The relationship between Canada and India has taken an unfortunate turn following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of “credible” information linking Indian government agents to the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia in June. This development has far-reaching implications for bilateral ties, trade negotiations, and the Sikh community in Canada. In this article, we are taking you through events that strained the relations between India and Canada.
The Murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an advocate for an independent Sikh nation known as Khalistan, was shot dead outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18. Nijjar’s campaign for Khalistan had made him a target for Indian authorities, who designated him a “terrorist” in July 2020. His assassination, seen as a targeted shooting, has raised questions about the safety of Sikh activists in Canada.
Historical Context: Khalistan and the Sikh Community
India’s Punjab state, with a significant Sikh population, witnessed a violent Khalistan separatist movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, resulting in thousands of casualties. Today, the most vocal advocates for Khalistan are primarily among the Punjabi overseas diaspora, making Canada’s large Sikh community a focal point of India’s concerns.
Canada’s Sikh Community and Diplomatic Tensions
Canada boasts one of the largest overseas communities of Indian origin, with approximately 1.4 million people, including around 770,000 Sikhs. Khalistan flags and activities of Sikh hardliners within Canada’s Sikh diaspora have been a persistent source of tension between the two countries. India has accused Canada of allowing events that glorify violence by Sikh separatists, while Canada’s leadership emphasizes the importance of free speech and assembly.
Impact on Canada-India Relations
The recent allegations and subsequent expulsion of a senior Indian diplomat have frozen talks on a potential trade deal between Canada and India. Although both nations had previously aimed to outline a trade agreement by the end of 2023, political developments surrounding the murder case have disrupted these negotiations.
Trade and Economic Implications
India is Canada’s tenth-largest trading partner, but bilateral trade between the two countries accounted for just C$13.7 billion in 2022 out of a total of C$1.52 trillion in all Canadian trade. While trade ties are significant, the recent dispute is unlikely to severely impact the Canadian economy. However, the stalled trade talks may hinder future economic cooperation.
What is the Path Forward?
Canada-India relations have been strained by allegations of Indian government involvement in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader. The Sikh community in Canada remains a focal point of tension, and trade negotiations have been put on hold. As both nations navigate these challenges, finding common ground and addressing concerns is essential for restoring diplomatic and economic relations between Canada and India.