The Indian government has halted visa services for Canadian citizens, escalating a dispute over the assassination of a Sikh separatist in Canada. The cessation was announced by visa service provider BLS via a message from the Indian mission, attributing the decision to “operational reasons”. This comes in the wake of Canada’s announcement of an investigation into “credible allegations” linking India to the murder of the separatist leader, an allegation India vehemently dismissed as “absurd”. Insiders suggest that this has pushed the already strained relations between the two nations to a historical low point.
The BLS website first disclosed the suspension of visa services on Thursday, stating, “Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from September 21, Indian visa services have been suspended until further notice.” When asked to comment on the issue, India’s foreign ministry declined, redirecting queries to the BLS website.
This development follows India’s advisory issued yesterday, cautioning its citizens residing in or planning to travel to Canada to “exercise utmost caution”. The advisory cites “growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada” as the reasons for this warning. Delhi also made mention of threats targeting its diplomats and Indians opposing the “anti-India agenda”.
Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the ongoing investigation into the potential involvement of “agents of the government of India” in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen and a person India labelled as a terrorist in 2020. Nijjar was fatally shot by two masked assailants outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia on June 18. Speaking in the Canadian parliament on Monday, Trudeau declared, “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”
India’s response was swift and stern, accusing Canada of attempting to “shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists” who have found refuge there. India has repeatedly reacted strongly to the demands by Sikh separatists in Western countries for Khalistan, a separate Sikh homeland. The Khalistan movement, which enjoyed peak popularity in India during the 1980s with a violent insurgency centred in the Sikh-majority Punjab state, has little resonance in India today. However, it continues to be supported by some members of the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, Australia, and the UK.
Canada, home to the largest Sikh population outside of Punjab, has seen several pro-Khalistan protests and demonstrations. Reports in June indicated that India had lodged a “formal complaint” with Canada regarding the safety of its diplomats in the country.