In a recent development highlighting the ongoing tensions between Canada and India, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has publicly acknowledged the active pursuit of credible allegations connecting the Indian government to the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader and Canadian citizen, in Canada this past June.
This revelation by Trudeau adds to the strain in relations between Ottawa and New Delhi, with Canada being home to the largest Sikh population outside of India, primarily in the province of Punjab. Over the years, Canada has become a focal point for various Sikh protests, a source of concern for Indian authorities.
Here’s a brief timeline of some of the recent incidents that have exacerbated the uneasy ties between the two nations:
September 2023: Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng deferred a planned trade mission to India slated for October. Trade talks between the two nations had already been halted earlier in the year, despite initial plans to secure an initial trade deal.
Bilateral commercial relations between Canada and India carry significant weight, with a total worth of $100 billion, including substantial Canadian portfolio investments in India amounting to $70 billion, as per Indian figures.
September 2023: During the G20 summit in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed his strong concerns to Trudeau regarding protests in Canada against India. These protests have been a matter of great apprehension for Indian authorities, particularly concerning small groups of Sikh separatists in Canada who occasionally stage demonstrations outside Indian embassies.
June 2023: India’s Foreign Minister, S. Jaishankar, criticized Canada for permitting a parade float depicting the 1984 assassination of then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. This portrayal was viewed as the glorification of violence by Sikh separatists.
Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 by two Sikh bodyguards followed her decision to order the storming of the holiest Sikh temple, aimed at flushing out Sikh separatists who sought an independent homeland known as Khalistan. This event had provoked outrage among Sikhs worldwide.
March 2023: India summoned Canada’s High Commissioner to express concerns regarding pro-Khalistan protesters in Canada who breached the security of India’s diplomatic missions and consulates.
To provide context, Canada hosts a significant Sikh community, and Indian leaders remain apprehensive about the presence of fringe groups sympathetic to the idea of an independent Sikh state carved out of India. The Sikh insurgency in the 1980s and 1990s led to considerable bloodshed, claiming the lives of approximately 30,000 people. In a tragic incident, Sikh militants were held responsible for the 1985 bombing of an Air India Boeing 747 en route from Canada to India, resulting in the loss of all 329 lives on board.
In 2018, Prime Minister Trudeau assured India that Canada would not support any efforts to revive a separatist movement in India. However, he has consistently emphasized his respect for the right to free speech and assembly, even when it comes to protesters advocating for such causes. These ongoing tensions underscore the complexities of managing relations between these two nations.