Canada rallies allies as tensions rise with India over killing of Sikh leader

A banner with the image of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar stands at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Temple, the site of his assassination in June 2023, on September 20, 2023 in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. REUTERS/Chris Helgren Get license rights

  • America and Britain see India as a rival to China
  • Canada was forced to disclose intelligence as the media prepared stories
  • Canada’s intelligence secret because of murder investigation

OTTAWA, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Canada released intelligence this week that Indian government agents were involved in the killing of a separatist Sikh leader, news that would normally cause consternation among Democratic allies. Not this time.

India is viewed by the US and others as a counterweight to China, and Trudeau’s rare attack just days after New Delhi hosted the G20 summit puts the West in an awkward position.

“India is important in Western calculations to balance China, Canada is not,” said Stephanie Garvin, a professor of international relations at Ottawa’s Carleton University.

“It really sets Canada apart from all the rest of the West,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that Canada is “vigorously pursuing credible allegations” that Indian agents may have been involved in the June killing of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

At the time, Ottawa was already discussing the matter with key allies, the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, including the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Results so far are muted. Britain, which has refused to publicly criticize India, has said bilateral trade talks will continue as planned. In fact, Secretary of State James did not mention India by name in his brilliant statement on the issue.

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Caught between supporting Canada and opposing India, Britain is in a difficult position, which wants to be a trading partner and ally to counter China, said Chitick Bajpai, an India expert at the Chatham House think tank in London.

“As there is no concrete evidence of India’s interference, I think the UK’s response will be quiet,” he said. Bajpai said a free trade agreement would be a “major political victory” for both India and Britain.

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‘The Waiting Game’

White House National Security Adviser John Kirby said the US was “deeply concerned” and encouraged Indian officials to cooperate with any investigation. India denies involvement in the killing.

The Washington Post reported that Trudeau presented a joint statement condemning India at the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi last week, which was rejected by the US and others.

Kirby said, “Any message that we have rejected Canada in any way is false, and we will continue to coordinate and consult with them.”

Trudeau’s quiet response to the allegations is stark when compared to the uproar in the UK in 2018 after Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a nerve agent. Britain, the United States, Canada and other countries expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats. It has always refused to punish Moscow for an attack.

Wesley Wark of the Center for International Governance Innovation think tank in Waterloo, Ontario said, “Given everyone’s eagerness to improve relations with India in the context of the current tension with China, our Five Eyes partners are really reluctant to engage. .

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“It’s a waiting game. If the Canadians come up with very solid evidence of Indian government involvement in an assassination attempt, I think we will ask for support from our allies,” he said.

With allies unwilling to contemplate any kind of collective condemnation of India, Canada’s options appear slim, at least until it provides incontrovertible evidence.

“If our allies don’t publicly or privately support this, Canada can’t do much to move India,” said Richard Faden, former head of the Canadian Defense Intelligence Service.

“I think the biggest thing we would like in the short or medium term is for India not to do this again,” he told CTV.

Canadian government sources indicated they wanted to wait longer before releasing a statement, but felt they had to act because some domestic media outlets were about to break the story.

Trudeau would never have spoken “out loud if the information wasn’t based on the truth,” and one source said they hoped more information would come soon.

Canada is not making public the intelligence it has because of an active murder investigation, a senior source said.

“At the peak of global opportunity for India, they should handle this responsibly in their own interests,” the source said.

Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Lungren; Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill in London; Editing by Jonathan Otis

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Covers Canadian politics, economics and public news as well as breaking news across North America, formerly based in London and Moscow and winner of Reuters’ Treasury Scoop of the Year award.

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