India suspends visas for Canadians as conflict escalates

  • By Meryl Sebastian
  • BBC News, Cochin

image source, Getty Images

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Canada said it was investigating “credible allegations” linking India to the killing of the separatist leader.

India has stopped issuing visas to Canadian citizens amid growing controversy over the killing of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil.

India said the temporary move was due to “security threats” disrupting the functioning of its missions in Canada. Canadian visa services remain open in India.

Tensions flared this week when a Canadian leader said India could be involved in the June 18 killing.

India angrily rejected the allegation as “ridiculous”.

Relations between key trade and security partners and US allies have been strained for months. Analysts say they are now at an all-time low.

The Government of India quickly clarified that the suspension of visa services “applies to Canadian nationals in a third country”.

“There have been threats to our High Commission. [embassy] and consulates in Canada,” said an external affairs ministry spokesperson in Delhi. “This has disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly [they] Temporarily unable to process visa applications.”

He said: “India is seeking parity in hierarchy and diplomatic power between the diplomatic missions of the two countries. This is being sought because of Canadian diplomatic interference in our internal affairs.”

Hours earlier, Canada announced it was reducing its personnel in India, saying some diplomats had received threats on social media.

“In light of the current environment where tensions have increased, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats,” it said in a statement.

The two countries have historically close ties – and much is at stake.

According to the 2021 census, there are 1.4 million people of Indian origin in Canada – the majority of whom are Sikhs – making up 3.7 percent of the country’s population. India also sends the largest number of international students to Canada – in 2022, they accounted for 40% of the total 320,000 overseas students.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (left) had a difficult meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi this month.

The dispute erupted on Monday after Canada linked India to the killing of separatist leader Hardeep Singh Najjar, a Canadian citizen who was shot dead in his car by two masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia. was

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadian intelligence agencies were investigating whether “agents of the Indian government” were involved in the killing of Najjar – who was designated a terrorist by India in 2020.

India reacted strongly, saying that Canada was trying to “distract attention from Khalistani terrorists and extremists” who have been sheltered there. The Indian government has often reacted strongly to demands for Khalistan or a separate Sikh homeland by Sikh separatists in Western countries.

The Khalistan movement peaked in India in the 1980s with a violent insurgency centered in the Sikh-majority state of Punjab.

It was suppressed by force and now has little resonance in India, but is still popular among some in the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

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