India protests over Sikh separatist slogans at Toronto event

Protest outside India's consulate in Toronto

NEW DELHI/OTTAWA (Reuters) -India summoned the Canadian Deputy High Commissioner on Monday and expressed "deep concern and strong protest" after separatist slogans in support of a Sikh homeland were raised at an event addressed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Bilateral diplomatic relations soured last year after Trudeau said Canada was "actively pursuing credible allegations" that Indian agents were potentially linked to the June 2023 murder of a Sikh leader who was a Canadian citizen.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, was shot dead outside a Sikh temple on June 18 in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh population. Nijjar supported a Sikh homeland in the form of an independent Khalistani state and was designated by India as a "terrorist" in July 2020.

New Delhi has denied any formal government role in Nijjar's murder.

India's foreign affairs ministry said on Monday it had conveyed "deep concern and strong protest" at such actions "being allowed to continue unchecked at the event".

Slogans supporting the rise of a separatist state were raised at an event in Toronto, according to ANI news agency, in which Reuters has a minority stake.

"We will always be there to protect your rights and your freedoms, and we will always defend your community against hatred and discrimination," ANI quoted Trudeau as saying.

Canada has the highest population of Sikhs outside their home state of Punjab in India, and the country has been the scene of many demonstrations that have irked India.

The Canadian foreign ministry told Reuters in a statement that Trudeau "gathered with thousands" in Toronto to mark the occasion of Vaisakhi, a harvest festival celebrated by the people of Northern India.

(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi and Ismail Shakil in OttawaEditing by Gareth Jones and Sandra Maler)