Canada wants private talks with India to resolve a diplomatic dispute over the murder of a Sikh separatist leader, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Tuesday, after a report said India had asked the country to withdraw 41 diplomats.
India has told Canada that it must repatriate the diplomats by Oct. 10, according to the Financial Times. Neither Joly nor Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded when asked if the report was accurate.
“We are in contact with the government of India. We take Canadian diplomats’ safety very seriously and we will continue to engage privately because we think diplomatic conversations are best when they remain private,” Joly told reporters.
Ties between the two countries have become seriously strained over Canadian suspicion that Indian government agents were linked to the June murder in Canada of a Sikh separatist leader and Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who India had labeled a “terrorist”.
India has dismissed the allegation as absurd.
The Financial Times said India had threatened to revoke the diplomatic immunity of the 41 diplomats told to leave if they remained after Oct. 10. Canada has 62 diplomats in India.
India suspended new visas for Canadians on Sept 22 and asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country.
Trudeau said Ottawa was not looking to escalate the dispute.
“We’re taking this extremely seriously, but we’re going to continue to engage responsibly and constructively within with the government of India,” he told reporters separately.
The Indian High Commission in Ottawa did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said earlier there was a “climate of violence” and an “atmosphere of intimidation” against Indian diplomats in Canada, where the presence of Sikh separatist groups has frustrated New Delhi.