Zoom Image

Poster for the independence referendum with Sikh activist Nijjar

Photo: Chris Helgren / REUTERS

India responds to Canada's expulsion of a diplomat by banishing a high-ranking Canadian official. The move comes amid the June killing of a separatist Sikh activist in the Canadian province of British Columbia, behind which Canadian intelligence agencies suspect masterminds with ties to the Indian government.

Ottawa has therefore expelled a high-ranking Indian diplomat. The fact that a representative of a foreign government could be involved in the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is "completely unacceptable," said Canada's Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke of a "violation of our sovereignty" that was "unacceptable".

Zoom Image

Canada's Foreign Minister Joly: "Completely unacceptable"

Photo: Justin Tang / AP

New Delhi, on the other hand, rejects the allegations as "absurd". The expulsion of the Canadian representative reflects the "growing concern of the Indian government about the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal affairs and their involvement in anti-Indian activities," it said.

Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was found shot dead outside a Sikh cultural center in British Columbia on June 18. He had campaigned for the establishment of an independent Sikh state in India and also helped organize an unofficial referendum on the subject. The secession efforts are considered by the Indian authorities to be a threat to national security.

Last year, India offered a reward for information leading to Nijjar's arrest. Indian authorities accuse Nijjar of involvement in an alleged attack on a Hindu priest in India.

Canadian-Indian relations severely strained

The murder of Nijjar is currently putting a massive strain on Canadian-Indian relations. Canada had recently put negotiations on a free trade agreement with India on hold. On the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently expressed his opposition to the so-called Khalistan movement, to which Nijjar belonged, without directly mentioning it. This promoted secessionism and incited violence against Indian diplomats, Modi said, according to his office.

Canada is home to the world's largest Sikh community outside the northern Indian state of Punjab. Punjab, where about 58 percent Sikh and 39 percent Hindu live, was shaken by a violent independence movement in the 1980s and 1990s. Thousands of people were killed. Today, the most vocal separatists live in the Indian diaspora.