Trudeau says India may have assassinated Sikh religious leader on Canadian soil

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Parliament Monday that he raised the issue of foreign interference 'in no uncertain terms' with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit. He did not provide further details.

Trudeau says India may have assassinated Sikh religious leader on Canadian soil
THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin, THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns, Facebook/ Narendra Modi
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According to 'credible intelligence' from Canadian officials, India supposedly orchestrated the killing of Surrey resident Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, a Khalistani and beloved Sikh leader.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose to the House of Commons Monday to inform Opposition parties that India faces allegations of assassinating a religious figure on Canadian soil, reported The Globe and Mail.

"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, Hardeep Singh Nijjar," he said.

On June 18, Nijjar died after being fatally shot as he left his gurdwara.

The RCMP's Integrated Homicide Investigation Team says two suspects are believed to have shot the gurdwara president before fleeing to a getaway vehicle driven by a third suspect.

The suspects remain at large, reported The National Post.

"Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty," said Trudeau.

"I also expect it to reiterate that its position on extrajudicial operations in another country is clearly and unequivocally in line with international law," Trudeau said about India's government. "It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves," he continued.

After the slaying, the victim's lawyer confirmed CSIS alerted the father of two of a potential assassination attempt against his life.

A spokesperson for the Intelligence Agency told the Globe, "There are important limits to what I can publicly discuss […], and for these reasons, I cannot provide more information."

Trudeau told Parliament he raised the issue "in no uncertain terms" with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit last week. He did not provide further details.

At the time, Modi declined to comment on the matter in an interview with Indian media. 

The prime minister urged him to "get to the bottom of this matter," but the Indian government vehemently denied shooting Nijjar in June, who faced several accusations from New Delhi.

India accused him of conspiring to kill a Hindu priest in Punjab and labelled him a terrorist in 2016 for his alleged involvement in a 2007 Punjab bombing.

Interpol later issued a notice against Nijjar, who they accused of leading the Khalistan Terror Force, followed by a Times of India report that claimed he trained sympathizers to conduct terror attacks in India.

"This is garbage — all the allegations. I am living here for 20 years, right? Look at my record. There is nothing. I am a hard worker. I own my own plumbing business," he told The Vancouver Sun then.

Nijjar, who came to Canada in 1997 under false pretenses, used a false passport to enter Canada and seek asylum, reported Global News

After Canada rejected his refugee claim, he married a woman who sponsored him just 11 days after the ruling — Immigration Canada later rejected the marriage, too. Nijjar became a Canadian citizen on March 3, 2015.

In 2016, Nijjar wrote to Trudeau as a 'peaceful activist.' He urged the prime minister to "dispel the Indian government's fabricated, baseless, fictitious and politically motivated allegations against me."

Before his untimely passing, Nijjar promoted Sikh independence and urged Sikhs to vote in a non-binding international referendum on whether Punjab should secede. 

Modi and the Indian government have long claimed Canada's vast Sikh diaspora misled the federal government and suggested the country is a hotbed for the Khalistan separatist movement.

He also questioned whether Indian diplomats could safely visit the country on official business moving forward.

"They are promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship," said the Indian government in a statement.

According to the latest census, Canada is home to roughly 770,000 Sikhs, some of whom want to establish a sovereign homeland in Punjab, India — an effort Modi's Hindu Nationalist party fiercely opposes.

Jaspal Atwal, a convicted ex-member of a controversial Sikh separatist group, attempted to murder Indian cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu on Vancouver Island in 1986.

Trudeau faced a media firestorm after a cabinet minister invited Atwal in 2018 to dine with the prime minister at a formal event hosted by the Canadian High Commissioner in Delhi. They later rescinded the invite.

The Indian government has long accused Canada of harbouring Khalistani extremists, dating back to the bombing of Air India Flight 182 on June 23, 1985.

Inderjit Singh Reyat — the lone plotter convicted — killed 329 people aboard, including 268 Canadian citizens, 27 British citizens, and 24 Indian citizens.

Ripudaman Singh Malik, one of two men acquitted of murder and conspiracy charges related to the bombing, died from a fatal gunshot in Surrey last July.

While the Canadian government is not severing ties with New Delhi, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said various measures are on the table, having already expelled a "top Indian diplomat" from Canada as retaliation for the extrajudicial killing.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said India must be held responsible if the allegations are true.

"If these allegations are true, they represent an outrageous affront to Canada, to Canada's sovereignty. Our citizens must be safe from extrajudicial killings of all kinds, most of all, from foreign governments," said Poilievre. 

"Canadians deserve to be protected on Canadian soil. We call on the Indian government to act with utmost transparency as authorities investigate this murder because the truth must come out."

Poilievre later told reporters that Trudeau "needs to come clean with all the facts" before Canadians decide what relations with India are going forward.

Singh, a fellow member of the Sikh diaspora, said the revelations shook him to the core. He urged Canada and its allies to warn India of the repercussions of killing a Canadian on Canadian soil.

"We know that the practice of the Indian government has been one of division, of violence, persecution, and of attacking those that are critical of the government. It is now an important time to send a clear message as a democratic country," said Singh.

"I grew up hearing many stories that if you raise concerns about human rights violations in India, that you might be denied a visa, that if you went back to India, you could suffer violence, torture and even death," he continued.

"To hear the Prime Minister of Canada corroborate a potential link between a murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil by a foreign government is something I could never have imagined."

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