India suspends visa services for Canadians amid heightened tensions | World News - Hindustan Times

India suspends visa services for Canadians amid heightened tensions

Sep 21, 2023 11:46 AM IST

Justin Trudeau’s allegation of Indian involvement in Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing heightened tensions, triggered a diplomatic row this week

New Delhi has suspended visa services for Canadian nationals indefinitely amid heightened tensions between the two countries even as Ottawa said it was temporarily adjusting staff presence in India to ensure the safety of diplomats following threats received on social media.

The Indian Consulate in Toronto. (AFP)
The Indian Consulate in Toronto. (AFP)

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation of Indian involvement in Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing heightened the tensions and triggered a diplomatic row, and tit-for-tat expulsions of senior diplomats this week.

No formal announcement of the suspension of visa services was made even as BLS International, which runs the visa application centres in Canada, posted a message on its Canadian website in this regard. “Important notice from the Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21st September 2023 [Thursday], Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice.”

An Indian official confirmed the suspension but refused to comment further. “The language is clear and it says what it is intended to say.” This is the first time India has suspended visas since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Indian high commission’s website could not be accessed late on Wednesday for confirmation as it appeared to be down.

The suspension followed India’s advisory on Wednesday asking its citizens in Canada to exercise utmost caution due to growing anti-India activities and “politically-condoned hate crimes”. Indian students have particularly been advised to exercise extreme caution and remain vigilant.

Nijjar was gunned down in the parking lot of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara that he headed in the town of Surrey in the province of British Columbia. He was the principal figure of the secessionist outfit Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) in the province. SFJ has blamed India for the assassination

A spokesperson for Canada’s foreign ministry told the Canadian newspaper The National Post that some diplomats received threats on social media platforms. “...Global Affairs Canada [the foreign ministry] 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.”

Also read: Canada cites threats, says adjusting diplomatic staff presence in India

Canada has sought additional security around its missions including the high commission in New Delhi and consulates in Mumbai, Chandigarh, and Bengaluru.

The spokesperson cited the Vienna Convention for safeguarding diplomats and diplomatic premises, and added that they “expect India to provide for the security of our accredited diplomats and consular officers in India, just as we are for theirs here.”

Security has been enhanced at India’s missions in Canada as well for the senior diplomats after SFJ released the “Kill India” posters in July and then a series of others that blamed New Delhi for Nijjar’s killing on June 18.

India has sought additional security at the high commission in Ottawa and consulates in Toronto and Vancouver after SFJ issued a threat to “shut down Indian missions” on September 25, describing them as “terror houses.”

SFJ, which was banned in India in 2019 because of its pro-Khalistan activities, has threatened Hindus of Indian origin and asked them to leave Canada “for supporting” the country of their origin and “promoting violence” by celebrating Nijjar’s assassination.

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    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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