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India requests Canada to reduce diplomatic presence amid ongoing spat

By Evan Taylor Oct 3, 2023 | 1:04 PM

Ninara / CC

India has instructed Canada to remove 41 diplomats from its embassy in Delhi as tensions between the two countries persist.The Indian foreign ministry has reportedly given Canada a one-week deadline to repatriate two-thirds of its diplomats stationed in India, bringing the number down to 21. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has refrained from commenting on this matter, while an official familiar with the situation confirmed the report to the Associated Press.

The strained relations stem from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement last month, in which he mentioned “credible allegations” of Indian government agents’ involvement in the assassination of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia back in June.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Trudeau avoided commenting directly on reports of diplomatic expulsions but emphasized that his government did not intend to escalate the dispute. He stated, “We’re taking this extremely seriously, but we’re going to continue to engage responsibly and constructively with the Government of India.” Canada’s foreign ministry has not yet responded to requests for comment.

It’s important to note that the Indian authorities had designated Nijjar as a terrorist, accusing him of ties to militant groups and extremist activities, allegations Nijjar had vehemently denied.

Trudeau had previously called on India to cooperate with the investigation into Nijjar’s assassination. However, India dismissed these allegations as “absurd” and politically motivated, leading to a diplomatic standoff. Both countries engaged in reciprocal expulsions of high-ranking diplomats, and India suspended all visa applications from Canadians.

In the aftermath, India’s foreign ministry insisted on Canada reducing its diplomatic staff in India, citing the need for “parity” as the number of Canadian diplomats in Delhi substantially exceeded the number of Indian diplomats in Ottawa.

The Indian and Canadian foreign ministries have not yet responded to requests for comments regarding the reported directive for Canadian diplomats to leave.

Trudeau disclosed that he had initially raised concerns about Nijjar’s assassination privately with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the G20 leaders’ summit in Delhi in early September. These concerns were also raised by U.S. President Joe Biden during the same summit.

India responded to Trudeau’s public announcement of the allegations at the end of September by accusing Canada of providing a “safe haven for terrorists” associated with the Khalistani separatist movement, which advocates for an independent Sikh state and is banned in India. However, the evidence supporting Trudeau’s claims has not been made public due to concerns about compromising the ongoing investigation. The U.S. government has repeatedly urged India to cooperate with Canada in the investigation.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar recently accused Canada of fostering a “climate of violence” against Indian diplomats in Ottawa, alleging threats to their safety and attacks on Indian consulates. He described the current diplomatic situation with Canada as a “deadlock.”