Canada arrests suspect in murder of Indian religious figure

Montreal, Canada – Sikh leaders in North America have welcomed recent arrests in the killing of Canadian Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, but allegations that the Indian government was involved continue to fuel questions and unease.

Canadian police announced late last week that three Indian nationals were arrested in Canada for their involvement in the June killing of Nijjar, a prominent Sikh community leader in the westernmost province of British Columbia.

Police added that their investigation into Nijjar’s shooting death would continue, including whether “there are any ties to the government of India”.

Moninder Singh, a spokesman for the BC Gurdwaras Council, a coalition of Sikh temples in the province, told Al Jazeera there was “some relief” that arrests were made in the case.

But Singh, who knew Nijjar personally, said the question of Indian state involvement is “looming” over the Sikh community, which numbers about 770,000 people across Canada — the largest Sikh diaspora outside India.

“The foreign interference is real. The assassination plot is real,” said Singh, adding that it is imperative to get to the bottom of what India’s role has been.

“All of that has to be exposed,” he continued. “There [are] numerous reasons why it’s very, very important for public safety in Canada, along with deterring India from carrying out this kind of operation ever again.”

“According to the Guardian : India says that Canada has shared no evidence to back up its allegation that the Indian government was involved in the death of a Sikh separatist leader in Canada last year, despite recent arrests in the crime.

The spokesperson for India’s external affairs ministry, Randhir Jaiswal, also reiterated India’s longstanding allegation that Canada harbors Indian extremists.

He added that New Delhi has complained to Canadian authorities that separatists, extremists and those advocating violence against India have been allowed entry and residency in Canada.

“Our diplomats have been threatened with impunity and obstructed in their performance of duties,” Jaiswal said. “We are having discussions at the diplomatic level on all these matters,” he said.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau set off a diplomatic spat with India in September, after he cited “credible allegations” of India’s involvement in the assassination. India rejected the accusations.

The three Indian men arrested in Canada have been charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and haven’t yet sought any access to the Indian diplomats there, Jaiswal said.

Meanwhile, Eric Garcetti, the US ambassador to India, said he was satisfied so far with India’s moves to ensure accountability after alleged assassination plots against Sikh activists in the US were revealed.

In November, US authorities said an Indian government official had directed the plot in the attempted murder of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist and dual citizen of the United States and Canada. The White House said last month it viewed the reported role of the Indian intelligence service in the assassination plots as a very serious matter.

“I would say the administration is satisfied with the accountability that we’ve demanded on this, because this is a red line for America, for our citizens, and a core part of what we need to do,” Garcetti said.

India has expressed concern about the linkage to officials and dissociated itself from the plot, saying it would formally investigate the US concerns, and take necessary follow-up action.

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