India must cooperate, take allegations seriously, Justin Trudeau says

B.C.’s Sikh community expressed frustration and relief at a Monday night protest as the fallout continues from Justin Trudeau’s announcement that the Indian government may be involved in the murder of a Sikh leader in Surrey. Monika Gul reports.

By Hana Mae Nassar and Cormac Mac Sweeney

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is not trying to “provoke or escalate” matters with India, a day after he alleged there was “credible intelligence” that could link the Indian government to the high-profile killing of a Sikh leader in B.C.

India has pushed back against Canada’s claims, while the Conservatives are now raising questions about the revelations.

A day after the bombshell accusations, India’s foreign ministry rejected the allegations as “absurd and motivated,” denying any involvement in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey on June 18.

Related video: Canadian intelligence suggests India involved in killing of Surrey Sikh leader, PM says

On Tuesday, Trudeau once again called on India to cooperate with his government.

“One of the things that is so important today is that India and the government of India take seriously this matter. It is extremely serious and it has far-reaching consequences in international law and otherwise. For Canada, as I said yesterday, we’re 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 Tuesday.

The prime minister notes the decision to tell Canadians came after allies, as was the government of India, were informed of the allegations.

“Over the course of the summer, we have been working closely with our intelligence agencies who are moving forward in their analysis. We wanted to make sure that we had solid grounding in understanding what was going on, in analysis and indeed in facts. We wanted to make sure we were taking the time to talk with our allies to share what we knew. We wanted to make sure that we fully shared with the government of India the seriousness and the depths of our preoccupations and indeed conclusions. But, Canadians have a right to know and need to know when things are going on like this and that’s why we made the decision to do this,” Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill.

Related video: India denies involvement in Nijjar murder

Canada moved to expel a top Indian diplomat in response to the allegations. In retaliation, India announced it, too, was expelling a diplomat, with an unnamed senior Canadian official asked to leave that country within the next several days.

When asked how confident Trudeau is with Canada’s intelligence, given India’s denial of all claims, the prime minister doubled down on his message to the foreign government.

“India and the government of India needs to take this matter with the utmost seriousness. We are doing that, we are not looking to provoke or escalate, 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 protocol,” he said.

Trudeau would not answer directly whether or not the Indian government was cooperating with Canada’s demands.

Nijjar, who was the president of the temple he was killed outside of, was a vocal advocate for an independent Sikh state of Khalistan in India, where he was accused of terrorism and conspiring to murder a Hindu priest.

World Sikh Organization President Mukhbir Singh says this incident is “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to harassment and threats Sikh Canadians face.

“There are a number of Canadian Sikhs that have been identified as having a threat to their life and we are asking for the Government of Canada to provide protection for these Sikhs in Canada,” he said.

However, when asked why Nijjar didn’t have protection when there were known threats against him, Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said that decision wasn’t up to him, noting that call would be “made by police officials.”

After initially expressing outrage and urging Canadians to stand together in “condemning this murder,” Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre struck a change in tone Tuesday, sounding more skeptical.

“The prime minister needs to come clean with all the facts,” the leader of the Opposition said, stressing Trudeau should share more information about what the prime minister described a day earlier as “credible allegations of a potential link” between India and Nijjar’s death.

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has written to the commissioner for the public inquiry on foreign interference, asking her to include India in her probe.

“No doubt now that India should be included in the public inquiry,” he said.

The homicide investigation into Nijjar’s death continues, with no arrests made.

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Both the WSO and the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) have jointly called on Ottawa to escalate matters further with the Indian government.

NCCM CEO Stephen Brown says the explosive allegations should be a matter of concern for all Canadians — not just those with ties to diasporas or religious communities.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable, and anybody would be wise to be concerned about this,” he said Tuesday.

Both groups are asking the Canadian government to freeze trade negotiations with India, to end intelligence sharing with India, and formally denounce a Hindu nationalist group based in India with ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling government.

Brown says the organizations also want Canada to immediately recall Canada’s ambassador to India, as well as initiate the “process of expulsion of the Indian ambassador to Canada, High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma.”

A political scientist at Kwantlen Polytechnic University says it’s not clear how far the tit-for-tat between Canada and India will go, adding Trudeau’s statement was shocking and any evidence should have been passed on to homicide investigators instead.

“You don’t make these kind of allegations public because it has the potential to basically bring our diplomatic relations to halt,” Shinder Purewal explained.

“At this point, we basically are at a point of cold war.”

-With files from Srushti Gangdev and The Canadian Press

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