India suspends visa services for Canadians
NEW DELHI (AP):
India halted all visa services for citizens of Canada and told it to reduce its diplomatic staffing on Thursday as a rift widened between the countries after Canada’s leader said India may have been involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen.
Ties between Ottawa and New Delhi, key strategic partners in security and trade, have plunged to their lowest point in years after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week said there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the assassination of a Sikh separatist leader on its soil.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a 45-year-old Canadian citizen who had been wanted by India for years, was gunned down in June outside the temple he led in Surrey, outside Vancouver.
The bombshell allegation from Trudeau on Monday set off a diplomatic tit-for-tat as each country expelled a diplomat. India denied the claim and called it absurd.
“Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 Sept. Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice,” the BLS Indian Visa Application Center in Canada said. It gave no further details. BLS is the agency that processes visa requests for India.
The suspension means that Canadians who don’t already have visas will not be able to travel to India until services resume. In 2021, 80,000 Canadian tourists visited India, making them the fourth largest group, according to India’s Bureau of Immigration.
Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi confirmed a temporary suspension of all visa services for Canadians, including e-visas and visas issued in third countries.
“Security threats being faced by our High Commission and consulates in Canada have disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly, they are temporarily unable to process visa applications. We will be reviewing the situation on a regular basis,” Bagchi told reporters.
He called for a reduction in Canadian diplomats in India, saying they outnumbered India’s staffing in Canada.
“We have informed the Canadian government that there should be parity in strength and rank equivalence in our mutual diplomatic presence,” Bagchi said.
The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi said Thursday that all of its consulates in India are open and continue to serve clients. It said some of its diplomats had received threats on social media, prompting it to assess its “staff complement in India”. It added that Canada expects India to provide security for its diplomats and consular officers working there.