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Trudeau accuses India of role in killing of Canadian Sikh leader

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says national security agencies are investigating "credible allegations" that the "agents of the government of India" were involved in the killing of prominent Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in B.C. in June.

"Over the past number of weeks, Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar," Trudeau said, addressing the House of Commons about an "extremely serious matter," after informing the opposition party leaders.

The prime minister said he's urging the Indian government to cooperate with Canada in the investigation into Nijjar's death and said he expects India to "reiterate that its position on extra-judicial operations in another country is clearly and unequivocally in line with international law."

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly also announced that Canada has expelled a "key Indian diplomat," saying that this person was the head of the Canadian operations for the Research and Analysis Wing -- India's foreign intelligence agency.

Joly's office told CTV News on Monday evening the diplomat's name is Pavan Kumar Rai, who is listed on the Indian High Commission's website as a minister for economic, coordination and community affairs.

Joly added that Canada "expects India to fully collaborate with us and ultimately to get to the bottom of this." She also said she plans to raise this issue during an evening meeting with the G7 foreign ministers in New York on Monday.

Nijjar, who was the president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, had been a long-time advocate of the Khalistan movement, which calls for an independent homeland for Sikhs in India's Punjab region. The Sikh leader was gunned out outside the temple in Surrey, B.C., on June 18.

Nijjar's death had sparked protests from the Sikh community across Canada, many accusing the Indian government of orchestrating the killing and even going as far as holding posters that refer to Indian diplomats as "killers."

Last week, Trudeau was in India attending the G20, where there were signs of diplomatic tensions with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Trudeau told the House he "personally and directly" brought up allegations to Modi when they met. Modi's office, meanwhile, said India has "strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada."

"Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty," Trudeau said.

Relations between Canada and India have been strained for some time, and late last week with little explanation federal Trade Minister Mary Ng postponed a trade mission to India that was slated to take place this fall. 

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre echoed calls for the Indian government to cooperate with Canadian investigators and offered his condolences to the family of Nijjar.

"If these allegations are true, they represent an outrageous affront to Canada, to Canada's sovereignty," he told the House. "Our citizens must be safe from extrajudicial killings of all kinds, most of all from foreign governments."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the "shocking" news will have "deep and devastating impacts to Canadians."

"I want to also begin by acknowledging the family of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the family who's now learning that the loss of their loved one was potentially directly related to Indian government involvement. I spoke with Hardeep Singh Nijjar's son and I could hear the pain of that loss in his voice, and I can only imagine how much more painful it is going to be, knowing this potential connection," he said in an emotional speech in the House, during which he briefly spoke in Punjabi.

Singh said growing up Sikh he heard stories of what could happen if you raise concerns about human rights violations in India, such as getting denied a visa or facing violence if you went back. Singh himself was denied a visa to India in 2013, which he says was due to his Sikh advocacy and criticism of India's human rights record.

"Governments around the world are trying to silence you. The Indian government and the Modi government, specifically, is attempting to silence you. But truth cannot be silenced. Justice cannot and will not be silenced," he said.

Joly said the prime minister had raised the issue with U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the G20 summit. White House National Security spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the U.S. is "deeply concerned" over the allegations.

"We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice,” Watson said in a statement.

CTV News has reached out to the Indian High Commission in Ottawa, but has not received the response as of Monday evening. In a Sept. 5 interview with The Canadian Press, Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma said India wants Nijjar's murder "investigated to the fullest" and speculated the motives behind the killing "may not necessarily be only Khalistan-driven."

"Those who have committed this grievous injury should be punished according to Canadian law," Verma said in the interview

FOREIGN INTERFERENCE INQUIRY UNDERWAY

This news also comes as the federal government has launched a public inquiry into foreign interference in Canada, after a series of allegations earlier this year over alleged Chinese meddling in Canadian democracy. The commissioner of this new inquiry has been instructed to look beyond China, to include other foreign states and non-state actors, and Singh is now calling for this specific situation to come under scrutiny as part of this probe.

"We need to know the truth. We need to know all potential links, and anyone and everyone responsible should be brought to justice using the full power of a democratic nation," the NDP leader said.

In June, Jody Thomas, Trudeau's national security advisor, stated that India is among the top sources of foreign interference in Canada, alongside authoritarian countries like China, Russia and Iran. 

Monday also marks the first day on the job for Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, who begins her work as the commissioner leading the public inquiry. Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters in Ottawa the issue of foreign interference was never "the unique purview of one country."

"We assume that (Hogue) and the security agencies will do what's necessary for her inquiry to also look at the ways that India interferes in Canada. It was always contemplated in the terms of reference," LeBlanc said.

It's not the first time India has been accused of interference in Canada. In 2018, the prime minister's then-national security adviser Daniel Jean suggested rogue elements of the Indian government may have tried to sabotage Trudeau's last bilateral visit to India after convicted attempted murder Jaspal Atwal was photographed at a reception with officials from Canada's delegation. The Indian government has denied any involvement in the controversy.

SIKH LEADERS REACT

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

Sikhs for Justice, a U.S.-based pro-Khalistan group, described the killing of Nijjar as "act of terrorism" and called on Canada to expel Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma.

Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon outside Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, just 100 feet away from where Nijjar died, B.C. Gurdwaras Council spokesperson Moninder Singh said the announcement from the prime minister brought about "mixed emotions."

"If Canada is actually declaring that India is an actual actor in this, I think that's the first step towards acknowledging and first step towards justice. But until we actually see people behind bars … I think there's kind of skepticism right now that something's actually going to happen."

At the same press conference, 19-year-old Harkireet Kaur recalled fond memories of the slayed Sikh leader and described Nijjar as a "father figure" to her.

"Now's the time to ensure that we will continue to raise our voice, build pressure and leave no room for any sort of backtracking," she said.

On top of a public inquiry on interference, Moninder Singh says he also wants to see an end to the intelligence sharing agreements between Canada and India. In 2018, during Trudeau's previous trip to India, Canada and India signed a cooperation framework on terrorism and violent extremism, which introduced "institutionalized cooperation" between Canadian and Indian intelligence agencies.

"Those intelligence sharing agreements, to us, have always been problematic. They've always placed Sikh activists at risk. We don't know what type of information is being shared. We don't know what type of monitoring goes on social media. All of those things are very risky to us," Moninder Singh said.

Moninder Singh says community leaders are planning protests outside the Indian High Commission and consulates across Canada on Sept. 25.

RESPONSE FROM INDIA

In a statement posted Monday, India's Ministry of External Affairs said in part, "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."

The ministry went on to say that the government is a "democratic polity with a strong commitment to rule of law," and that "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 ministry said the Indian government rejects any attempts to connect it to the death.

With files from CTV News Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello, The Canadian Press and Reuters.

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