The Irish Times view on Canada-India tensions: murder of an activist

Killing of exiled Sikh nationalist – by the Indian state, according to Canada – has poisoned already strained relations between the two countries

India, if Canada is to be believed, has joined that club of states willing to assassinate their political opponents abroad. It is not company that the “world’s largest democracy” should wish to associate with in this regard.

Canada alleges that Indian agents, likely its foreign intelligence service the Research & Analysis Wing, were behind the shooting dead a month ago of exiled Sikh nationalist and Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar. He had reportedly previously been warned by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that he was at risk.

The attack has poisoned already strained relations between the two countries. Talks on an important trade deal have been abandoned, diplomats on both sides have been expelled, while India has suspended processing Canadian visitor visa applications. Both states complain of death threats to their diplomats.

International outrage has seen many states rally to Canada and several western leaders at last week’s G20 summit privately confronted prime minister Narendra Modi over the issue.


India has denied the claim, describing the allegations as “absurd and motivated”, but has persisted in referring to Nijjar as a terrorist, a slur regularly used against those calling for the establishment of an independent Sikh state, “Khalistan”, in Punjab. He had been working to organise an unofficial referendum among diaspora Sikhs on the issue, vehemently opposed by New Delhi.

Canada says that communications intelligence, some provided by an unnamed ally in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that involves the UK, United States and Australia, confirms the involvement of Indian officials and diplomats present in the country. The latter is home to one of the world’s largest Indian diaspora populations, with about 700,000 Indian citizens and another 1.6 million people of Indian descent.

If India’s denials of involvement are to be taken seriously Modi must cut the anti-Canadian polemics to engage seriously with prime minister Justin Trudeau’s legitimate appeal for co-operation in a credible inquiry into the affair.