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Trudeau stands by allegation as India denies link to killing of Canadian Sikh leader

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is standing by Canadian intelligence indicating India played a role in the death of a Canadian citizen despite New Delhi calling the claim "absurd," and is calling on the country to take the matter "seriously."

"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," Trudeau said Tuesday.

"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."

The prime minister would not comment on whether India is co-operating, saying the Indian government "will be able to speak for itself."

On Monday afternoon, Trudeau told the House of Commons in a rare statement on a matter of national security that Canadian intelligence agencies were investigating "credible allegations" that agents of the Indian government were involved in the June death of prominent Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in B.C.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly then announced Canada had expelled a "key Indian diplomat," Pavan Kumar Rai, who is listed as the head of Canadian operations for the Research and Analysis Wing, India's foreign intelligence agency.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government hit back early Tuesday, denying any involvement in any act of violence on Canadian soil and announcing it would be reciprocally expelling a senior Canadian diplomat out of concern for interference in internal affairs.

The High Commissioner of Canada to India was summoned and informed about the expulsion, and the need for the unnamed diplomat to leave the country within five days, India said.  

"Allegations of Government of India's involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated. Similar allegations were made by the Canadian prime minister to our prime minister, and were completely rejected," said India's Ministry of External Affairs in a statement.

"Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The inaction of the Canadian Government on this matter has been a long-standing and continuing concern," the statement continued.

"We urge the Government of Canada to take prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating from their soil."

Asked on his way in to a Tuesday morning cabinet meeting why the Canadian government went public with this allegation, Trudeau said since the summer officials had been working closely with intelligence agencies to "make sure that we had solid grounding in understanding what was going on."

And, after raising the matter directly with allies and India on the sidelines of the G20, Trudeau said he felt that Canadians had the "right to know."


The opposition parties were quick to unite in shock and dismay over this alleged affront to Canadian sovereignty, but on Tuesday Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters that he thinks Trudeau needs to provide more information on the matter to the public.

"We need to know all the evidence possible so that Canadians can make judgments on that," he said. "The prime minister hasn't provided any facts. He provided a statement, and I will just emphasize that he didn't tell me any more in private than he told Canadians in public. So we want to see more information," he said.

Nijjar was shot dead by two masked gunmen in the parking lot of his gurdwara in Surrey. B.C. and Sikh community leaders had asserted that the government of India was involved.

Homicide investigators have not made any arrests in relation to his slaying, or named a motive.

The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said there are three suspects in the murder: two “heavy-set men wearing face coverings” who were seen fleeing the scene on foot, and a third person waiting in a getaway car parked a few blocks away. 

In a statement on Monday, the homicide investigation team said it was aware of Trudeau's comments about the "active and ongoing investigation," but wouldn't be commenting on the specifics as it continues to gather evidence.

“This remains a priority investigation for the Integrated Homicide Investigative Team (IHIT) and we have and will continue to work closely with our local, provincial and national police agencies and partners in order to advance this investigation," said Sgt. Timothy Pierotti. 

As The Canadian Press has reported, India had issued an arrest warrant for Nijjar over his advocacy for the Khalistan movement, which calls for an independent homeland for Sikhs in India's Punjab region.


Outside of India, Canada is home to the largest Sikh community in the world. Leaders in the Sikh community in Canada have said they are glad to hear the Canadian government corroborate something that they've suspected, but want to see further action in holding India to account. 

Speaking on Parliament Hill, Mukhbir Singh, of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, said that while Trudeau's revelation may have shocked many Canadians, it was not a surprise to the Sikh community.

Noting the reports that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had reached out to him to warn him prior to Nijjar’s death, about being targeted for assassination, Singh called for several further actions by the federal government including "immediate protection" for Sikhs in Canada who face a threat.

"India cannot be allowed to disregard the rule of law and the sovereignty of foreign states…India must honour its international obligations and co-operate with the government of Canada in investigating these matters," he said.

Public Safety and Democratic Institutions Minister Dominic LeBlanc said he's instructed CSIS to share any information about Nijjar's death with police, and the RCMP is "developing plans" with local police forces to protect Canadians.

This major international development—coming amid a heightened focus on foreign interference in Canada and ongoing tensions with India—quickly became the dominating topic of discussion on Parliament Hill on Tuesday. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announced that he'd written to the commissioner leading the public inquiry to ask that India specifically be included in her examination of foreign interference in Canada.

"In my experience, as a Sikh-Canadian, there have always been suspicions that India was interfering in the democratic rights of Canadians. Yesterday's announcement by the prime minister confirms that these suspicions are valid," Singh wrote. 

Justice Marie-Josee Hogue was already mandated to look beyond China, to include other foreign states and non-state actors.

"Given these allegations, there's no doubt now that India should be included in the public inquiry, and that any and all forms of interference need to be investigated thoroughly," Singh said. 


Ministers, speaking to reporters on their way in to a cabinet meeting, talked about how difficult this news of a potential extrajudicial killing of a Canadian has been to digest, particularly for those with ties to India and who have large diaspora communities in their ridings, while urging calm. 

Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan, who is Sikh and has pushed back on India's accusation of Sikh extremists holding top positions within Trudeau's government, expressed hope that India will co-operate.

"I’ve been engaged with some of my colleagues not only who come from the community but who represent large populations from India within their communities, and they’re having a hard time," said Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser.

Seeking to dispel "baseless rumours" he said were circulating, Canadian Immigration Minister Marc Miller took to social media to state that Nijjar "became a Canadian citizen on March 3, 2015." The minister then corrected himself on Wednesday, stating "Mr. Nijjar became a Canadian citizen on May 25, 2007." 

MPs held a take-note debate in the House of Commons concerning the allegations against India. It lasted late into Tuesday night. 

While allied countries have begun issuing statements calling for a fulsome investigation, some foreign affairs and intelligence experts said a hesitancy to be more vocal can be attributed to the delicate diplomatic balancing act that is required given India's strategic and economic importance to many countries.

"We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by PM Trudeau yesterday," said a U.S. State Department spokesperson in a comment to CTV News. "We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice."

Vincent Rigby, a former national security and intelligence advisor to Trudeau said that while the prime minister dropping this "really big" accusation was shocking, members of the security community did have in the back of their minds the potential for India to be involved in Nijjar's death, from the time his slaying hit the news.

"The prime minister would not state this publicly unless he had some pretty solid evidence, and he had some really solid intelligence… He also sent his national security and intelligence adviser and the director of CSIS to India to have these conversations," he said on The Vassy Kapelos radio show. 

"So, I'm not suggesting they have a smoking gun, but they've got they've got something really, really hard to go on here."

With files from CTV News' Tom Yun, Spencer Van Dyk, Annie Bergeron-Oliver, and CTV News Vancouver's Kaija Jussinoja 



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