In the midst of an intensifying dispute over the killing of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil, India has temporarily halted the issuance of visas to Canadian citizens. This move by India is attributed to “security threats” that have disrupted the functioning of its missions in Canada, while visa services for Canadians remain unaffected in India.
Tensions between the two nations escalated this week following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s suggestion that India might have been involved in the murder that occurred on June 18th.
India swiftly rejected this allegation, categorizing it as “absurd.” The already strained relationship between India and Canada, both key trade and security partners and allies of the United States, has reached an unprecedented low, according to analysts.
The Indian government clarified that the suspension of visa services extends to Canadians located in a third country. The foreign affairs ministry spokesman in Delhi revealed that “threats made to our high commission [embassy] and consulates in Canada” were the reasons behind the temporary disruption in visa processing.
Furthermore, India is seeking “parity in rank and diplomatic strength” between the diplomatic missions of both nations, citing Canadian diplomatic interference in its internal affairs as the basis for this demand.
Hours prior to India’s announcement, Canada had disclosed its decision to reduce personnel in India, citing threats received on social media by some of its diplomats. The safety of its diplomats was the primary concern, according to a statement issued by Canada.
The dispute has taken a toll on the historically close ties between the two countries, and the situation carries significant implications given the large Indian-origin population in Canada, India’s contribution to Canada’s international student body, and the substantial number of Canadian tourists visiting India.
The feud became public after Canada linked India to the murder of separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen killed by masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that Canadian intelligence agencies were investigating whether “agents of the government of India” were involved in the killing, while India had designated Nijjar as a terrorist in 2020.
In response, India accused Canada of trying to divert attention from Sikh separatists and extremists who have found shelter in Canada. India has consistently reacted strongly to demands by Sikh separatists in Western countries for Khalistan, a separate Sikh homeland, although the movement has waned in India but still has some support among the Sikh diaspora.
The Khalistan movement had its peak in India in the 1980s, characterized by a violent insurgency centered in the Sikh-majority Punjab state. While it has lost much of its influence in India, it still has adherents in the Sikh diaspora, particularly in countries like Canada, Australia, and the UK.