India suspended new visas for Canadian citizens and told the country to reduce its diplomatic staff Thursday, the latest installment in a feud over the killing of a Canadian citizen.
In June, 45-year-old Sikh separatist activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot and killed outside the temple he ran in suburban Vancouver. Originally from Punjab, Nijjar became a Canadian citizen in 2007, and was wanted by authorities in India under allegations of involvement in terrorism.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed on Monday that there were “credible allegations” that the Indian government was involved in Nijjar’s assassination, spurring an exchange in which both countries expelled a diplomat.
India dismissed the allegations as nonsensical, with the Ministry of External Affairs voicing concern over “the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities.”
Trudeau admitted that the situation is a complicated one.
“There is no question that India is a country of growing importance and a country that we need to continue to work with,” he commented while at the U.N. general assembly. “We are not looking to provoke or cause problems but we are unequivocal around the importance of the rule of law and unequivocal about the importance of protecting Canadians.”
While Canada has yet to offer any evidence of India’s connection to the killing, an anonymous U.S. official told the Associated Press that Trudeau was in touch with President Joe Biden about the findings before he publicly announced them.
The suspension of new visas marks a historic low in Canada-India relations. Partners in security and trade, Canadians make up some of the most frequent travelers to India, and the North American country has the largest Sikh population outside of Punjab, according to the 2021 census.
However, India has long accused Canada of harboring Sikh separatists of the Khalistan movement, a push for an independent Sikh homeland which retains support both within Punjab and abroad in the Sikh diaspora. The height of the movement’s prominence in the 1980s saw a decade-long insurgency in northern India which saw tens of thousands of deaths, including political leaders on both sides.
Nijjar was a local leader of the remnants of the Khalistan movement, and before his death was reportedly working to organize an unofficial Sikh diaspora independence referendum from India.
The dispute between Canada and India has also halted talks on a trade deal between the two.