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Canada's Diplomatic Crisis

Globe Theory #3 : Canada


India established diplomatic relations with Canada in 1947. India and Canada have a longstanding bilateral relationship based on shared democratic values, the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi religious nature of the two societies and strong people-to-people contacts. In recent years, both countries have been working to enhance bilateral cooperation in several areas of mutual importance. India and Canada both are Commonwealth nations and have their respective High Commissions in the countries.

Canada is home to 962,670 Persons of Indian origin (2006 Census): 50% are Sikhs, 39% are Hindus, and the remainder are Muslim, Christian, Jain, Buddhist, etc. There are 9 Indo-Canadian MPs in the House of Commons and one in the Senate. Canada and India have long standing bilateral relations built upon shared traditions of democracy, pluralism, and strong interpersonal connections. Canada is home to one of the largest communities of Indian origin, with approximately 4% of Canadians being of Indian heritage (1.3 million people).

India-Canada Relations in the past years

Through a number of channels, including yearly Foreign Office Consultations, Strategic Dialogue, and Joint Working Groups on Counterterrorism, Science and Technology, Environment, etc India and Canada have developed bilateral ties. The Air Services Agreement, Extradition Treaty, Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, and MOUs on diverse sectors are only a few of the agreements they have signed. A priority market for Canada, in 2022, India was Canada’s 10th largest trading partner.

In FY 2021-2022, Canada invested nearly $76 million to support 52 international assistance projects in India. Canada’s funding primarily focused on sustainable economic development, the treatment of infectious diseases, nutrition, and renewable energy projects in vulnerable communities.

Bilateral trade during the calendar year of 2011 crossed the US$ 5 billion mark. India’s exports to Canada in 2011 were up 25 per cent and imports from Canada registered an increase of 31.7 per cent over 2010. Total bilateral trade during 2011 registered a 28.35 per cent increase over the previous year:

Khalistan and Separatist People

Separatist in its original true form means a person who supports the separation of a particular group of people from a larger body based on religion, gender, or ethnicity.

The declaration of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 and the religion-political vision that came with it fired the Sikh imagination with the belief that it was their God-given right to rule Punjab. Khalistan is “The Land of the Pure”, this concept was started by the Sikh separatists who demanded that their homeland Khalistan be created out of Punjab. This is not the first time Separatist movements have taken place regarding this. Khalistan’s idea originated in 1947 when protracted negotiations had taken place before the partition and the want, idea of an independent Sikh state figured prominently. The demand for Khalistan had resurfaced many times, most prominently during violent insurgencies in the 1970s and 1980s which had paralyzed Punjab for over a decade. Until recently the Khalistan movements and separatist movements were only a national issue of India and happening only in India. Since the Sikhs started migrating to Canada and have made a significant status there, this Khalistan movement rose again but became international and is now between two countries, India, and Canada.

In recent times, the relationship between Canada and India has encountered a series of challenges that have raised concerns on both sides. In geopolitics and diplomacy, the K term has long been linked with Kashmir for India, but now another K - Khalistan - has arisen as very problematic, severing ties between India and Canada. The modern Sikh independence movement reaches back to the 1940s but eventually became an armed insurgency that shook the country in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1984, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a raid to capture armed separatists taking refuge in Sikhism’s holiest shrine. A series of disturbing incidents have put a strain on what was once considered a relatively stable diplomatic relationship between the two nations, with a bilateral commercial relationship valued at a substantial 100 billion dollars.

Who was Nijjar?

Hardeep Singh Nijjar was a Sikh independence advocate whose killing two months ago was at the centre of a widening breach between India and Canada, was called a human rights activist by Sikh organisations and a criminal by India’s Government.He was also the chief of the Khalistan Tiger Force. Canadian police said Nijjar was shot as he was leaving the parking lot of the Sikh temple (Gurudwara) where he served as president in British Columbia. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died at the scene.

Nijjar, 45 when he died, was a prominent member of a movement to create an independent Sikh homeland known as Khalistan and was organising an unofficial referendum among the Sikh diaspora with the organisation Sikhs for Justice. In 2016, Indian media reported that Nijjar was suspected of masterminding a bombing in the Sikh-majority State of Punjab and training terrorists in a small city southeast of Vancouver. He denied the allegations. In 2020, Indian authorities claimed Nijjar was a member of a banned militant group and designated him a terrorist. That year, they also filed a criminal case against him as farmers, many from Punjab, camped out on the edges of New Delhi to protest controversial agriculture laws. The Indian Government initially tried to discredit the protests by associating them with Sikh separatists, filing several such cases against Sikh activists in India and abroad.

Canada-based Nijjar was designated a 'terrorist' by India under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in July 2020 and his property in the country was attacked by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in September 2020. An Interpol Red Corner Notice was also issued against him in 2016 Last year, Indian authorities accused Nijjar of involvement in an alleged attack on a Hindu priest in India and announced a reward of about $16,000 for information leading to his arrest.

Where did the issues start?

It all started with the death of Nijjar and the investigations of his death. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of participation in the killing of pro-Khalistan activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in a statement vehemently condemned by New Delhi. "Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty," Trudeau said in the House of Commons as the Canadian parliament started on Monday. Later, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly revealed that Canada has also expelled a prominent Indian diplomat over the matter.

India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, expressed strong concerns during the G20 summit in New Delhi in September 2023. He conveyed his apprehensions about protests taking place in Canada against India, particularly those associated with Khalistan, Sikh separatist sentiments These protests have been a growing source of worry for Indian authorities, given the history of Sikh insurgency in the country during the 1980s and 1990s. In June 2023, India's Foreign Minister, S. Jaishankar, criticised Canada for permitting a float in a parade that depicted the 1984 assassination of the-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards. This portrayal was seen as glorifying violence by Sikh separatists. The events of 1984, including the storming of the holiest Sikh temple, which was ordered by Indira Gandhi, had ignited deep-seated anger among Sikhs worldwide. March 2023 witnessed another incident when India summoned Canada's High Commissioner to express concern over pro-Khalistan protesters in Canada. These protesters breached the security of India's diplomatic missions and consulates, leading to heightened tensions between the two nations.

To understand the root cause of these issues, it is essential to consider Canada's significant Sikh community, which wields influence in the country. Canada has one of the world's largest Indian diasporas. People of Indian heritage make up 3% of the Canadian population. The country boasts 1.6 million people of Indian heritage and over 700,000 non-resident Indians. India's leadership has expressed concerns about certain fringe groups within this community that continue to sympathise with the idea of an independent Sikh state, known as Khalistan, separate from India.

The scars of the Sikh insurgency of the 1980s and 1990s, which claimed the lives of approximately 30,000 people, continue to haunt the memories of many. The 1985 bombing of an Air India Boeing 747 en route from Canada to India, resulting in the tragic loss of all 329 lives on board, serves as a grim reminder of the consequences of Sikh militancy.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has, on multiple occasions, assured India that Canada does not endorse the revival of any separatist movements within India. However, he has consistently emphasised the importance of free speech and the right to assembly for protesters. Sikh diaspora activism has been a source of tension between India and Canada for years. Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside India, and India has repeatedly accused it of tolerating “terrorists and extremists”.

Canada’s Perspective

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 20th September, in the House of Commons raised allegations and publicly criticised India and blamed them for being involved in the death of Nijjar. The Prime Minister did this based on ‘apparently existing’ classified evidence and information received from its strong and big ally who is part of the ‘Five Eyes’. Five Eyes is basically an alliance formed by New Zealand, Australia, the UK, the USA, and Canada that aims to gather, analyse, and share intelligence related to national security threats and issues of global concern. Justin Trudeau took this calculated risk of blaming India for being involved in the murder. Justin Trudeau’s approach was totally different and unexpected by the World. Canada is ready to defend Nijjar and blames India for his death as he was a Canadian Citizen and was killed on Canadian soil. Canada is continuing with its probe, and investigation into the murder and Indian Connections of the same with the US supporting their efforts constantly consulting Canada and asking India to cooperate with them to get to the bottom of this.

India’s Perspective

India on September 21 said there is a degree of prejudice in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's allegations against it on the killing of a Khalistan separatist in Canada and termed these as "politically motivated". India has strongly rejected Trudeau's statement made in the Canadian Parliament and said, "allegations of Government of India's involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated." India has straight-up denied the allegations made by Justin Trudeau and has called it an outrageous claim. After publicly blaming India for being involved in the murder, Canada supposedly has some evidence and should have some evidence to support their claim, but they are not willing to share any specific information with India on the Hardeep Singh Nijjar case and are expecting India to coordinate with them for the same. Canada has been known to apparently support the Separatist Movements happening in Canada which are being led by Sikhs and their slogans of Khalistan. Canada as an ally of India should not have motivated or supported the Sikhs in this pursuit of protests, and movements against the Indian Government. Canada or its police didn’t act or initiate a probe on Nijjar after so many allegations of him being a terrorist and conducting terrorist activities in India. Canada let him roam around free and Nijjar kept using his Canadian Citizenship to get away with Criminal Activities. Even though his figure was on the most wanted list, handed over by former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh to Trudeau in February 2018, no investigation was taken by Canada to investigate his activities.

Other Countries’s Perspective:

The United States of America, one of the biggest allies of both India and Canada, after Justin Trudeau’s statements, said that they want the truth to come out. For this, they are encouraging Canada to investigate more into the matter and are in contact with their Canadian counterparts and consulting them as well. They are asking India to cooperate with Canada in the matter and help them get to the bottom of the Nijjar Case.

Australia has described Canada's allegations about India's involvement in the killing of a Sikh separatist leader as "concerning" and said Canberra is "monitoring these developments closely" and has raised the issues with its Indian counterparts. Great Britain (UK) said that they were in close touch with their Canadian partners about these serious allegations. They also said that it would be inappropriate for them to comment any further during the ongoing investigation by the Canadian Authorities.

Sri Lanka accused Justin Trudeau of making outrageous allegations and remarked that some terrorists have found a safe haven in Canada. Sri Lanka also said that The Canadian PM has a way of coming out with outrageous allegations without any supporting proof, the same thing had happened with Sri Lanka as well with Justin Trudeau saying a terrible total lie that Sri Lanka had a genocide earlier this year.

India-Canada relations are being ruined.

India-Canada relations due to these allegations put up by Justin Trudeau are getting worse day by day. The trade talks between both countries have been stopped. Canada had expelled a top Indian diplomat over Khalistan terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing. India in tat-for-tat, ordered a senior Canadian diplomat to leave the country. There have been issues going on in both the High Commands and lots has been happening recently. India has suspended visa services for Canadian citizens citing security threats to its staff in its consulates In Canada. Canada has still not suspended its visa services. Earlier this month, just after the G20 summit, Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng decided to postpone a trade mission to India, which had been scheduled for October. This move came after both countries had initially expressed their intentions to secure an initial trade deal during the same year. Consequently, trade talks came to a halt, leaving the future of economic cooperation uncertain. Former diplomats have commented that the India - Canada tties have hit “rock bottom”.


An allegation of one Prime Minister against the other Prime Minister and his country has probably changed the future of both countries. Justin Trudeau’s statements based on some classified apparently existing evidence has started to ruin both the country’s relations and reputations and has already caused a state of panic and unrest in the mind of their citizens. As of now, though investigations are going on, no further evidence has been found to prove India was involved in the murder of Nijjar. The apparent ‘calculated risk’ taken by Justin Trudeau of blaming India publicly in their parliament won't turn out well in the long run. At the end of the investigations, one of the countries will be hit harder than the other which could lead to further scrutiny and more problems by other nations as well. These allegations might be the turning point in the relationship between India and Canada which had done well for so many countless years and could lead to it being destroyed for a long time. Even though, in my opinion, if the Canadian Prime Minister hadn’t been prejudiced against India and its Government and If they had chosen a better way to handle these things privately rather than publicly the coming future and the present might have had a different outlook altogether. Here’s to hoping that things don’t get worse from here on now.

- Krushna Punjabi


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