ANALYSIS: Trudeau Alone Against India After Accusing Asian Giant of Killing Canadian

The U.S. and UK have offered words of support to Canada but stopped short of criticizing India over allegations that it was involved in killing a Canadian.
ANALYSIS: Trudeau Alone Against India After Accusing Asian Giant of Killing Canadian
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) and his Canada counterpart Justin Trudeau shake hands during a bilateral meeting after the G20 Summit in New Delhi on Sept. 10, 2023. (-/PIB/AFP via Getty Images)
Noé Chartier

Canada’s two closest allies, both working to boost ties with India, offered words of support but stopped short of criticizing the Asian giant after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the extraordinary step of publicly accusing the Indian government of involvement in the killing of a Canadian in B.C.

“We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday,” said the U.S. State Department.

“We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice.”

Mr. Trudeau told the House on Sept. 18 that there are “credible allegations” agents working for New Delhi had a hand in the gun slaying of Sikh secessionist Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 18 in Surrey.
India has denied involvement and called the allegations “absurd and motivated.”
U.K.’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly issued a statement almost identical to that of the United States. “All countries should respect sovereignty and the rule of law,” Mr. Cleverly said on social media.

“We are in regular contact with our Canadian partners about serious allegations raised in the Canadian Parliament. Important that Canada’s investigation runs its course and the perpetrators brought to justice.”

London is currently negotiating a trade deal with New Delhi and said the recent development would not derail its plan.

“Work on the trade negotiations will continue as before,” a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Sept. 19.
“When we have concerns about countries we are negotiating trade deals with, we will raise them directly with the government concerned. But with regards to the current negotiations with India, these are negotiations about a trade deal, and we're not looking to conflate them with other issues.”


Before Mr. Trudeau’s trip to India for the G20 summit earlier this month, where he said he raised the issue directly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canada had said it was pausing trade talks with India but didn’t provide an explanation. The reason now appears to be clear.

Western countries have been promoting “friend-shoring” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and seek to move away from China for a number of reasons. India is the ideal counterbalance in the region as the world’s largest democracy.

For this reason, U.S. President Joe Biden has cultivated a relationship with Mr. Modi, despite few ideological similarities between the two and a different stance on the Russia-Ukraine war.

Before the G20 summit, the United States and India issued a joint statement on Sept. 8 “reaffirming the close and enduring partnership” between the two countries.
While in India, Mr. Modi received Mr. Biden at his residence instead of his office, which White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said was “unusual.”

“This is not your typical bilateral visit to India with meetings taking place in the prime minister's office,” he said.

Meanwhile Mr. Trudeau skipped Mr. Modi’s dinner for leaders and had a short bilateral meeting with him, following which India issued a terse statement criticizing Canada for harbouring Sikh separatists.
It was clear at that point that relations between Canada and India had hit a new low, and this was before Mr. Trudeau’s pronouncement in Parliament.

On the Brink

Relations between the two countries are now on the brink. Canada on Sept. 18 declared persona non grata the head of India’s intelligence service in Canada, Pavan Kumar Rai of the Research and Analysis Wing. India responded the next day by expelling a senior Canadian diplomat.

Amid the heightened tensions caused by his announcement, Mr. Trudeau took a step back and said the intention was not to provoke India.

“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,” he said on Sept. 19.

The issue of presenting the facts has been raised, as the government has not shared details with the public about the evidence or intelligence it has on Mr. Nijjar's killing.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has called on the Liberal government to provide more information.

“If these allegations are true, they represent an outrageous affront to Canada's sovereignty,” he said on Sept. 18 immediately after Mr. Trudeau's announcement.

But he took a different tone on Sept. 19 when asked whether Canada should change its relationship with India or impose sanctions.

The prime minister needs to “come clean with all the facts,” said Mr. Poilievre. “We need to know all the evidence possible so that Canadians can make judgments,” he said, adding that Mr. Trudeau has not provided facts but only 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.”

Mr. Poilievre added it was “interesting” that Mr. Trudeau has known about interference by the Chinese regime in Canada for a long time, including when it held Canadian citizens hostage, but “did nothing.”

The day Mr. Trudeau made the allegation was also the day the foreign interference public inquiry was launched, spurred by months of national security leaks in the press depicting widespread interference by Beijing in Canadian democracy.

The inquiry’s mandate is to look into the actions of China, Russia, and other states and non state actors.

CSIS Involvement

Canada’s spy agency appears to be closely involved in the India affair. Public Safety Minister Dominic Leblanc said this week that Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Director David Vigneault and National Security and Intelligence Adviser Jody Thomas travelled to India “on a number of occasions” in recent weeks to meet Indian counterparts.
The son of Mr. Nijjar, Balraj Singh Nijjar, said his father started meeting with CSIS in February, with the frequency of encounters increasing in the following three or four months.

CSIS officers were meeting his father once or twice a week before he was killed, Balraj said.

For Phil Gurski, a 30-year veteran of CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment, this suggests Mr. Nijjar had a close relationship with the spy agency.

If Mr. Nijjar felt threatened, he could have approached the RCMP or CSIS or both, but this probably wouldn’t explain such regular meetings, said Mr. Gurski.

“If, as the son said, he’s meeting regularly, that suggests at a minimum he’s a community contact. Whether he’s an asset, that’s a completely different issue.”

Mr. Gurski added that CSIS wouldn’t spend this time and energy if it wasn’t obtaining something from it. “It certainly suggests that he had information that would have been of interest to the fulfilment of its [CSIS's] mandate.”

Mr. Nijjar, as Sikh secessionist and leader of a Sikh temple in Surrey, was wanted by India on terrorism charges. He had previously denied the allegations of involvement in violence and was organizing a non-biding Khalistan independence referendum project at the time of his death.

Mr. Gurski says CSIS could have been seeking information from him in relation to its counter-terrorism or counter-intelligence mandate.

The Canadian Press, Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.