New Delhi: India has suspended visa services for Canadian citizens from Thursday, days after Ottawa accused New Delhi of potentially being behind the assassination of a Sikh separatist activist on its soil.
Tensions flared this week after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Parliament that Canadian intelligence agencies were investigating “credible allegations” of a potential link between “agents of the government of India” and the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh Canadian citizen who was gunned down by masked men in June.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs rejected the allegation as “absurd” and both India and Canada have since expelled their senior diplomats in reciprocal moves.
The suspension of visa services for Canadian citizens was first announced in a message on the website of BLS International, outsourcing service provider for the Indian government and diplomatic missions worldwide, which said it was “due to operational reasons” and with effect from Sept. 21.
Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, blamed the move on “security threats” faced by India’s high commissioner in Ottawa.
“This has hampered and disrupted his normal functioning. That’s why our high commissioner and consulates are not able to provide visa services,” he told reporters.
“We will keep on reviewing the situation at a regular basis. We will keep on assessing, but for the time being, due to the security situation in Canada and the security situation arising out of the Canadian government’s inaction, the visa process is getting obstructed temporarily, and we have stopped the visa process for the time being.”
The move comes a day after India issued an advisory urging its citizens traveling to or living in Canada to “exercise utmost caution” in view of the “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada.”
Nijjar was an outspoken supporter of the Khalistan movement, which calls for a separate Sikh homeland in parts of India’s Punjab state.
The movement is outlawed in India, considered a national security threat by the government, and Nijjar’s name appears on the Indian Home Ministry’s list of terrorists.
He was shot dead outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, which has a significant number of Sikh residents.
Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside Punjab — about 770,000 or 2 percent of its entire population.
The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi issued a statement on Thursday saying that some of its diplomats had “received threats on various social media platforms” and it was assessing its staff presence in India.
“In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats,” the mission said.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily adjust staff presence in India.”