Protesters target Indian missions in Canada
Sikh activists waving flags adorned with the word ‘Khalistan’ staged protests outside Indian diplomatic missions in Canada on Monday amid a grave diplomatic crisis unfolding between New Delhi and Ottawa.
Reuters reported that around 100 protesters in Toronto burned an Indian flag and also repeatedly struck a cardboard cut-out of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A further 200 protesters congregated outside the consulate in Vancouver, the news agency reported. Another 100 gathered outside the Indian embassy in Ottawa for a similar protest. Demonstrators in Toronto and Ottawa also called for the expulsion of the Indian high commissioner to Canada, Sanjay Kumar Verma.
The protest was held a week after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in parliament that his government had “credible intelligence” linking the death of pro-Khalistan leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, designated a “terrorist” by India, to “agents of the Indian government.” India has dismissed the allegations as “absurd.” Over the past week, the nations expelled a number of each other’s diplomats and issued warnings to those residing or traveling to the respective countries. New Delhi also suspended issuing visas to Canadians due to “security threats” disrupting the operation of its missions in Canada.
Nijjar, who left India in 1997 and became a Canadian citizen, was a prominent voice for the creation of a separate ‘Khalistan’ – an independent homeland for the Sikhs, who hail from the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent. India’s present-day state of Punjab is home to about 30 million Sikhs, while over 770,000 Sikhs reside in Canada.
“We are really thankful to Justin Trudeau,” a protester was quoted as saying by Reuters. “We want no stone left unturned to get to the bottom of this cowardly act.”
Last week, Canadian state broadcaster CBC reported, citing government sources, that Ottawa’s allegations may be based on the surveillance of the country’s diplomats and intelligence provided by members of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance. According to a report in the New York Times, the US provided Canada with intelligence after Nijjar’s death, but communications intercepted by Ottawa were “more definitive and led it to accuse India of orchestrating the plot.”
The allegations from Canada of India’s alleged involvement in Nijjar’s murder had been flagged to New Delhi through “security and diplomatic channels” before the accusations became public, Bloomberg reported.
Meanwhile, the US, Australia, and the UK – Canada’s allies in the ‘Five Eyes’ alliance – have expressed their “concerns” over Trudeau’s allegations. On Monday, US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller said that the US has “publicly – and privately” urged India to cooperate in the Canadian investigation.
The Indian Foreign Ministry has emphasized that Canada did not share any information or evidence to back up the allegations against New Delhi. “We are willing to look at any specific information that is provided to us, but so far we have received no specific information from Canada,” India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a briefing last Thursday.
Officials in New Delhi countered Trudeau’s allegations by saying that Canada hosts at least nine separatist organizations that have openly espoused threats of assassination, promoted secessionist agendas, and engaged in targeted killings within India.