Canadian official: India surveilled

Intelligence cited in claims New Delhi tied to activist’s death

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the G20 Summit in New Delhi, India on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. On Monday, Sept. 18, Canada expelled a top Indian diplomat as it investigates what Trudeau called credible allegations that Indias government may have had links to the assassination in Canada of a Sikh activist. Trudeau told Parliament that he brought up the slaying with Modi at the G-20. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

TORONTO -- The allegation of India's involvement in the killing of a Sikh Canadian is based on surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada, including intelligence provided by a major ally, a Canadian official familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The official said the communications involved Indian officials and Indian diplomats in Canada and that some of the intelligence was provided by a member of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand, in addition to Canada.

The official did not say which ally provided intelligence or give specific details of what was contained in the communications or how they were obtained. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. first reported the intelligence.

Earlier Thursday, India stopped issuing visas to Canadian citizens and told Canada to reduce its diplomatic staff as the rift widened between the once-close allies over Ottawa's allegation that New Delhi may have been involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a 45-year-old Sikh separatist, in a Vancouver suburb in June.

Ties between the two countries have plunged to their lowest point in years since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday there were "credible allegations" of Indian involvement in the assassination.

Nijjar, a plumber who was born in India and became a Canadian citizen in 2007, had been wanted by India for years before he was gunned down outside the temple he led in the city of Surrey.

Speaking Thursday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Trudeau acknowledged the complicated diplomatic situation he faces.

"The decision to share these allegations on the floor of the House of Commons was not done lightly," he said. "There is no question that India is a country of growing importance and a country that we need to continue to work with.

"We are not looking to provoke or cause problems but we are unequivocal around the importance of the rule of law and unequivocal about the importance of protecting Canadians."

The bombshell allegation set off an international tit-for-tat, with each country expelling a diplomat. India called the allegations "absurd."

Canada has yet to provide public evidence to back Trudeau's allegations, and Canada's U.N. ambassador, Bob Rae, indicated that might not come soon.

"This is very early days," Rae told reporters Thursday, insisting that while facts will emerge, they must "come out in the course of the pursuit of justice."

"That's what we call the rule of law in Canada," he said.

On Thursday, the company that processes Indian visas in Canada announced that visa services had been suspended until further notice.

The suspension means Canadians who don't already have visas cannot travel to India. Canadians are among the top travelers to India: In 2021, 80,000 Canadian tourists visited the country, according to India's Bureau of Immigration.

Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi blamed the visa suspension, which includes visas issued in third countries, on safety issues.

"Security threats being faced by our High Commission and consulates in Canada have disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly, they are temporarily unable to process visa applications," Bagchi told reporters. He gave no details on the alleged threats.

Bagchi also called for a reduction in Canadian diplomats in India, saying they outnumbered Indian diplomats in Canada.

The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi said Thursday that its consulates in India are open and continue to serve clients. It said some of its diplomats had received threats on social media, adding that Canada expects India to provide security for its diplomats and consular officers working there.

On Wednesday, India warned its citizens to be careful when traveling to Canada because of "growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate-crimes."

India's security and intelligence branches have long been active in South Asia and are suspected in a number of killings in Pakistan. But arranging the killing of a Canadian citizen in Canada, home to nearly 2 million people of Indian descent, would be unprecedented.

India has criticized Canada for years over giving free rein to Sikh separatists, including Nijjar. New Delhi had accused him of links to terrorism, which he denied.

Information for this article was contributed by Ashok Sharma and Krutika Pathi of The Associated Press.

  photo  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. India has expelled a senior Canadian diplomat and is accusing Canada of interfering in its internal affairs. The expulsion Tuesday came a day after Trudeau said Canada was investigating allegations India was connected to the assassination of Sikh independence advocate Hardeep Singh Niijar in Canada in June, and expelled an Indian diplomat. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)