The dispute between Canada and India over the killing of a Canadian-Sikh leader that Ottawa has linked to New Delhi is turning into a full-blown diplomatic crisis.
Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was probing “credible allegations of a potential link” between Indian government agents and the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in the province of British Columbia.
The announcement sent shockwaves around the world and prompted a forceful denial from the Indian government, which called the accusations “absurd” and politically motivated.
Canada and India have expelled diplomats from each other’s respective countries and on Thursday, New Delhi suspended visa services in Canada due to purported threats against its consular staff.
Nijjar, a Canadian citizen and leading activist calling for an independent Sikh state within India, was fatally shot outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, a city about 30km (18 miles) southwest of Vancouver, on June 18.
India, which has long seen Sikh separatism as a security threat, has dismissed Trudeau’s accusations. The Indian foreign ministry also has called on Canada to “take action against extremists, terrorists, and organised crime”, referring to Sikh separatists.
Trudeau answered questions from reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday in New York and addressed the latest developments in Canada’s diplomatic crisis with India.
Here are five key takeaways from his remarks:
The Canadian prime minister did not back down from his comments earlier this week, saying that “there are credible reasons to believe that agents of the government of India were involved in the killing of a Canadian on Canadian soil.”
“That is something of the utmost and foundational importance in a country of rule of law, in a world where [the] international rules-based order matters,” he told reporters.
Trudeau added that the decision to go public with the allegations “was not done lightly”.
Calls for India to cooperate in probe
Trudeau repeatedly called on India to cooperate in the probe, saying that New Delhi must work with Ottawa to “establish processes to discover and to uncover the truth” and allow justice to be served.
“We call upon the government of India to work with us, to take seriously these allegations and to allow justice to follow its course,” he said.
Stresses rule of law, Canadians’ safety
Trudeau stressed that his government’s priorities are to defend its citizens and uphold the rule of law. “We are ensuring that Canadians stay protected,” he said.
The prime minister also repeatedly invoked the “rules-based order”, which the West – particularly the United States – often cites when criticising actions by Russia and China.
“We are going to continue to do the work necessary to keep Canadians safe and to uphold our values and the international rules-based order. That’s our focus right now,” he said.
Trudeau, however, sidestepped a question on whether he asked allies to condemn India amid a muted response to the quarrel from Ottawa’s Western partners.
Invokes Canada’s justice system
Trudeau said Canada’s “robust” justice system will be able to investigate and deliver justice in Nijjar’s killing.
“Canada has a rigorous and independent justice system that we trust to follow through the processes,” he said. “As a country of the rule of law, we will ensure that those processes are strictly abided by and respected.”
Asked about the quality of the evidence linking India to the murder, the prime minister reiterated that the allegations are “credible”.
Canadian police have said they are looking for three suspects directly involved in the killing of the Sikh leader.
Says Canada ‘not looking to provoke’
Trudeau said his government is not looking to “cause problems” with India, acknowledging New Delhi’s growing international influence as it forges stronger economic and security ties with the West.
“There is no question that India is a country of growing importance, and a country that we need to continue to work with – not just in the region but around the world,” the Canadian leader said.
“And we’re 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 and standing up for our values.”
The US, arguably Canada’s closest ally, has been deepening ties with India – which it sees as a counterweight to China in the Asia-Pacific region – amid Washington’s growing competition with Beijing.