India-Canada diplomatic row worsens, New Delhi says Canada “safe haven for terrorists”

New Delhi, Sep 21 (UNI) In a worsening diplomatic row, India on Thursday said that Canada has become a safe haven for “terrorists, extremists, and organised crime”, while Ottawa announced it was taking action to ensure the safety of its diplomats and temporarily adjusting staff presence in India.

In a weekly media briefing, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) dismissed as “politically driven” Ottawa’s allegations about Indian agents’ involvement in the murder of a Khalistani terrorist.

MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said there was a “degree of prejudice” in Canada’s allegations. “They have made allegations and taken action on them. To us, it seems that these allegations by the government of Canada are primarily politically driven”.

The MEA statement came amid growing tensions between India and Canada after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday told parliament that his country’s security agencies have been actively pursuing “allegations” of a potential link between Indian government agents and the murder of Khalistan Tiger Force chief Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia in June.

While New Delhi outrightly rejected Trudeau’s allegation, calling it “absurd” and “motivated”, the relations between the two countries have worsened with Canada and India expelling a senior diplomat each.

India has also issued a travel advisory for Indian nationals, particularly students, in Canada and also those contemplating travel to the North American country, asking them to exercise utmost caution.

Bagchi confirmed that Canada hasn’t shared any specific information regarding the allegations. “From our side, very specific evidence of criminal activities based on Canadian soil has been shared with the

Canadian authorities on a regular basis but has not been acted upon,” the MEA spokesperson said.

The allegations were raised by Trudeau with PM Modi when the Canadian PM was in India to attend the G20 summit. PM Modi rejected the allegations, the MEA reiterated.

The MEA Spokesperson said, “Safe haven is being provided in Canada, we want the Canadian government to not do so and take action against those who have terrorism charges or send them here to face justice”.

He said India’s repeated requests over the years for the extradition of terrorists have not elicited any “helpful” response from Canadian authorities.

“We’ve sought either extradition requests or assistance related to that, at least more than 20-25 individuals we’ve requested over the years but the response has not been helpful at all” he added.

Replying to a question as to whether Ottawa’s allegations could hurt India’s reputation, Bagchi said: “It is Canada that needs to look into its growing reputation of being a safe haven for terrorists, extremists, and organised crime.”

On increasing security at the Indian High Commission and Consulates in Canada, Bagchi said “We have always believed that it is the host government’s responsibility to provide security. In some places, we have our own security posture also. But, I don’t want to discuss security measures in public. That’s not an appropriate situation.”

On the other hand, Canada said its High Commission and all consulates in India are open and operational and continue to serve clients, but said in the light of the “current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats”.

In a statement, the High Commission of Canada alleged that some of its diplomats have received threats on various social media platforms, and Global Affairs Canada is assessing its staff complement in India.

“As a result, and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily adjust staff presence in India. All of our locations are staffed by diplomats and locally-engaged staff to ensure business and operational continuity,” the High Commission of Canada said in a statement.

“Global Affairs Canada will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of all our personnel, including locally-engaged staff, and to protect our operations in India,” it said.

“Decisions are made based on a number of factors including the professional profile of an employee or personal circumstances,” the statement read.

Citing the Vienna Conventions, the High Commission said “We expect India to provide for the security of our accredited diplomats and consular officers in India, just as we are for theirs here”.

However, Bagchi said India takes its obligations under the Vienna Convention very seriously. “if there’s any specific threat, I’m sure they are in touch with our security agencies”.

On Canada’s announcement that it was temporarily adjusting staff strength in India, Bagchi said India had sought parity in the strength of mutual diplomatic presence. “Their numbers are very much higher than ours in Canada. I assume there will be a reduction (on the Canadian side),” he said.

On the issue of the visa, Bagchi said “All categories of visas are suspended. The issue is not about travel to India but the issue is incitement of violence and inaction by the Canadian government…adding Those who have valid visas and OCI cards can travel freely”.

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