Three men accused in Canadian Sikh leader's death appear in court

FILE PHOTO: Suspects in relation to the murder in Canada of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar

TORONTO (Reuters) - The three men accused of murdering Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar last year in a killing that triggered a diplomatic crisis between Canada and India appeared briefly in a British Columbia courtroom on Tuesday.

Karanpreet Singh, 28, Kamalpreet Singh, 22 and Karan Brar, 22, all Indian nationals, face charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

The three appeared via video link wearing orange prison uniforms.

Nijjar, 45, was shot dead in June outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh population. A few months later, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prompted a diplomatic crisis with New Delhi when he cited evidence of Indian government involvement in Nijjar's death.

Canadian police said Friday they are probing whether the three accused had ties to the Indian government.

India has denied involvement in Nijjar's death. Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Saturday India will wait for Canadian police to share information on the three accused.

"One of our concerns which we have been telling them is that, you know, they have allowed organized crime from India, specifically from Punjab, to operate in Canada," Jaishankar said.

Nijjar was a Canadian citizen campaigning for the creation of Khalistan, an independent Sikh homeland carved out of India. The presence of Sikh separatist groups in Canada has long frustrated New Delhi, which had labeled Nijjar a "terrorist."

Canadian Sikh leaders have called for Canada to investigate Indian interference in Canadian affairs. Nijjar's longtime friend Moninder Singh called the arrests in his friend's death "bittersweet" last week.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny, editing by Deepa Babington)