Justin Trudeau denies trying to provoke India with claims over Sikh leader’s death

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Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, denied trying to provoke Narendra Modi’s government with claims that Indian agents may be linked to the killing of a Sikh leader, as he urged New Delhi to take what he has described as “credible allegations” seriously.

“We are not looking to provoke or escalate, we are simply laying out the facts as we understand them, and we want to work with the government of India,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday, a day after he went public with the bombshell allegations in a speech to parliament.

Modi’s office has dismissed as “absurd and motivated” Trudeau’s comments on Monday that there were “credible allegations” that agents of India’s government had a hand in the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June. Tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions have occurred in each country as a result.

The allegations have further strained the relationship between the countries, which last week paused talks about a free trade agreement. They have also sparked anger and concern for Canada’s Sikh community, where some say India’s government has surveilled them for years because some members’ support the Khalistan independence movement, which seeks to create a sovereign state in India’s northern Punjab state.

“For decades, India has targeted Sikhs in Canada with espionage, disinformation, and now, murder,” Mukhbir Singh, a director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, said on Tuesday, adding that Nijjar was a supporter of Khalistan. “India cannot be allowed to disregard the rule of law and the sovereignty of foreign states.”

Nijjar was shot dead on the grounds of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, one of the biggest Sikh temples in North America, located in Surrey, British Columbia. The Vancouver suburb represents Canada’s largest Sikh enclave by proportion.

Before Nijjar’s death, he was president of the temple, where on Tuesday, hundreds of yellow flags fluttered in the wind with “Khalistan” in bold lettering.

Groups of Sikh men sat in the car park on fold-out chairs chatting in Punjabi. Some expressed anger.

“I am really mad,” said Harminder Sarana, 76, a former saw mill worker who says he knew Nijjar.

“I talked to him so many times. He was a nice guy. He talked to everybody. He said ‘Śubha savēra’ — that means good morning — to everybody. He asked if you needed more chairs and everything.”

Jagmeet Singh, the leader of Canada’s progressive New Democratic party, which sustains Trudeau’s minority Liberal party government in power, on Tuesday asked the prime minister during a parliamentary session what he would do to protect those faced with violent threats from foreign entities. Singh, who is Sikh, later wrote a letter asking the government to pursue “an examination of India’s foreign interference in Canada”.

Trudeau has not given any further evidence to support his claims since making them on Monday. He was expected to arrive later on Tuesday in New York for the UN General Assembly, which Modi is skipping.

The reaction from Canada’s allies has been muted. In the weeks before Trudeau’s revelation, Ottawa held talks with some allies, including members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing grouping — the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — about how to handle the issue, said people familiar with the situation.

But none of the allies made any public statement ahead of the disclosure on Monday, including in the lead-up to the G20 summit in India where Trudeau said he raised the issue directly with Modi.

After Trudeau’s speech in parliament the US and Australia separately said they were “deeply concerned” about the claims, while the UK said it was in contact with Canada about the “serious allegations”.

One person familiar with the situation said Washington had concluded that it would have been inappropriate to comment on the investigation given the legal implications or to join Ottawa in announcing the conclusion of what was a Canadian investigation. The person stressed that the White House expressed concern after Trudeau had spoken.

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