New Delhi: One month after halting visa operations in Canada, India is currently reviewing the “security situation” around India’s missions in Canada, and external affairs minister S. Jaishankar has indicated that if there is substantial “progress” in ensuring the safety of Indian diplomats, the resumption of operations could occur “very soon”.
Last Thursday, Canada announced that it had withdrawn 41 diplomats from India and stopped in-person facilities for Indian nationals at three consulates.
Ottawa had stated that visa processing times for Indian applicants would increase.
Canadian foreign minister Mélanie Joly had also accused India of violating the 1961 Vienna Convention for Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) by threatening to strip diplomatic immunity from all but 21 diplomats.
India had retorted that seeking the implementation of “parity” was within the scope of VCDR.
The United States and the United Kingdom also issued statements on Friday claiming that the insistence on the 41 diplomats’ withdrawal was not in line with obligations under the Vienna convention.
India had not officially responded to the UK and US’ statements, but Jaishankar said that the “big concern” was the suspension of visa services by the Indian high commission and two consulates in Canada.
“Some weeks ago, we stopped issuing visas in Canada because it was no longer safe for our diplomats to go to work to issue visas. So their safety and security was the primary reason we had to temporarily stop the issue of visas,” he said on Sunday at an interaction.
India had stopped visa operations after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau had accused Indian government agents of being involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian national who is described as a terrorist by authorities in New Delhi.
This Indian move was in addition to the expulsion of a Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat measure. At the same time, India had also sought “parity” in diplomatic representation in both countries.
On September 21, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that India will “continue to review this situation on a regular basis” and that the assessment on the security environment for Indian diplomats “will be going on”.
Now, Jaishankar for the first time publicly indicated that a review was underway.
“We’re tracking it very closely. My hope, my expectation, is that [the] situation would improve in the sense that our people would have greater confidence in being able to do their basic duty as diplomats,” Jaishankar said.
He continued: “Because ensuring [the] safety and security of diplomats is the most fundamental aspect of the Vienna Convention. And right now, that is what has in many ways been challenged in Canada, that our people are not safe, our diplomats are not safe.
“So if we see progress there, I would like very much to resume the issue of visas. My hope would be that it would be something which should happen very soon…”
Indian official sources further reinforced the minister’s messaging that indicated that an imminent decision was in the wings by highlighting Jaishankar’s remarks that India was “reviewing the security situation that led to the suspension of visa services”.
Jaishankar also defended India’s insistence on parity with Canada’s diplomatic strength.
“We invoked parity because we had concerns about continuous interference in our affairs by Canadian personnel. We haven’t made much of that public. My sense is that over a period of time, more stuff will come out and people will understand why we had the kind of discomfort with many of them which we did,” he said.
A substantial section of the Canadian population is of Indian origin and has been deeply worried about the resumption of Indian visa operations, with most of them not having overseas citizen of India cards.
The Canadian decision to suspend ‘walk-in’ services at consulates and the drastic cutting down of immigration officials in India meant that there would be a large backlog in processing applications.
As per Canadian media reports, 45% of Canada’s international students, 27% of new permanent residents and 22% of temporary foreign workers come from India.