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Canada blames India's government for the assassination of a Sikh leader

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is accusing India's government of ordering the killing of a Sikh leader in British Columbia. Canada has expelled an Indian diplomat who'd been described as the head of Indian intelligence in the country.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Now, Trudeau's explosive comments in Parliament came after Canadian national security officials said they had credible intelligence that India was behind the assassination in June.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam has been following the developments. Jackie, first, tell us about the alleged assassination. Who was killed?

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Well, it was a man named Hardeep Singh Nijjar. And he was a prominent leader in the Sikh community in Surrey, which is a suburb of Vancouver. Nijjar was considered really an outspoken advocate for creating an independent Sikh state in India's Punjab region. And the Indian government called him a terrorist. He was shot dead just outside one of the main Sikh temples in Surrey. And two masked gunmen were seen running away. You know, his killing really sent a shockwave of fear through the Sikh community because it did appear to be targeted.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And now the Canadian government is accusing India of it being behind it. And, I mean, that's a big deal for the leader of a G-7 country to openly accuse another government of assassinating one of its own citizens. I mean, what did Trudeau have to say?

NORTHAM: Well, he said, for the past few weeks, Canada's security agencies have been investigating the killing and have come to the conclusion that agents of the government of India - his words - were responsible. Let's have a listen to him talking in Parliament.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.

NORTHAM: And, A, Trudeau said steps will be taken to go after those responsible for killing Nijjar.

MARTÍNEZ: What's India's response been?

NORTHAM: Well, India has dismissed the allegations and is calling them absurd. And it's also expelling a Canadian diplomat. It's voiced concerns about what it calls anti-India activities in Canada. But Trudeau told Parliament that he personally and directly brought up the allegations of Nijjar's killing when he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year at the G-20 summit in New Delhi. Here's Trudeau again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUDEAU: In the strongest possible terms, I continue to urge the government of India to cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter.

NORTHAM: And Trudeau said Canada has been working closely and coordinating with its allies on this. And the National Security Council - a spokesperson said it's deeply concerned about the allegations of the assassination and is remaining in contact with its Canadian partners about it.

MARTÍNEZ: So I'm guessing relations between India and Canada aren't too good right now.

NORTHAM: No. You know, relations were already rocky before this, you know, just about Sikh separatists in Canada. And India has complained about demonstrations outside its High Commission in Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada. You know, and earlier this month, Canada suspended trade negotiations with India, and these were supposed to have been wrapped up this year. You know, with these tit-for-tat expulsions and now this allegation of assassination, it's hard to imagine relations are going to improve anytime soon.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. NPR's Jackie Northam. Jackie, thanks.

NORTHAM: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.