Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is not looking to escalate the situation with India after he revealed allegations of “credible” intelligence that agents of the Indian government had a hand in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian Sikh leader.
Instead, he says Canada is looking for the facts and calls on India to co-operate with the investigation into Nijjar’s murder in B.C. this past June.
“One of the things that is so important today is that the government of India takes seriously this matter. It is extremely serious and has far-reaching consequences of international law,” Trudeau said, adding Canada would “remain calm.”
“Canadians have a right to know and need to know when things are going on like this, and that’s why we made the decision to do this.
“We are not looking to provoke or escalate. We are simply laying out the facts as we understand them and we want to work with the government of India.”
On Monday, Trudeau rose in the House of Commons and shared the allegations. Heading into the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, he said this is based on an intelligence analysis that has been built over the summer when asked why he was sharing the allegations now.
“We wanted to make sure we had solid grounding in understanding what was going on, in analysis and indeed in facts, and we wanted to make sure we’re taking the time to talk with our allies and share what we knew,” Trudeau said.
“We wanted to make sure that we fully shared with the government of India the seriousness and the depths of our preoccupations and indeed conclusions.”
Global News has learned that while Canada’s allies are concerned and supportive, they have chosen a more cautious approach than the Trudeau government in their interpretation of the intelligence and just how far they are willing to take it.
A Five Eyes source said the intel suggests India may have been behind the killing of Nijjar, and given that is a possibility not a certainty… U.S. intelligence agencies and other have been reluctant to make the same assertion as the Canadian counterparts at this point in the investigation.
In June, Nijjar was killed in his truck in Surrey, B.C., outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara.
RCMP said the suspects were two masked men, who may not have been acting alone. They described it as a targeted attack and said there was not a threat to the broader Sikh community.
The government of India denies any involvement in the killing, and expelled a Canadian diplomat Tuesday morning after Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly announced the expulsion of a top Indian security official who was working in Canada on Monday afternoon.
Nijjar was considered a terrorist by the government of India, and the Indian government has been critical of Canada, saying the government is sympathetic to and harbours Khalistani extremists.
Prior to his death, Nijjar had denied the allegations.
The Sikh independence movement is advocating for the creation of a Sikh home state called Khalistan in the Punjab province.
Treasury Board President Anita Anand told reporters on Tuesday it was very difficult to hear the prime minister make the statement he did on Monday, especially for families like hers with relatives that come from India.
“I think that that sentiment is shared by South Asians and families that come from India regardless of religion,” Anand said.
She then called on Canadians to be patient and let the legal process run its course, as well as showing empathy.
“This is a time that families who come from India, regardless of religion, are going to find it difficult, so I would just ask us to be empathetic and unified at the same time and I appeal for calm,” she said.
Canada has been working on an Indo-Pacific Strategy to ease trade reliance with China in the region. Anand says that works continues amid the current situation.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan, who is Sikh, extended condolences to Nijjar’s family.
“Our main focus is ensuring the family gets the justice they deserve,” Sajjan said.
On concerns about security, Sajjan said Monday’s revelation shows Canada is taking foreign interference seriously.
“I trust in our agencies, but I want to make sure Canadians feel secure, and my message to them is that all our agencies are doing their utmost, not just in the short term but for a very long time,” Sajjan said.
The Indian government has accused Canadian officials of harbouring Khalistani extremists and holding sympathetic views. When asked about this, Sajjan said that Canadians should look at where that message is coming from and what narrative they may be trying to create.
On the opposition side, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called on the government to share more information on the situation. He told reporters that he wasn’t told anything more by Trudeau privately than was stated publicly.
“The prime minister needs to come clean with all the facts. We need to know all the evidence possible so Canadians can make judgements on that,” Poilievre replied when asked if Canada needs to change its relationship with India.
Poilievre added there’s a “real” risk if more information about the allegations is not shared or if they’re proven to be untrue.
Sajjan said some information must be kept confidential at this point due to the sensitive nature of the investigation.
With files from Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson.
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