India summons Canadian envoy to protest Sikh separatist slogans at Justin Trudeau event

New Delhi says ‘disturbing actions’ will affect bilateral relations and increase violence

Shweta Sharma
Tuesday 30 April 2024 10:30 BST
Trudeau addresses crowd raising Sikh separatist slogans in Toronto

India has again lashed out at Canada for giving space to “extremism and violence” after slogans in support of the Sikh separatist movement were shouted during prime minister Justin Trudeau’s event in Toronto, further straining diplomatic relations.

New Delhi summoned Canadia’s deputy high commissioner Stewart Wheeler on Monday over the “raising of separatist slogans” demanding a separate homeland for Sikhs in India, the Ministry of External Affairs said.

Relations between the two countries have been strained since Mr Trudeau went public with allegations that Indian government agents were involved in the assassination of a Sikh separatist leader in Canada.

New Delhi has denied the allegation and reiterated its complaint that Ottawa was providing space to anti-India activities linked to the Khalistan movement in Canada, which is home to the largest population of Sikhs outside their home state of Punjab in India.

Khalistan refers to the independent Sikh nation that the separatists seek to establish in India’s northwest.

The Indian Foreign Ministry conveyed its “deep concern and strong protest” to the Canadian envoy for allowing “disturbing actions” to continue unchecked on its territory.

The ministry said pro-Khalistan sloganeering in the presence of Mr Trudeau “illustrates once again the political space that has been given in Canada to separatism, extremism and violence”.

“Their continued expressions not only impact India-Canada relations but also encourage a climate of violence and criminality in Canada to the detriment of its own citizens,” it added.

“Khalistan Zindabad” (long live Khalistan), slogans were allegedly shouted as Canadian politicians including Mr Trudeau and opposition leader Pierre Poilievre gave speeches to the Sikh immigrant population, a major vote bank, at a Sikh New Year event on Sunday.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau waves to the crowd after receiving the gift of a ceremonial sword from Sikhs in Ontario
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau waves to the crowd after receiving the gift of a ceremonial sword from Sikhs in Ontario (AP)

A video posted on social media showed a crowd shouting the slogans as Mr Trudeau, wearing the traditional Sikh orange headscarf and holding a ceremonial sword, stood on the stage and pledged to protect their rights and freedoms.

“To the nearly 800,000 Canadians of Sikh heritage, we will always be there to protect your rights and freedoms and we will always defend your community against hatred and discrimination,” he said.

"One of Canada’s greatest strengths is its diversity. We are strong not in spite of our differences, but because of our differences; but even as we look at these differences, we have to remember, and get reminded on days such as this, and every day, that Sikh values are Canadian values.”

He said his government is working to strengthen the security infrastructure around places of worship to ensure “the right to practise your religion without intimidation”.

The issue of the Khalistan movement has been a sore point in India’s relations with not just Canada but also other western countries with sizeable Sikh populations including the UK, the US and Australia.

The Indian government has declared multiple groups linked to the movement as extremist organisations and banned them while issuing arrest warrants for Sikh separatist leaders.

In September last year, Mr Trudeau told the House of Commons that there was “credible evidence” of the involvement of Indian agents in the 18 June killing of Canadian Sikh citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was labelled a terrorist in India in 2020.

Nijjar, 45, was shot dead outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh population.

New Delhi has denied any government role in Nijjar’s murder.

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