Canada warns its citizens to ‘remain vigilant’ in India travel advisory amid diplomatic row

Canada has advised its citizens in India to “remain vigilant and exercise caution” in an update to its travel advisory for the country, amid a growing rift between the two nations over the killing of a Sikh separatist leader.

The diplomatic crisis between New Delhi and Ottawa began last week when prime minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of involvement in the killing of Canadian national Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Nijjar, who India had designated as a wanted terrorist, was killed in Surrey on 18 June by two masked men, who fired an estimated 30 to 50 shots at him.

New Delhi has called the allegations "absurd" and suspended visa services in all categories for all Canadian nationals citing “security threats” to its consulates. Each country expelled one senior diplomat from the other in a tit-for-tat move.

Canada updated its travel advisory on Sunday, warning its citizens that the recent diplomatic developments have led to "calls for protests" and a rise in "some negative sentiment towards Canada on social media".

India last week advised its own citizens in Canada to exercise caution due to "growing anti-India activities" and "politically-condoned hate crime and criminal violence".

The foreign ministry added that Indians should avoid going to places where "threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of Indian community".

Canada is home to 770,000 Sikhs – the highest population of Sikhs outside the state of Punjab in India.

While it no longer inspires an active militant insurgency in India, the Khalistan movement – which calls for a separate homeland for the Sikh religious community to be carved out of Punjab state – still finds supporters among the diaspora in other parts of the world.

An Indian flag is burned during a protest outside India’s consulate in Canada (REUTERS)
An Indian flag is burned during a protest outside India’s consulate in Canada (REUTERS)

In recent months Sikh protesters pulled down the Indian flag at the country’s high commission in London and smashed the building’s window in a show of anger against the move to arrest another Sikh leader. Protesters also smashed windows at the Indian consulate in San Francisco and skirmished with embassy workers.

Mr Trudeau has repeatedly claimed that Ottawa had "credible reasons" to believe that agents of the Indian government had been involved in Nijjar's killing on Canadian soil.

Ottawa has amassed both human and signals intelligence in a months-long investigation into the Sikh separatist leader’s death, CBC News reported last week, citing unidentified sources.

A banner with the image of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar is seen at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple (REUTERS)
A banner with the image of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar is seen at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple (REUTERS)

The US worked closely with Canada on the intelligence pointing toward the possible involvement of Indian agents in the murder, a senior Canadian government source told Reuters.

Defence minister Bill Blair in a statement to Global News said Canada has a "responsibility to defend" its citizens and at the same time "make sure that we conduct a thorough investigation and get to the truth".

Meanwhile, Canadian Sikhs staged small protests and burned the Indian flag outside diplomatic missions on Monday.

"We are really thankful to Justin Trudeau... We want no stone left unturned to get to the bottom of this cowardly act," protester Reshma Singh Bolinas said in Ottawa.

Canada should put pressure on India to "stop the killing of innocent people in future."

Some of the protesters in both Toronto and Ottawa called for the expulsion of the Indian high commissioner to Canada, Sanjay Kumar Verma, who earlier said authorities have been informed of the protests and were providing security.