India halts visa services, Canada adjusts diplomatic presence as spat escalates | – Lifotravel

Ottawa is adjusting its diplomatic staff presence in India, and New Delhi is halting visa services in Canada as a spat over the murder of a Canadian citizen deepens.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped a bombshell Monday in the House of Commons when he cited “credible” intelligence that agents of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government may be linked to the killing of 45-year-old Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Nijjar, a prominent Sikh leader who advocated for the Khalistan movement, was shot dead June 18 outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, B.C.

Trudeau did not elaborate further on what evidence Canadian intelligence agencies may have.

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India issues travel advisory for Canada

India has strongly denied the allegation, accused Canada of sheltering “Khalistani terrorists and extremists,” and warned its citizens in Canada to “exercise utmost caution” due to what it calls “anti-India activities” in the nation. Both nations have expelled each other’s diplomats.

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Now, New Dehli’s visa processing centre in Canada has suspended its services, while Ottawa is tweaking its diplomatic presence in India given some staff have received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada said Thursday.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily adjust staff presence in India. All of our locations are staffed by diplomats and locally-engaged staff to ensure business and operational continuity,” a spokesperson told Global News.

“Global Affairs Canada will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of all our personnel, including locally-engaged staff, and to protect our operations in India. Decisions are made based on a number of factors including the professional profile of an employee or personal circumstances.”

Click to play video: 'Sikh Calgarians say Canada-India relations ‘sour’ after murder accusations'

Sikh Calgarians say Canada-India relations ‘sour’ after murder accusations

Global Affairs Canada added Canada’s high commission and all consulates are open, and it expects India to provide for the security of its diplomats and consular officers under the Vienna Convention.

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Meanwhile, a notice on the BLS Indian Visa Application Center’s website Thursday said visa services have been halted. BLS is the agency that processes visa requests for India.

“Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 Sept. Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice,” it said.

Arindam Bagchi, a spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry, told reporters Thursday the halt is due to the “security situation” in Canada.

“The security situation because of Canadian government’s inaction has resulted in disruptions and we have suspended visa applications,” Bagchi said, adding that all categories of visas, including e-visas, are suspended.

In 2021, 80,000 Canadian tourists visited India, making them the fourth largest group, according to India’s Bureau of Immigration.

Click to play video: 'Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder: Do recent extra-judicial killings symbolize new era of espionage?'

Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder: Do recent extra-judicial killings symbolize new era of espionage?

On Wednesday, India’s External Affairs Ministry issued an updated travel advisory urging its citizens travelling in Canada, and especially those studying in the North American country, to be cautious because of “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate-crimes.”

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Indians should also avoid going to venues in Canada where “threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community who oppose anti-India agenda,” the ministry said.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc refuted the claim Wednesday, and said Canada is a safe country.

Click to play video: 'Canada-India tensions increase after Trudeau’s accusation'

Canada-India tensions increase after Trudeau’s accusation

Nijjar was working to organize an unofficial referendum among the Sikh diaspora on independence from India at the time of his killing. He had denied India’s accusation that he was a terrorist.

The second stage of B.C. voting on whether a Sikh homeland should be established in India’s Punjab province is scheduled to be held on Oct. 29.

The Vancouver Police Department beefed up security outside India’s Consulate after Trudeau’s announcement this week.

Const. Tania Visintin, Vancouver police media relations officer, said in a statement Wednesday that police are “closely monitoring the situation.”

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Click to play video: 'Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder allegations renew attention on Sikh separatist movement'

Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder allegations renew attention on Sikh separatist movement

“We’re doing significant work behind the scenes, which includes continuous risk assessments, with a goal of maintaining public safety and preventing violence,” Visintin said in an emailed statement.

Visintin said Vancouver police were not aware of any specific threats to Indian consular officials, but have increased their presence at the downtown Vancouver consulate.

Demands for an independent Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan, started as an insurgency in India’s Punjab state in the 1970s that was crushed in an Indian government crackdown that killed thousands.

The movement has since lost much of its political power but still has supporters in Punjab, where Sikhs form a majority, as well as among the sizable overseas Sikh diaspora.

Click to play video: 'Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder: B.C.’s Sikh community calls for protection, answers'

Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder: B.C.’s Sikh community calls for protection, answers

The modern Sikh independence movement reaches back to the 1940s but eventually morphed into the 1970s and 1980s insurgency. In 1984, then-prime minister Indira Gandhi ordered a raid to capture armed separatists taking refuge in Sikhism’s holiest shrine.

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The raid killed hundreds of people, and two of Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards assassinated her shortly after. In response, anti-Sikh riots took place across India in which members of the minority were dragged out of their homes and killed.

And though the insurgency was suppressed long ago, the Modi government has claimed repeatedly that Sikh separatists were trying to make a comeback. The Modi government has been asking several countries – including Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom – to take legal action against Sikh separatists.

India has also for years accused Canada of giving free rein to Sikh separatists, including Nijjar.

Furthermore, India has also been upset about frequent demonstrations and alleged vandalism by Sikh separatists and their supporters at Indian diplomatic missions in Canada, Britain, the U.S. and Australia, and has sought better security from local governments.

Ottawa has maintained that freedom of speech means groups can voice political opinions so long as they are not violent. The Liberals have called out threats to Indian diplomats by these groups, and offered the envoys 24/7 security, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said Sept. 14.

Click to play video: 'How U.S., UK, Australia reacted to Canada’s claims India involved in Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s murder'

How U.S., UK, Australia reacted to Canada’s claims India involved in Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s murder

The dueling expulsions of diplomats have escalated tensions. Trudeau had frosty encounters with Modi during this month’s G20 meeting in New Delhi, and a few days later Canada canceled a trade mission to India planned for the fall.

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Canada remains a top study destination for Indian students. In 2022, the country had nearly 300,000 Indians students pursuing higher education there.

— with files from The Canadian Press and Reuters

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