Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s startling allegation, tying the killing of Canadian Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June, to “agents of the Government of India”, marks a new low in their unravelling ties. Mr. Trudeau’s accusation — he said evidence had been shared with India and also raised in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last weekend — has set off a chain of events. After Canada expelled a senior Indian diplomat, India summoned the Canadian High Commissioner and expelled Canada’s Station chief for intelligence on Tuesday. The United States and Australia, partners with Canada in the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing agreement, have expressed “deep concerns” over the issue. The External Affairs Ministry has also accused Canadian diplomats of “anti-India” activities, indicating that more diplomats may be under scrutiny, while the Canadian government has spoken about the violation of the international rule of law, and of Canadian “sovereignty”, which could invoke other areas of confrontation. Given the support Mr. Trudeau received from his political rivals in Parliament, remarks critical of India by leaders such as Pierre Poilievre and Jagmeet Singh, it is also likely that the chill will outlast this government, if voted out in elections due in 2025. Unlike with Pakistan, where such allegations, name-calling and public confrontation have become routine, it is worth remembering that Canada is a part of the western NATO alliance, and home to Indians and Indian-origin Canadians, and the impact of the rupture will be felt wider.
The first step at such a fraught moment has to be some cold reflection over the next steps. For Mr. Trudeau, the priority must be to publicly prove his very serious allegations, or admit he is unable to. India’s assertions over Canadian safe havens for anti-India, separatist violent Khalistani groups have already been proven by many incidents, beginning from the early 1980s to more recent targeting of Indian diplomats and Indian community centres. That Nijjar, chief of the “Khalistan Tiger Force” — he was wanted in India, accused of being behind terror operations in Punjab in the 1990s, and had an Interpol red corner notice — was a Canadian citizen speaks for itself. New Delhi must also consider how it wishes to proceed on its ties with Canada. The government had hailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Canada in 2015, the first bilateral visit by an Indian PM since 1973, with the assumption that decades of mistrust over the Khalistan issue could be brushed aside. Earlier this year, India and Canada attempted another reset, with visits by Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, and fast-tracking free trade talks. However, after the acrimonious Trudeau-Modi meeting on the sidelines of the G-20, and the latest allegations by Mr. Trudeau, diplomatic niceties are clearly at an end, while the FTA talks have been put on pause.