NEW YORK - The United States has urged India to cooperate with Canada’s investigation into the killing of a Sikh leader that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged may have been carried out by India’s government, amid a worsening diplomatic spat between two key US partners.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was imperative that the investigation into the slaying of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot dead in a Vancouver suburb in late June, be allowed to proceed unimpeded.
“We’ve been consulting throughout, very closely, with our Canadian colleagues — not just consulting, coordinating,” Blinken said at a briefing in New York.
“We are extremely vigilant about any instances of alleged transnational repression — it’s something we take very, very seriously.”
Trudeau announced on Monday that Canada had “credible allegations” Indian agents were linked to Nijjar’s killing. India dismissed the allegations as “absurd” and accused Canada of harbouring Sikh extremists and terrorists who want to carve out a separate Sikh state.
Canada expelled an Indian diplomat alleged to be an spy for India’s external intelligence service. India has also expelled a Canadian diplomat, followed up by suspending visa services for Canadians looking to travel to India. New Delhi has decried threats against Indian diplomats there and the “deteriorating security environment in Canada”.
Trudeau on Friday reiterated a call for India to participate in the investigation.
“Canada has shared the credible allegations that I talked about on Monday with India,” he said at a news conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was visiting Ottawa.
“We did that many weeks ago. We are there to work constructively with India and we hope that they engage with us so that we can get to the bottom of this very serious matter.”
The diplomatic fight has put President Joe Biden in an awkward position. He has courted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in recent years as part of a broader Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at competing with China.
But Washington also enjoys close trade and political ties with its northern neighbour — a Group of Seven member and part of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance alongside Australia, the UK and New Zealand.
David Cohen, the US ambassador to Canada, has confirmed that “shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners” had informed Trudeau of the possible involvement of Indian agents in the killing, CTV News in Canada reported.
“I will say this was a matter of shared intelligence information. There was a lot of communication between Canada and the United States about this, and I think that’s as far as I’m comfortable going,” Cohen said in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday.
Blinken refused to say whether the US had shared intelligence with Canada. He also declined to detail US discussions with Canada or Washington’s engagement with India on the issue.
For its part, India on Saturday signalled there would be no let-up in the campaign against Sikh separatism, with the federal anti-terror agency announcing it had confiscated the properties of an alleged Khalistani militant.
The seizure of a house and land owned by Gurpatwant Singh Pannu in Punjab “comes as a big boost to the country’s crackdown on the terror and secessionist network being operated from various countries, including Canada”, the National Investigation Agency said in a statement.