India has halted visa services for Canadian citizens following a growing dispute over the killing of a Sikh separatist figure on Canadian territory. The visa service provider, BLS, attributed the decision to “operational reasons” as conveyed by India’s mission. Tensions heightened after Canada announced an inquiry into “credible allegations” linking India to the separatist leader’s murder. India vehemently denied the accusation, deeming it “absurd.” Analysts suggest that the strained relations between the two nations, which have been deteriorating for months, have now reached an unprecedented low.
The notification regarding the visa suspension was initially published on the BLS website on Thursday. It stated, “Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 September 2023, Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice.” India’s foreign ministry declined to comment on the matter and directed inquiries to the BLS website.
This move comes on the heels of India issuing an advisory advising its citizens in or traveling to Canada to exercise extreme caution due to “growing anti-India activities and politically-sanctioned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada.” Delhi stated that some recent threats were directed at its diplomats and Indians “opposing the anti-India agenda.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mentioned on Monday that intelligence agencies were looking into whether “agents of the government of India” were involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen whom India had labeled a terrorist in 2020. Nijjar was fatally shot in his vehicle by two masked assailants outside a Sikh temple on June 18 in British Columbia.
Mr. Trudeau emphasized, “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty” during his address to the Canadian parliament. India responded strongly, asserting that Canada was attempting to divert attention from Khalistani terrorists and extremists who had found refuge there.
The Indian government has consistently responded vigorously to the demands of Sikh separatists in Western nations for Khalistan, or an independent Sikh homeland. The Khalistan movement reached its zenith in India in the 1980s with a violent insurgency centered in the Sikh-majority state of Punjab. Although it has waned in India, it remains popular among some members of the Sikh diaspora in countries like Canada, Australia, and the UK. Canada boasts the largest Sikh population outside of Punjab and has witnessed numerous pro-Khalistan protests and demonstrations. In June, reports indicated that India had lodged a “formal complaint” with Canada regarding the safety of its diplomats in the country.