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India has stopped issuing visas to Canadians and told Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country, in a major escalation of the dispute between the two countries over the killing of a Sikh separatist.
Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said the suspension of visa processing was due to Canada’s failure to address “threats” to its diplomatic operations.
“You are aware of the security threats being faced by our high commission and consulates in Canada,” Bagchi said in a news briefing on Thursday. “This has disrupted their normal functioning.”
India has reacted angrily to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement on Monday that his country’s intelligence agencies were pursuing “credible allegations” linking Indian agents to the killing of Canadian Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in a suburb outside Vancouver in June.
Bagchi said New Delhi had called on Canada to reduce the number of diplomats it has in India in order to ensure “parity” of diplomatic presence.
“We think their numbers are much higher, and those details are being worked out,” Bagchi said.
Canada’s high commission in New Delhi had said earlier on Thursday that it would “temporarily adjust” staffing to ensure its diplomats’ safety.
“With some diplomats having received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada is assessing its staff complement in India,” the high commission said, adding that the move was “out of an abundance of caution”.
Neither India nor Canada gave details of how many Canadian diplomats might now leave.
Ottawa’s suspicions of New Delhi’s involvement in an extraterritorial killing have been firmly rejected by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has described the allegations as “absurd and motivated” and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat.
India’s government on Wednesday warned its citizens to “exercise utmost caution” when travelling to Canada because of “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate crimes and criminal violence”.
Thursday’s exchanges marked a further ramping up of the rhetoric, with India and Canada both citing the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to accuse the other of doing too little to protect their envoys.
Canada said it expected India to provide for the safety of its diplomats and consular officers in keeping with the convention.
“We will provide security and support and expect Canadian authorities to show similar sensitivity to posters threatening assassination and threats to violence against our diplomats [and to] attacks on our premises,” Bagchi said.
The Modi government has accused Canada of turning a blind eye to extremism and threats against its diplomatic premises and personnel, including a poster circulated earlier this year by Sikh activists with the words “Kill India” and photos of two Indian diplomats.
Earlier this year, it also lodged diplomatic protests in the UK and US after separatist Sikh demonstrations outside its posts in London and San Francisco.
Before Nijjar was shot dead outside a Sikh gurdwara, or house of worship, in Surrey, British Columbia, India had designated him as a terrorist and sought his arrest in connection with several criminal cases.
Nijjar had been working to organise an unofficial referendum among diaspora Sikhs on the creation of an independent state for the religious minority in the northern Indian province of Punjab, a notion New Delhi vehemently opposes.
Canada is home to one of the world’s largest Indian diaspora populations, with about 700,000 Indian citizens and another 1.6mn people of Indian descent, according to India’s high commission in Ottawa.
Bilateral trade in goods between the two countries amounted to $10.5bn last year, the high commission said.
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