Canada investigates ‘election interference’ by India
Ottawa is investigating India as part of a probe into suspected “foreign interference” in the 2019 and 2021 national elections. The development comes against the backdrop of a diplomatic row between the two countries after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged that “Indian agents” could have been involved in the assassination of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil last year.
An independent commission, which was set up by Trudeau in September last year amid reports of alleged Chinese election meddling, has now asked the government to “share information about possible meddling” by India.
The probe also named China and Russia, among others. In its statement, the Canadian commission vowed to “evaluate the actions taken in response, assess the federal government’s capacity to detect, deter, and counter foreign interference, and make recommendations on these issues.”
Trudeau launched the investigation after leaked intelligence documents seemed to suggest that China interfered on behalf of candidates who were friendly toward President Xi Jinping’s government. Beijing has denied any interference and called the allegations “purely baseless and defamatory.”
Last year, an independent review by Canadian officials claimed that foreign nations attempted to interfere in the previous two federal elections, but they did not succeed in “impacting” the results. It singled out China, Russia, and Iran as having “interfered” in the votes. Canada’s commission, led by Judge Marie-Josee Hogue, is expected to deliver its final report on the matter by the end of the year.
Indian-Canadian relations took a dramatic hit last year following Trudeau’s accusation of “potential” Indian involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader designated as a “terrorist” by New Delhi. Nijjar, as well as his supporters, had sought the creation of Khalistan, a nation-state for the Sikh minority in India to be carved out of the country’s northwestern state of Punjab.
India has repeatedly expressed its concerns to Canada, which is home to the largest Sikh diaspora in the world, over harboring “extremist” elements on its soil.
Trudeau has insisted on probing the alleged link despite New Delhi’s repeated assertions that it was not involved. The Indian ambassador to Ottawa has stressed that New Delhi would help in the investigation “if there is anything specific and relevant and communicated to us.”
In the early days of the row, both countries expelled each other’s diplomats and India briefly stopped issuing visas for Canadians citing security threats. A free trade agreement between the two countries which was close to being sealed has also been put on the back burner, and the number of Indian students going to Canada for higher education has sharply decreased since the row broke out.
The US has also charged India in a foiled assassination attempt involving another pro-Khalistan activist – New York-based lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. A US court claimed in November last year that an Indian government official orchestrated the murder plot and New Delhi businessman Nikhil Gupta tried to recruit a hitman to kill Pannun, who is also designated as a “terrorist” by India. Gupta was apprehended in the Czech Republic and a High Court in Prague last week approved his extradition to the US. Meanwhile, India has formed a high-level committee to probe aspects of the US case.