Justin Trudeau: India rejects role in the death of the Sikh leader in Canada
India has strongly rejected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claims that it had any role in the death of the Canadian Sikh leader.
Hardeep Singh Nigar was shot and killed outside a Sikh temple on June 18 in British Columbia.
Trudeau said Canadian intelligence had determined a “credible” link between his death and Indian Country.
The Indian Foreign Ministry described these allegations as “ridiculous” and politically motivated.
“We are a democratic country and have a strong commitment to the rule of law,” the ministry said in a statement.
This incident is the latest escalation in the already tense relationship between the two countries.
The White House said Tuesday it was “deeply concerned” by Trudeau’s allegations.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said: “We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is important that Canadian investigations continue and that perpetrators are brought to justice.”
Trudeau said in Parliament on Monday that he raised the issue of Najjar’s killing with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the recent G20 summit in Delhi.
“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” he told lawmakers.
“It goes against the basic rules by which free, open and democratic societies behave.”
India has previously denied any involvement in Mr Najjar’s killing.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said on Tuesday that it “completely rejects” Trudeau’s allegations.
“The allegations regarding the Indian government’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated,” the ministry said.
He added, “Similar allegations were made by the Canadian Prime Minister to our Prime Minister and were completely rejected.”
The statement added that Canada has long been providing shelter to “Khalistani terrorists and extremists” who threaten India’s security.
“We urge the Government of Canada to take prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating from its territory,” the ministry said.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Jolie told reporters on Monday that Indian diplomat Pavan Kumar Rai was expelled over the issue.
Ms. Jolie said Canadian officials are limited in what they can say publicly about the case because of the ongoing homicide investigation into Mr. Al-Najjar’s death.
Carpenter was shot and killed in his car by masked gunmen on the evening of mid-June in the crowded parking lot of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, a city about 30 kilometers (18 miles) east of Vancouver.
Investigators had previously classified the 45-year-old Mr Najjar’s death as a “targeted incident”.
He is a prominent Sikh leader in the westernmost province of British Columbia, and has openly campaigned for Khalistan – the creation of an independent Sikh homeland in India’s Punjab region. His supporters said he had been the target of threats in the past because of his activism.
India had previously described him as a terrorist who leads a militant separatist group, accusations that his supporters described as “unfounded.”
Trudeau said that Canada had expressed its concern about Al-Najjar’s death to high-level security and intelligence agencies in India.
He also raised the matter with US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
“I continue to strongly request that the Government of India cooperate with Canada to highlight this situation,” he said.
Trudeau said the shooting of Mr. Najjar has angered Canadians, leaving some fearful for their safety.
Following Mr. Trudeau’s comments in Ottawa, several large posters and tributes to Mr. Najjar appeared at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey.
Moninder Singh, spokesman for the Sikh Council of Gurdwaras in British Columbia, told the BBC that there was a sense of frustration and appreciation in the community after Trudeau’s comments.
“This operation was allowed to be carried out on foreign soil in Canada,” he said. “That’s where the frustration comes from.
He added, “This assessment comes from the fact that the Prime Minister at least stood up and admitted that there was a foreign hand behind this killing and this assassination.”
Other Sikh groups in Canada, including the World Sikh Organization, welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement, saying Mr. Trudeau confirmed what the community already widely believed.
There are an estimated 1.4 to 1.8 million Canadians of Indian descent. The country has the largest Sikh population outside the state of Punjab in India.
Trudeau’s statements come after his tense meeting with Modi last week during the G20 summit in India.
During that meeting, according to a statement from the Indian government, Modi accused Canada of not doing enough to suppress “anti-India activities by extremist elements,” referring to the country’s Sikh separatist movement.
Canada also recently suspended negotiations on a free trade agreement with India. It provided few details about the reason, but India pointed to “certain political developments.”
Mr Najjar is the third prominent Sikh figure to die unexpectedly in recent months.
In the UK, Avtar Singh Khanda, said to be the leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force, died in Birmingham in June, under what were described as “mysterious circumstances”.
Paramjit Singh Panjwar, designated a terrorist by India, was shot dead in May in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province.
The background to the tension between Delhi and Ottawa is the increasing pressure exerted by the Indian administration on the governments of three countries with large Sikh populations: Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
She explicitly said that failure to address what she calls “Sikh extremism” would be an obstacle to good relations.
Australian officials said they would investigate vandalism of Hindu temples by pro-Khalistan activists, but would not prevent Australian Sikhs from expressing their views on an independent homeland.
Mr. Johal has been held in an Indian prison for more than six years without trial, accused of extremist activities, but he says he was tortured and forced to sign a confession.
Reprieve Human Rights Organization says it has evidence that his arrest came (while he was in India to get married) after a tip-off from British intelligence.
Additional reporting by Gerald Narciso and Zoya Mattin in Delhi