Canada withdraws dozens of diplomats from India in Sikh murder dispute

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Canada has withdrawn dozens of diplomats from India after the countries failed to resolve a dispute related to Ottawa’s claims that New Delhi may have been involved in the murder of a Canadian citizen.

Ottawa withdrew 41 of its 62 diplomats in the country, Canada’s foreign minister Mélanie Joly said on Thursday. Canada and India have been negotiating the fate of the diplomats for weeks after India had set an October 10 deadline for their withdrawal.

The Financial Times previously reported that Joly held a secret meeting with Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar in Washington last month, but the two sides failed to reach a deal to let the Canadian diplomats stay in India.

Joly confirmed at a press conference on Thursday afternoon that the diplomats had left India. She said Ottawa pulled them out after New Delhi said they would lose diplomatic immunity from October 20.

“A unilateral revocation of diplomatic privilege and immunities is contrary to international law. It is a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and threatening to do so is unreasonable and escalatory,” Joly said.

Joly declined to say if the fact that India had extended the original October 10 deadline meant that the two sides had made some progress in the talks at some point, including in her meeting with Jaishankar.

“I believe that diplomacy is always better when it’s kept private,” she said.

Canada had suspended operations at its three consulates in India — Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chandigarh — due to the withdrawal, Joly said. The 41 diplomats who left were accompanied by 42 dependants.

New Delhi had cited the Vienna Convention, which provides a framework for diplomatic ties, in telling Ottawa it wanted “parity” in the number and rank of diplomats that each country has in the other.

Ottawa has more diplomats in India than New Delhi has in Canada because of a big consular section that processes visas for families of the roughly 1.3mn Canadians who claim Indian heritage.

“If we allow the norm of diplomatic immunity to be broken, no diplomats anywhere on the planet would be safe. So, for this reason, we will not reciprocate,” Joly said on Thursday.

India said on Friday that its actions were “fully consistent” with the Vienna Convention. “The state of our bilateral relations, the much higher number of Canadian diplomats in India, and their continued interference in our internal affairs warrant a parity in mutual diplomatic presence in New Delhi and Ottawa,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“We reject any attempt to portray the implementation of parity as a violation of international norms.”

The rift erupted last month after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” that India may have been involved in the murder in Vancouver of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh leader who was part of a movement pushing for an independent Sikh state in India.

India has described the Canadian claim, which Trudeau raised with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in New Delhi in August, as “absurd”. US president Joe Biden also raised the issue with the Indian leader.

India has repeatedly said that Canada has not shown them any evidence. The FT previously reported that the Canadian officials who travelled to India to discuss the issue had only presented the evidence orally due to concerns about revealing information about intelligence collection.

Joly on Thursday declined to say if Canada had shown evidence to India, saying only that “information was shared”.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is continuing its investigation into the killing of Nijjar.

Additional reporting by Benjamin Parkin in New Delhi

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