New Delhi: In a blunt and clear message, India Thursday asked Canada to come down hard on terrorists and anti-India elements operating from its soil and suspended visa services for Canadians, as escalating tensions between the two nations over the killing of a Khalistani separatist in June pushed their ties to an all-time low.
Signalling a hardening of its position, India also asked Canada to downsize its diplomatic staff in the country, arguing that there should be parity in strength and rank equivalence in the mutual diplomatic presence. The size of Canadian diplomatic staff in India is larger than what New Delhi has in Canada.
At a media briefing, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Canada has not shared any information relating to the June killing of Khalistani extremist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, and said New Delhi has apprised its partners and friends about its position on the case.
“We are willing to look at any specific information that is provided to us (in the case), but so far we have received no specific information from Canada,” he said, replying to a question on whether India will join the investigation into the case as suggested by the US, the UK and Australia.
Tensions flared between India and Canada early this week following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s explosive allegations of the “potential” involvement of Indian agents in the killing of Nijjar on his country’s soil on June 18 in British Columbia. India had designated Nijjar as a terrorist in 2020.
India angrily rejected the allegations as “absurd” and “motivated” and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move to Ottawa’s expulsion of an Indian official over the case. Wednesday, It also issued a strong advisory asking its citizens travelling to or residing in Canada to “exercise utmost caution” in view of the growing anti-India activities and “politically-condoned” hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada.
To a question on the state of Indo-Canadian ties and the raging row, Bagchi said the larger issue has been the free run being given to terrorists, extremists and anti-India elements in Canada.
“If you’re talking about reputational issues and reputational damage, if there is any country that needs to look at this, I think it is Canada and its growing reputation as a place, as a safe haven for terrorists, for extremists, and for organised crime. And I think that’s a country that needs to worry about its international reputation,” he said.
“Safe haven is being provided in Canada. We want the Canadian government to not do so. It should either take action against those facing terrorism charges or send them to India to face justice.”
He further said India has put up extradition request or other assistance related to at least 20 to 25 individuals in the last few years but there has been no helpful responses from Ottawa.
“I think we should look at the larger issue — the larger issues of terrorism and not just, you know, terrorism, but also the fact that it is being funded and supported,” Bagchi said, adding “we expect Canada to address our concerns over terrorism and anti-India activities in that country”.
Announcing that India was temporarily suspending issuance of visas to Canadian citizens in view of “security threats” faced by the Indian high commission and consulates in Canada, he said the decision will include Canadian visa applicants in third countries.
“You are aware of the security threats being faced by our high commission and consulates in Canada. It has disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly, our high commission and consulates are temporarily unable to process visa applications.”
Bagchi said the situation will be reviewed regularly.
“The issue is not about travel to India. Those who have valid visas and documents like OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) cards are free to travel to India,” he added.
“The issue is the incitement of violence, the inaction by the Canadian authorities, creation of an environment that disrupts the functioning of our high commission and consulates. That’s making us temporarily stop the issuance of visas or providing visa services,” he said.
The spokesperson’s confirmation of visa suspension came after a series of flip-flops earlier in the day when BLS International, a private agency hired by India to carry out initial scrutiny of visa applications of Canadians, put out a note on its website on suspension of visa services due to “operational reasons”, withdrew it within hours and then again put it back online.
India also asked Canada to downsize its diplomatic presence in the country.
“We have informed the Canadian government that there should be parity in strength and rank equivalence in our mutual diplomatic presence. Their numbers here are very much higher than our’s in Canada. The details of this are being worked out,” he said.
“I assume that there will be a reduction from the Canadian side.”
Asked about Trudeau’s allegations, Bagchi described them as “politically motivated” and that there is a “degree of prejudice”.
Separately, Canada said it is assessing its staff complement in India and taking action to ensure the safety of its diplomats in the country, claiming that some of them have received threats on various social media platforms.
The Canadian High Commission said Ottawa expects New Delhi to provide for the security of its diplomats and consular officers in India and that it has decided to “temporarily” adjust staff presence in the country as a precautionary measure.
“In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats. With some diplomats having received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada is assessing its staff complement in India,” the high commission said. Global Affairs Canada handles Canada’s diplomatic and consular relations.
“As a result, and 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,” it said.
In response to media queries, the high commission said 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.
“In the context of respect for obligations under the Vienna conventions, we expect India to provide for the security of our accredited diplomats and consular officers in India, just as we are for theirs here,” the high commission added.