Canada high commission in India to adjust staff presence after threat to diplomats

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Canada’s high commission in India said on Thursday that it has decided to temporarily “adjust” staff presence in the country after some diplomats received threats on social media platforms, adding to spiraling tensions between the two countries.

The statement from the high commission came soon after an Indian company published a notice that it was suspending visa services for Canadian citizens following a notice from the Indian mission. It then withdrew it minutes later before re-publishing it again.

BLS International, an Indian company offering visa facilities, said on Wednesday the notice from the Indian mission in Canada cited “operational reasons” for suspension of visa services “till further notice.”

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Spokespersons for the Canadian high commission and the Indian foreign ministry did not respond to queries on the two developments.

Tensions between the two countries escalated earlier this week when Canada said that it was “actively pursuing credible allegations” linking Indian government agents to the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia in June.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government categorically rejected Canada’s suspicions that Indian agents had links to the alleged murder.

With both nations expelling a diplomat each, analysts said relations between the two countries have touched the lowest point.

“In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats,” the Canadian high commission said in a statement.

“With some diplomats having received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada is assessing its staff complement in India,” it said, referring to the Canadian government department which manages Ottawa’s diplomatic and consular relations.

“As a result, and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily adjust staff presence in India,” it said, without elaborating on what it meant by adjusting staff presence.

“In the context of respect for obligations under the Vienna conventions, we expect India to provide for the security of our accredited diplomats and consular officers in India, just as we are for theirs here.”

After the tit-for-tat expulsions of senior diplomats, the two countries issued tit-for-tat travel advisories on Tuesday and Wednesday, with India urging its nationals in Canada, especially students, to exercise “utmost caution.”

Threat to trade ties

The tensions were sparked on Monday after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa was investigating “credible allegations” about the potential involvement of Indian government agents in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia in June.

Canadian officials have so far declined to say why they believe India could be linked to Nijjar’s murder.

New Delhi has also not provided evidence or details of specific incidents leading to its travel advisory that refers to “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada.”

Canada is a safe country, its public safety minister Dominic LeBlanc said hours after India’s advisory.

Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside the Indian state of Punjab, with about 770,000 people reporting Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census.

Some Indian analysts say Ottawa does not curb Sikh protesters as they are a politically influential group.

The spat is also threatening trade ties, with talks on a proposed trade deal frozen last week.

Canada is India’s 17th largest foreign investor, pouring in more than $3.6 billion since 2000, while Canadian portfolio investors have invested billions of dollars in Indian stock and debt markets.

Since 2018, India has been the largest source country for international students in Canada.

In 2022, their number rose 47 percent to nearly 320,000, accounting for about 40 percent of total overseas students, the Canadian Bureau of International Education says, which also helps universities and colleges provide a subsidized education to domestic students.

Industry estimates show the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Canada and India could boost two-way trade by as much as $6.5 billion, yielding a GDP gain of $3.8 billion to $5.9 billion for Canada by 2035.

Read more:

India issues Canada travel warning after diplomatic row over Sikh leader killing

India expels senior Canadian diplomat in retaliation: Foreign ministry

Canada urges diplomatic resolution with India amid controversial murder allegations

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