Sikh activist killed, three arrested: tension between India and Canada

EDMONTON –Three young Indians have been arrested on suspicion of being responsible for the murder of a Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, killed in June 2023 outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia. For that crime, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately accused the Indian government, causing a serious diplomatic crisis between the two countries. 

Those arrested are Kamalpreet Singh, Karanpreet Singh and Karan Brar, all young men, charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy in the Nijjar case, according to documents filed Friday in a Surrey court. All three men were arrested separately in Edmonton without incident: two of them at their homes and another elsewhere. Sources close to the investigation told CBC that police are actively investigating possible links to three other homicides in Canada, including the death of an 11-year-old boy in Edmonton.

“Canada is a country governed by the rule of law with a strong and independent judiciary, as well as a fundamental commitment to protecting all its citizens” Trudeau said last Saturday, commenting on the news of the arrests during a Toronto gala celebrating Sikh heritage and culture. “As the RCMP has stated, the investigation remains ongoing, as does a separate and distinct investigation that is not limited to the involvement of the three individuals arrested yesterday”.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that many in Canada’s Sikh community feel unsafe after Nijjar’s killing, adding: “Every Canadian has the fundamental right to live safely and free from discrimination and threats of violence in Canada”.

Nijjar was a Canadian citizen (born in India, in a Punjabi village, and immigrated in the 1990s) who campaigned 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”. RCMP Deputy Commissioner David Teboul, force commander for the Pacific region, said Friday he would not comment on the alleged links between the three arrested men and Indian officials, but said the RCMP is “investigating the links with the Government of India”.

On Saturday, Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said his country would wait for Canadian police to share information on the three Indian men arrested and charged. Jaishankar also said that he had seen that the suspects “are apparently Indians belonging to some kind of gang… we will have to wait for the police to tell us. But, as I said, one of our concerns that we have is that, you know, organized crime from India, particularly from Punjab, has been allowed to operate in Canada”. Jaishankar therefore criticized the Canadian government for allowing people linked to organized crime to enter the country. “Our biggest problem right now is in Canada, because in Canada, actually today the party in power in Canada… [has] given this kind of extremism, separatism, and advocates of violence some legitimacy in name of freedom of speech” Jaishankar said.

The tension between the two countries remains high.

In the pic above, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his participation in the Sikh “Vaisakhi” celebration (screenshot from a video on his Twitter profile)