India suspends Canadian visas amid deepening diplomatic spat, citing "security threats" against its diplomats in Canada. This move further exacerbated tensions between the two countries, which escalated after Ottawa accused New Delhi of potential involvement in the assassination of a Sikh separatist activist on Canadian soil.
BLS International, the agency responsible for processing Indian visa applications in Canada, informed Indian stock exchanges via a letter on Thursday that visa services "have been suspended till further notice."
The letter, addressed to the Bombay Stock Exchange, the National Stock Exchange of India, and the Metropolitan Stock Exchange, stated, "Due to operation reasons, with immediate effect i.e. 21 September 2023, Indian visa services in Canada have been suspended till further notice."
Previously, BLS International had posted on its website that India had suspended visa services for Canadian citizens starting Thursday, citing a notice from the Indian mission.
Interestingly, the notice briefly disappeared on Thursday but later reappeared without explanation. India's Ministry of External Affairs has stated that concerns regarding "security threats" posed to the Indian High Commission and consulates in Canada have prompted the temporary suspension of visa issuance across all categories.
The issue is of incitement of violence, the inaction by the Canadian authorities, the creation of an environment that disrupts the functioning our high commission and consulates, that's what's making us stop temporarily the issuance of visas or providing visa services. We have always believed that it is the host government’s responsibility to provide security.- India's Ministry of External Affairs spokesman, Arindam Bagchi
This announcement came in the wake of a strong travel advisory issued by India's foreign ministry on Wednesday, cautioning its citizens to stay vigilant while in Canada and highlighting the risk of "politically condoned hate crimes."
A yellow banner with then name and picture of Singh Nijjar hanging at the top of a mosque
The travel warning was issued just days after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asserted that authorities were actively looking into "credible allegations" regarding a possible connection between "agents of the government of India" and the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh Canadian citizen who was fatally shot by masked assailants in June.
In response, New Delhi has strongly refuted these allegations, dismissing them as "absurd and motivated."
India's foreign ministry emphasized that Canada has not provided any concrete or specific information to substantiate the claims of Delhi's purported involvement in Nijjar's tragic death.
"Let me also point out that from our side, very specific evidence of criminal activities by individuals based on Canadian soil has been shared with the Canadian authorities on a regular basis but not been acted upon," Bagchi said.
Bachi also anticipated a reduction in Canada's diplomatic presence in the country. On Thursday, Trudeau urged India to collaborate with Canada and "allow justice to follow its course."
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.- Justin Trudeau
He emphasized that Canada is not seeking to incite or generate complications but reiterated the fundamental significance of upholding the rule of law. Trudeau's accusation has plunged relations between the two nations into turmoil, leading to the expulsion of senior diplomats in a reciprocal manner. This situation raises the possibility of an uncomfortable divide between important allies of the United States.
Nijjar was a vocal advocate for the establishment of a distinct Sikh homeland referred to as Khalistan, encompassing portions of India's Punjab state. The Khalistan movement is banned in India and is regarded as a national security concern by the government. Several groups associated with this movement are classified as "terrorist organizations" under India's Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
Hardeep Singh Nijjar's name is included in the Home Ministry's list of UAPA-designated terrorists. In 2020, the Indian National Investigation Agency accused him of actively "trying to radicalize the Sikh community across the world in favor of the creation of 'Khalistan'." The agency further asserted that he had been "trying to incite Sikhs to vote for secession, agitate against the government of India and carry out violent activities."
As per local law enforcement, Nijjar was shot and killed in his truck in June by two masked assailants outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia. His tragic death both shocked and incited outrage within the Sikh community in Canada, which is one of the largest Sikh populations outside of India, comprising more than 770,000 members of this religious minority.
To date, Canadian authorities have not made any arrests in connection with Nijjar's murder. However, in an update provided in August, the police disclosed that they were investigating three suspects and issued a description of a potential getaway vehicle, appealing to the public for assistance in their investigation.