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India is cooperating with Canada on Nijjar probe, bilateral ties improving: Ex-Canadian NSA

Jody Thomas, Trudeau's ex-national security adviser, said India is cooperating with Canada to resolve the issue after the US unveiled a foiled murder plot against another Khalistani separatist. Relations between India and Canada soured after Trudeau alleged India's involvement in Nijjar's death.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Ottawa (Canada) Updated on: January 28, 2024 11:30 IST
India Canada relations, Khalistan probe, Hardeep Nijjar
Image Source : AP (FILE) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

India-Canada row: A former top Canadian official on Friday told local media that India is cooperating with Canada on the probe surrounding the death of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar and that bilateral relations between the two countries are improving. This comes after a diplomatic row broke out between the two countries after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged India's role behind Nijjar's killing in June.

Notably, the relations between the two countries soured last year following Trudeau's allegation about India's suspected involvement in the killing of Nijjar, who was gunned down outside his residence in Surrey, British Columbia. India denied the allegation as absurd and politically motivated while demanding Ottawa to provide evidence to substantiate its claims.

"I wouldn't describe them (the Indians) as not cooperating. I think we've made advancements in that relationship," said Jody Thomas, former Canadian national security adviser, adding that the information provided by the United States on the involvement of an Indian official on a foiled murder plot of another Sikh separatist in New York further supported the government's claims.

"The information that they (the Americans) revealed supported our position and our assertions with India, and India is working with us ... far more closely to resolve this," Thomas told CTV News. Trudeau earlier mentioned that India's relations with Canada may have undergone "a tonal shift" in the days after the alleged conspiracy to kill India-designated Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun emerged.

India-Canada tensions

The acrimony between India and Canada has delayed discussions on a free-trade deal and threatened Ottawa's plans to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific region, where New Delhi's cooperation is critical to efforts to check an increasingly assertive China. Last year, Canada withdrew 41 diplomats from India after New Delhi in September asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence following Trudeau's remarks.

"Our ability to function in the Indo-Pacific does rely on having a healthy relationship with India. And I think that we are working back towards that," Thomas said. Around two million Canadians, or 5 per cent of the population, have Indian heritage.

Trudeau claimed that he had made public allegations against India in the killing of Hardeep Nijjar as there was a need to put a 'chill on India' in light of what was being reported in India. "Too many Canadians were worried that they were vulnerable," he said, adding that the Sikh community in BC had been raising concerns since shortly after Nijjar was killed.

India has appealed to Canada to take stronger action against misuse of freedom of expression, preventing activities of groups promoting extremism and addressing hate crimes and hate speech. India also highlighted series of attacks on Indian religious places by extremists, which have increased since Nijjar's death in June.

Future of bilateral ties

Canada's High Commissioner to India Cameron Mackay recently underscored that the strategic interests of New Delhi and Ottawa are "absolutely aligned", and he was encouraged by the continuance of bilateral trade and investment relationship. My advice to my government and that to the Indian government and business community on both sides is to let the governments do what they are doing, let the government do diplomacy but everyone knows that in the long term, Canada's strategic interest and India's strategic interest are absolutely aligned," the high commissioner said.

Former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan and Canada Ajay Bisaria said the tensions between the two countries seem to be a temporary phase. "Though there is a glitch between the two countries in a political relationship, the business is going on and the message from the top leadership of both the countries is clear that the business has to go on and none of the stuff in the political space will impact the business relationship," he said at the seminar.

Indian students opting out of Canada

Additionally, Canada experienced a significant decline in the issuance of study permits to Indian students towards the end of last year, largely associated with India expelling Canadian diplomats responsible for processing these permits and reluctance from Indian students over the diplomatic spat.

C Gurus Ubramanian, counsellor for the High Commission of India in Ottawa, noted that certain Indian international students are considering options other than Canada due to recent concerns about the "lack of residential and adequate teaching facilities" at some Canadian institutions. According to reports, Indians have formed the largest group of international students in Canada in recent years, with more than 41% - or 225,835 - of all permits going to them in 2022.

(with inputs from agencies)

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