Canada struggles to contain diplomatic crisis with India over Sikh leader’s murder

By Julio César Rivas

Toronto, Canada, Oct 7 (EFE).- Canada finds itself grappling with an escalating diplomatic crisis with India following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegations that Indian government was involved in the murder of a Sikh leader in his country.

The strain strain in India-Canada ties stepped up after Trudeau said Indian government agents had played “potential role” in the fatal shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh leader, declared a terrorist by India.

India alleged that Nijjar headed a pro-Sikh separatist group, Khalistan Tiger Force, seeking an independent homeland for Sikh minorities in the northern state of Punjab.

Nijjar was shot dead by unknown gunmen outside a Sikh temple in Canada’s Surrey, British Columbia, in June.

The crisis is likely to worsen as reports suggest India may expel dozens of Canadian diplomats from the country in the coming days, seeking parity in diplomatic staff.

Canadian public broadcaster CBC reported on Friday night that India has set a deadline of Oct.10 for Canada to withdraw approximately 40 diplomats, constituting two-thirds of the Canadian diplomatic presence in the country.

Asked by EFE, a Canadian foreign ministry spokesperson reiterated the statements made by Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly earlier this week, acknowledging the diplomatic crisis.

“In moments of tensions — because indeed there are tensions between both our governments — more than ever it is important that diplomats be on the ground and that is why we believe in the importance of having a strong diplomatic footprint in India,” Joly said.

The severity of the Indian response to Trudeau’s accusation appears to have caught the Canadian government off guard. In recent weeks, Canada has tried to ease tensions, even seeking support from its closest allies.

On Friday, Trudeau spoke with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over the phone to discuss the crisis between Ottawa and New Delhi.

However, Aurel Braun, a professor of International Relations at the University of Toronto, noted that Canada is not only failing to defuse the situation, but the statements by Trudeau and Joly suggesting that Canada does not intend to escalate the conflict are emboldening India.

Trudeau’s actions and statements on Sep 18 have baffled Braun, like most international relations experts in Canada, after the prime minister made the allegations on the floor of the Canadian parliament.

Braun described Trudeau’s speech as “senseless” and something that “should never have happened,” characterizing the Canadian prime minister as “naive.”

He highlighted the seriousness of the situation, especially given Trudeau’s lengthy tenure in power and his upbringing in the world of foreign relations due to his father, Pierre Trudeau, having served as prime minister of Canada.

“It appears that Trudeau and his advisers failed to grasp the danger of making such a public accusation,” Braun asserted.

Analysts have suggested that Trudeau tried to struck a chord with 770,000 Sikhs living in Canada.

The prime minister and his Liberal Party face mounting pressure from the main opposition group, the Conservative Party, which leads in opinion polls, raising the possibility of early elections.

However, if this was a political maneuver, it could prove precarious.

Braun noted that the population of Indian origin in Canada numbers 1.4 million, of which only half are Sikhs. “We must wait and see if this attempt to reduce tension succeeds. But I am not optimistic.” EFE

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