Relations between Canada and India are at an all-time low. Canada has expelled the top Indian foreign diplomat from its soil, accusing Indian security agencies of having a hand in the killing of Khalistani terrorist and Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June 2023. In retaliation, the Indian government has also expelled a senior Canadian diplomat, who has been asked to leave India within five days.
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has openly accused Indian agents of involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. While addressing the House of Commons, Trudeau said, “Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between the agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.”
Nijjar was killed on June 18 of this year outside a gurdwara in Surrey. As the leader of the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), Nijjar was wanted by the Indian government for several terrorism-related activities in India. Former Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh had provided Canada with a list of wanted Khalistani separatists, urging the Trudeau government to extradite these individuals who had been conspiring against India from Canada. Hardeep Singh Nijjar's name was on that list.
Nijjar hailed from Punjab's Bharsingpur village, which falls under the Jalandhar district. The 45-year-old Sikh militant had been declared an absconder by the NIA and carried a bounty of Rs 10 lakh on his head.
Nijjar had fled to Canada in 1997 after being arrested and tortured by the Indian police for his secessionist activities. In 1998, his refugee claim was denied by the Canadian government.
According to immigration records, Nijjar had used a fraudulent passport, using the name 'Ravi Sharma'.
In his affidavit in 1998, he wrote, “I know my life would be in grave danger if I had to return to my country, India.” Nevertheless, his application to stay as a refugee in Canada was rejected.
Eleven days later, he married a woman who sponsored his immigration. This, too, was rejected by the Canadian government.
On his application form, he was asked whether he was associated with a group that used or advocated armed struggle or violence to achieve political, religious, or social objectives. He denied any affiliation, but the authorities rejected his claim, deeming the marriage a convenience.
In 2001, he appealed to the courts and lost, but later identified himself as a Canadian citizen.
By 2002, he had established a plumbing business in India and became a prominent advocate for the creation of Khalistan, a separate state for Sikhs.
He began traveling around the world, calling attention to alleged anti-Sikh violence in India, terming it as ‘genocide.’
When the Narendra Modi government came into power in 2014, Indian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Nijjar, labeling him as a mastermind of the KLF.
Nijjar was accused of involvement in the 2007 bombing of a cinema in Punjab. In 2016, an Interpol notice was issued against him, referring to him as a ‘key conspirator’ in the attack. He was also accused of fundraising and recruiting militants, which Nijjar denied.
In July 2020, Nijjar was designated a terrorist under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The NIA had also seized his properties in India in September 2020.
Local authorities in Surrey had placed Nijjar under temporary house arrest due to his secessionist activities. However, he was later released.
Canadian security agencies had warned Nijjar that he was a target of certain groups. On June 18, 2023, he was killed by two masked men outside a gurdwara in Surrey. While it initially appeared to be the work of two individuals, Canadian security agencies discerned a pattern suggesting the involvement of Indian agencies in the murder.
The RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigation team (IHIT) initially sought two suspects described as heavier-set males wearing face coverings. However, they later indicated that the two men were not acting alone.
Following his murder, his supporters held a protest outside the Indian consulate in Vancouver.
Despite the Canadian government's claims of Indian agents' involvement in Nijjar's killing, the Indian government has categorically denied such allegations.
This incident has further strained relations between the two countries.