India to resume some visa services in Canada from today
The resumption of services comes over a month after they were indefinitely suspended on September 21
India has relaxed visa services for Canadians and will resume issuing them from Thursday, the High Commission in Canada said on Wednesday.
The resumption of services comes over a month after they were indefinitely suspended on September 21, even though India’s High Commissioner to Ottawa Sanjay Kumar Verma said the “situation is still not ideal to conduct normal diplomatic and Consular functions by all Indian diplomats and consular officials.”
In a release issued on Wednesday morning, India’s High Commission in Ottawa stated that the services will resume for entry, business, medical and conference visas. Visas for emergency situations will continue to be addressed by the High Commission and the Consulates.
Four of the eight visa categories were covered in the announcement. Categories omitted were tourist, employment, student and film.
The release said the decision was taken after a “considered review of the security situation that takes into account some recent Canadian measures in this regard.”
It had also said the missions had earlier been “constrained to suspended visa services temporarily because of safety and security considerations.”
In an interview on Tuesday with the Hindustan Times, Verma said, “If improvement in the security environment for Indian diplomats and consular officials stationed in Canada shows a positive sign, there is a likelihood of some relaxation in the existing Indian visa regime for Canadian citizens.”
But there is the lingering problem of pro-Khalistan elements continuing to target India’s seniormost diplomats in the country as well as its missions. Without mentioning the pro-Khalistani groups such as Sikhs for Justice or SFJ, Verma said, “Security threats per se originate from anti India activities of inimical elements in Canada, who are very small in number. As long as the core reasons are not dealt with, security threat will continue to be there.”
In fact, pro-Khalistan groups organised car rallies to India’s High Commission in Ottawa and its Consulates in Toronto and Vancouver last Saturday. They featured posters describing Verma as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister S Jaishankar as “Enemies of Canada.” SFJ has multiple programmes on its agenda including the next phase of the so-called Khalistan Referendum in Surrey on October 29.
“Indian authorities continuously assess the security of Indian diplomats and consular officials stationed in Canada, as well as that of our diplomatic and consular premises,” Verma said.
Canada has provided personal security details to the diplomats while also enhancing coverage of the missions. But, Verma said, “Provision of security to key Indian diplomats and consular officials does not necessarily mean that the security environment has improved. It only means that despite threats to their persons, they are able to have restricted physical movement. The situation is still not ideal to conduct normal diplomatic and Consular functions by all Indian diplomats and consular officials.”
On Saturday, Jaishankar said in New Delhi that “right now that is what has in many ways been challenged in Canada that our people are not safe, our diplomats are not safe. So if we see progress there, I would like very much to resume the issue of visas. My hope would be that it would be something which should happen very soon.”
Issuing of visas were indefinitely suspended on September 21. BLS International, which runs the visa application centres in Canada posted a scrolling message on its Canadian website: “Important notice from the Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21st September 2023, Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice.
Turmoil in the relationship started after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement in the House of Commons on September 18 that there were “credible allegations” of a potential link between Indian agents and the killing of pro-Khalistan figure Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18.
In the immediate aftermath, both countries expelled a diplomat each since. Last week, 41 Canadian diplomats were pulled from India after New Delhi said they would lost diplomatic immunity if they remained in station beyond Friday. Canada described that act as “mass expulsion” of its diplomats, while India has argued it wanted “parity” in the numbers of diplomats.
Nijjar, who was SFJ’s principal in British Columbia, 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.
While India accused Nijjar of being a terrorist, the accusations against him were never tested in a Canadian court. Canada is yet to provide any evidence of New Delhi’s involvement in the killing.