New Delhi: After a news report claimed that India has asked Canada to repatriate around 40 diplomats by October 10, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that it was important to have diplomats on the ground working with Indian government to support Canadian nationals.
The two countries are in a diplomatic spat since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged in parliament that the Indian government is responsible for the killing of Canadian Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil.
Canada followed up this charge with an official announcement from foreign minister Melanie Joly that it had expelled senior Indian diplomat Pavan Kumar Rai. India also expelled a “senior Canadian diplomat” in a reciprocal move and also stopped all visa services for Canadian nationals.
Later that week, the Canadian high commission had said that social media threats had compelled it to adjust its staff presence in India.
India had then said that Canada was reducing diplomatic staff in India not because of threats but because India had requested parity in diplomatic representation and that the two sides were holding talks to ensure this.
Canadian staff in India outnumber Indian staff in Canada.
“One person said Canada had 62 diplomats in India and that New Delhi had told them to reduce that by 41 people,” the Financial Times report said. The Associated Press had also confirmed the FT report.
On the same day that the report was published, Trudeau said that Canada was “not looking to escalate” the diplomatic spat with India.
Asked if Ottawa would retaliate if Canada had to remove diplomat, Trudeau said, “We’re not looking to escalate, as I’ve said, we’re going to be doing the work that matters in continuing to have constructive relations with India through this extremely difficult time.”
Stating that Canada’s relationship with India was “going through an extremely challenging time”, Trudeau said that it even more “important for us to have diplomats on the ground working with the Indian government there to support Canadians and Canadian families.”
Canada has several dozen more diplomats at its high commission in New Delhi than India has in Ottawa, because of the big consular section needed for relatives of the roughly 1.3 million Canadians who claim Indian heritage, the FT report says.
As per CBC, Trudeau stated that his government was taking the diplomatic dispute “extremely seriously” and is going to continue to try and “engage responsibly and constructively” with India to sort it out.
The High commission of Canada in New Delhi told The Wire that it cannot comment. Similarly, the Ministry of External Affairs has also declined to comment on the FT report.
As per earlier media reports, Canadian intelligence had communications to show that Indian diplomats in Canada were involved in the Nijjar killing. The US ambassador to Canada, David Cohen told Canadian broadcaster that intelligence from the Five Eyes countries had contributed to Trudeau going public with the “credible allegations”.
The United States has asked India to join the Canadian investigation, which was also reiterated when Indian external affairs minister S Jaishankar was in Washington last week.
On Tuesday, deputy US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said, “We are and continue to be deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau and we remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners.”
“It’s critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice. We also have, as we’ve previously said, publicly and privately urged the Indian government to co-operate in the Canadian investigation and co-operate in those efforts,” he said.
The Indian government has repeatedly said that it will be willing to look at any evidence, but had claimed that none has been shared so far.
According to the FT report, Canada is limited in what it can share with the Indian government, partly to protect the sources and methods used to collect the intelligence, but also to avoid compromising the murder investigation, according to people familiar with the matter.
“The constraints meant Thomas and other officials who visited India, including Canadian Security Intelligence Service head David Vigneault, had only been able to present the evidence verbally to their Indian counterparts,” the report said.
Last week, Jaishankar had said that assassinations were “not consistent with our policy”. He also alleged that Canada did not take India’s concerns about Khalistani activities seriously and neither did they take steps to target groups that were specifically targeting Indian diplomats.
Note: Additional informationw as added to this article after it was published.