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What’s going on between Canada and India? India resumes visa services after diplomatic row

Canada’s Justin Trudeau and India’s Narendra Modi (Evan Vucci / AFP via Getty Images)
Canada’s Justin Trudeau and India’s Narendra Modi (Evan Vucci / AFP via Getty Images)

India has resumed visas for Canadian nationals months after a major diplomatic row between the two nations.

As of this week, some Canadians will be able to apply for an entry visa as well as business, conference, and medical visas to access India.

It’s unclear at this point whether Canadian visitors will be allowed to access India for tourism purposes, as tourist visas were not mentioned.

The decision was made by the High Commission of India in Ottawa, which said officials had decided to resume visa services after a “considered review of the security situation that takes into account some recent Canadian measures”.

The visa update comes a month after India suspended all visa operations for Canadian nationals amid an escalating diplomatic situation.

In September, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau suggested that “agents of the government of India” were behind the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen whom India identified as a terrorist.

As tension mounted, a number of diplomats from both countries were also expelled.

So what exactly has contributed to crumbling diplomatic relations and what does it mean for the two countries?

What’s happening between India and Canada?

Diplomatic relations have soured between India and Canada following the murder of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Hardeep was a Sikh leader who had moved to Canada from India in 1997. He had previously called for the creation of an independent Sikh nation to be created in India’s state of Punjab.

Sikhs make up two per cent of India’s population, and Indian authorities later branded him a “terrorist”.

In the run-up to his death, local reports have implied that Hardeep had been warned by Canadian Intelligence that there might be threats to his safety. He was shot and killed by two masked gunmen on July 18, 2023.

Justin Trudeau then said that his government was investigating “credible allegations potentially linking” India to Hardeep’s murder. Delhi officials slammed the allegation as “absurd”, and tensions have continued to escalate since.

Following the claims, Canada reportedly removed 41 of its diplomats from India amid frosty tensions.

On October 26, India resumed visa operations for some Canadian nationals.

Why did Canada accuse India of an assassination?

Canada suspected that Indian officials may have been involved in the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in July.

However, Canada hasn’t publicly provided any proof of India’s involvement in the recent murder. According to AP, an anonymous official confirmed that Trudeau had reportedly spoken to the US administration about their findings.

When Trudeau first made the allegations, he said: “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. Canada is a rule-of-law country; the protection of our citizens and defence of our sovereignty are fundamental.

Days later, Trudeau added: “We are simply laying out the facts as we understand them, and we want to work with the government of India to lay everything clear and to ensure there are proper processes.”

He added: “India and the government of India needs to take this matter with the utmost seriousness.”

How India and Canada’s diplomatic relations crumbled

India and Canada have shared fruitful commercial and trade ties in the past and Canada is home to one of the largest overseas communities of Indian origin. It’s also home to the largest Sikh community outside India.

While tensions between India and Canada reached boiling point in September, diplomatic relations between the two countries have cooled over the past few months.

India has claimed that Canada was sympathising with the Sikh separatist movement, and this week accused the North American country of harbouring “terrorists and extremists”.

Earlier this year, India’s foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said: “For us, how Canada has dealt with the Khalistani issue has been a long-standing concern because, very frankly, they seem to be driven by vote-bank politics.”

What is the Khalistan movement?

The Khalistan movement is a separatist organisation created by Sikhs with the aim of creating a sovereign state in India’s Punjab.

Sikhism was born in Punjab and the majority of people in the state follow the religion despite it being a minority belief in wider India.

Sikh separatists have called on multiple occasions for the creation of Khalistan to be created in Punjab. These demands even led to a violent insurgency in the 1970s and Eighties.

Prior to his death, Mr Nijjar was a prominent campaigner calling for the creation of Khalistan.