing concern.

Asked whether any of these countries, with which India has close ties, had raised the issue with New Delhi, Bagchi said: “We are in talks with them, we have made our The position states how we view these developments.”

Bagchi also said that Canada should be concerned about the damage to its reputation, not India, when asked about the threat to New Delhi’s global standing.

“If there’s one country that needs to look up, it’s Canada, given its growing reputation as a safe haven for terrorists, extremists and organized crime,” he added. Said that India had tried to take action against more than 20 people. .

Threat to trade relations

Canada has the largest Sikh population outside of the northern Indian state of Punjab, where about 770,000 people reported Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census.

A bloody Sikh insurgency in Punjab in the 1980s and 1990s killed tens of thousands before it could be suppressed. The separatists wanted an independent Sikh state called Khalistan.

Although there is hardly any support for the insurgency in India, small groups of Sikhs in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States support the separatist call and occasionally protest outside Indian embassies.

New Delhi, wary of any revival of insurgency, has long been unhappy with the activities of Sikh separatists in Canada.

Some Indian analysts say Ottawa does not stop Sikh protesters because they are a politically influential group.

The dispute is also threatening trade ties, with talks over a proposed trade deal last week.

Canada is India’s 17th largest foreign investor, while Canadian portfolio investors have invested billions of dollars in Indian financial markets.

As of 2018, India has been the largest source country for international students in Canada, with the number growing by 47% to nearly 320,000 in 2022.

Industry estimates suggest that the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Canada and India could increase bilateral trade by $6.5 billion.

Additional reporting by Sakshi Dayal and Shivam Patel; Written by YP Rajesh; Edited by Alex Richardson

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Krishna reports on politics and strategic affairs from the Indian subcontinent. He previously worked at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an international investigative consortium. Indian Express; And Karwan Magazine writes on defence, politics, law, party, media, elections and investigative projects. A graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism, Krishna has won numerous awards for his work. Contact: +918527322283

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