April 19, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will follow the evidence and “hold people to account” for the murder of a Sikh leader in Canada that his government says was masterminded by India.

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“The government of India needs to take this matter with the utmost seriousness,” Trudeau said, without specifically naming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He spoke Tuesday morning in Ottawa on his way into a cabinet meeting, one day after Canada expelled a senior Indian diplomat from the country.

“We are not looking to provoke or escalate,” he said. “We are simply laying out the facts as we understand them, and we want to work with the government of India to lay everything clear and to ensure that there is proper process.”

Modi’s government denied involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar and kicked out a Canadian diplomat on Tuesday in retaliation.

Trudeau said his government took its time over the summer to carefully go over the information collected by Canada’s intelligence agencies and to share the findings with allies. Canada is going to “remain calm, we’re going to remain grounded in our democratic principles and values, and we’re going to follow the evidence and make sure that the work is done to hold people to account,” he said.

On Monday, Trudeau said in a speech to parliament that Canada was investigating “credible allegations” Indian agents were behind the slaying of Nijjar, a Sikh activist who was shot dead in June in a Vancouver suburb.

Trudeau said he raised the matter directly with Modi in a conversation at the Group of 20 summit last week.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims called for a formal freeze to trade negotiations with India; the immediate recall of Canada’s ambassador to India; and the beginning of the process to expel Sanjay Kumar Verma, India’s high commissioner to Canada. Agents of India’s far-right RSS organization should be removed from Canada and banned from entering, the group said.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable and anybody would be wise to be concerned about this, not just ethnic minorities, not just religious minorities,” Stephen Brown, the council’s chief executive, said in a fiery address that won applause outside Canada’s House of Commons.

“If you cannot have an opinion about another foreign government without having to worry about walking outside and worrying is there going to be a foreign agent that’s going to gun you down in the streets, what’s going on?”

The World Sikh Organization of Canada reiterated calls for Canada to stop all intelligence-sharing with India, offer immediate protection to Sikhs in Canada and ban Indian nationals in that country’s intelligence forces from entering Canada.

The group also wants India included in a forthcoming public inquiry into interference in Canadian affairs by foreign governments and a “thorough and continuous review of all Indian diplomats and officials in Canada.”

“Allegations of the government of India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that also accused Canada of failing to take action against “terrorists and extremists” who advocate for an independent Sikh state known as Khalistan.

(Updates with response from WSO and NCCM in paragraphs 8-10)

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