India expels Canadian diplomat after Justin Trudeau accuses Modi government of assassination plot

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) said he informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in New Delhi earlier this month of allegations that India was involved in the June assassination of a Sikh leader on Canadian soil. Photo by Press Information Bureau/UPI

Sept. 18 (UPI) -- India expelled a senior Canadian diplomat Tuesday, one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the South Asian nation of being involved in the June assassination of a prominent Sikh leader in British Columbia.

India's Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement saying it informed Canada's High Commissioner Cameron MacKay of its decision to banish the official, who was not named in the statement but was identified by media outlets as Olivier Sylvestere, who serves as the Canadian intelligence agency station chief in India.

India's government gave the official five days to leave the country -- marking a new low point in relations following Ottawa's Monday ejection of an Indian official in connection with the killing of Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 18.

In India's statement, which is circulating on social media, the ministry accused Canadian diplomats of meddling in India's domestic affairs and working to undermine the country's standing on the world stage.

"The decision reflects government of India's growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities," the statement said, providing no details.

Trudeau announced the allegations Monday from the floor of the House of Commons, stating that he had "personally and directly" informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the charges during the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi earlier this month.

During his remarks, Trudeau said there were "credible allegations of a potential link" between the Indian government and Nijjar's killers, while calling on Modi's government to fully cooperate with the investigation.

"In the strongest possible terms, I continue to urge the government of India to cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter," he said.

Nijjar was shot to death inside a vehicle in the parking lot of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sikh temple, where he served as president in Surrey, B.C.

Police said the 45-year-old was shot multiple times.

U.S. officials have not commented on Canada's accusation, which comes as the United States was shoring up its relations with India. U.S. President Joe Biden announced an extensive package of defense and technology agreements during Modi's state visit to the White House in June.

Despite human rights challenges, the U.S. considers India a key ally amid rising tensions in Southeast Asia, where China was becoming more aggressive toward its neighbors.

Nijjar, meanwhile, was an outspoken supporter of Khalistan, a movement that seeks to create a separatist homeland for Sikhs in India's Punjab region and led peaceful protests against human rights violations committed by India against believers of his minority religion, according to the World Sikh Organization.

The Indian government has labeled Nijjar a terrorist on accusations of being the leader of a Khalistan militant separatist group.

Though no specifics were offered, Trudeau on Monday said Canadian security agencies have for weeks been pursuing "credible allegations" linking agents of the Indian government with Nijjar's killing.

"Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves," he said.

"As you would expect, we've been working closely and coordinating with our allies on this very serious matter."

After Trudeau spoke, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly told reporters during a press conference that they had expelled the head of the Research and Analysis Wing, which is India's foreign intelligence agency in Canada.

"Today, we're acting by expelling a key diplomat, but we will get to the bottom of this," she said, reiterating that she expects India's full collaboration.

India's foreign ministry has rejected Canada's accusations as "absurd" and said the allegations Trudeau made to Modi at the G7 "were completely rejected."

The ministry accused Canada in a statement of sheltering "Khalistani terrorists and extremists" and said Ottawa's inaction has been "a longstanding and continuing concern." It urged Canada to take legal action against "all anti-India elements operating from their soil."

"The space given in Canada to a range of illegal activities, including murders, human trafficking and organized crime is not new," it said. "We reject any attempts to connect government of India to such developments."

The World Sikh Organization said that for months prior to Nijjar's death, he had spoken publicly about the threat to his life and that he was targeted by Indian intelligence agencies.

The organization said the significance of Trudeau's announcement for the Sikh community "cannot be understated."

"It should now be clear to all Canadians that the government of India is a terrorist state that has brazenly engaged in extrajudicial killings not only on its own soil, but also on Canadian soil," WSO President Tejinder Singh Sidhu said in a statement.

Nijjar is one of several Sikh leaders to be killed in the past few months in countries such as Pakistan and Britain.