India tells Canada to remove 41 of its 62 diplomats in the country
India has told Canada to remove 41 of its 62 diplomats in the country, an official familiar with the matter said on Tuesday, ramping up a confrontation between the two countries over Canadian accusations that India may have been involved in the killing of a Sikh separatist leader in suburban Vancouver.
The official, who confirmed an earlier report from the Financial Times, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment, but ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had previously called for a reduction in Canadian diplomats in India, saying they outnumbered India’s staffing in Canada.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month that there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the slaying of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a 45-year-old Sikh leader who was killed by masked gunmen in June in Surrey, outside Vancouver. For years, India has said Nijjar, a Canadian citizen born in India, has links to terrorism, an allegation Nijjar denied.
Arranging the killing of a Canadian citizen in Canada, home to nearly two million people of Indian descent, would be unprecedented.
On Tuesday, Trudeau didn’t confirm the number of diplomats that have been told to leave, but suggested Canada would not retaliate.
“Obviously, we are going through an extremely challenging time with India right now, but that’s why it is so important for us to have diplomats on the ground working with the Indian government, and there to support Canadians and Canadian families,” Trudeau said. “We’re taking this extremely seriously, but we’re going to continue to engage responsibly and constructively with the Indian government.”
Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said she’s in contact with the Indian government.
“We will continue to engage privately, because we think that diplomatic conversations are best when they remain private,” Joly said.
India has accused Canada for years of giving free rein to Sikh separatists, including Nijjar.
India has also cancelled visas for Canadians. Canada has not retaliated for that. India previously expelled a senior Canadian diplomat after Canada expelled a senior Indian diplomat.
Trudeau has also previously appeared to try to calm the diplomatic clash, telling reporters that Canada is “not looking to provoke or escalate”.
The allegation of India’s involvement in the killing is based, in part, on the surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada, including intelligence provided by a major ally, a separate Canadian official previously told The Associated Press.
The official said that the communications involved Indian officials and diplomats in Canada and that some of the intelligence was provided by a member of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, in addition to Canada.
The latest expulsions by India have escalated tensions between the countries. Trudeau had frosty encounters with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during last month’s Group of 20 meeting in New Delhi, and a few days later, Canada cancelled a trade mission to India planned for the fall.