Canadian police make arrests in prominent Sikh activist’s killing: Reports

Arrests in last year’s killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar are set to fuel more diplomatic tensions between India and Canada.

A mural features the image of late Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was killed on the grounds of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple in British Columbia in June 2023 [File: Chris Helgren/Reuters]By Al Jazeera StaffPublished On 3 May 20243 May 2024

Police in Canada have made arrests in the fatal 2023 shooting of prominent Sikh-Canadian activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, months after authorities accused Indian government agents of being involved in the killing, according to media reports.

Citing unnamed sources, CBC News first reported on Friday that Canadian police have arrested “members of an alleged hit squad investigators believe was tasked by the government of India” with killing Nijjar.

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is expected to hold a news conference later on Friday.

Nijjar was fatally shot on June 18, 2023, outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, a city in Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia, spurring widespread condemnation.

A few months later, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country’s security agencies were investigating “credible allegations of a potential link” between Indian government agents and Nijjar’s killing.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau said in an address to Canada’s parliament in September of last year.

“In the strongest possible terms, I continue to urge the government of India to cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter.”

His comments spurred a fierce response from India, which rejected the allegations as “absurd” and politically motivated. New Delhi also accused Canada of not doing enough to stem anti-India activism and “Sikh extremism”.

But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has long faced allegations of targeting political opponents, journalists and religious minorities, including Muslims and Sikhs, in what rights groups have said is a continuing effort to stifle dissent.

At the time of Nijjar’s killing, tensions had been growing between Canada and India over a Sikh campaign for a sovereign state in India’s Punjab region. Known as the Khalistan movement, the campaign has supporters in Canada.

Nijjar served as president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, the temple where he was killed. He was among those advocating for Khalistan.

Asked to comment on Friday’s reports that arrests were made in the case, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc referred reporters’ questions to the RCMP.

“You’ll understand that the developments with respect to the murder of a Canadian citizen, Mr Nijjar, are part of an ongoing police operation. This operation started today. It is still an active police operation,” LeBlanc said in Ottawa.

According to CBC News, those arrested on Friday “played different roles as shooters, drivers and spotters on the day Nijjar was killed”.

“Sources said investigators identified the alleged hit squad members in Canada some months ago and have been keeping them under tight surveillance,” the Canadian broadcaster said.

The High Commission of India in Ottawa did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Nijjar’s killing continues to raise questions around allegations of Indian foreign interference, particularly within Sikh diaspora communities in Canada, the United States and other countries.

In September, Moninder Singh at the BC Gurdwaras Council told Al Jazeera that he was among five Sikh leaders — including Nijjar — who were warned by the RCMP’s national security division in 2022 about threats against their lives.

Reports of an alleged plot to kill another prominent Sikh separatist leader in the US have also emerged following Nijjar’s death. In late November, the US Department of Justice announced charges against a 52-year-old Indian national, Nikhil Gupta.

Gupta was accused of being part of a foiled attempt to assassinate US citizen Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, in coordination with an Indian government employee and others.

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that US intelligence agencies determined that the operation to target Pannun was approved by the then-head of India’s foreign intelligence agency, known as RAW.

The Indian government rejected those allegations as “unwarranted” and “unsubstantiated”, according to media reports.

Source: Al Jazeera