Modi with Trudeau in good spirits Modi with Trudeau in good spirits. Source: Ministry of External Affairs - Flickr / cropped from original / shared under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed

The killing of a Sikh nationalist allegedly by Indian government agents has been met with a muted response, as the country remains a key ally in the growing militarisation against China writes John Clarke

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken out on the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was gunned down outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18. He stated that ‘Canada’s national security apparatus has reason to believe that “agents of the Indian government” carried out the killing of this Canadian citizen, who also served as the president of Surrey’s Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara.’

It is noteworthy that the World Sikh Organisation of Canada has reported that Nijjar told of ‘threats to his life’ before he was killed. Moreover, the basis for political hostility towards him on the part of the Modi government is clear enough. He was ‘a supporter of a Sikh homeland in the form of an independent Khalistani state, had been branded by the Indian government as a ‘terrorist’ and accused of leading a militant separatist group — something his supporters have denied.’

Trudeau described the actions of the Indian state killers ‘as an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty (that) is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves.’ He also suggested that the Modi government should ‘co-operate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter.’

Far from seeking to appease the Trudeau government, India’s ministry of external affairs rejected the allegations out of hand and described them as ‘absurd.’ The ministry statement, moreover, went on the offensive by declaring that ‘(s)uch unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.’

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has ordered the expulsion of a senior Indian diplomat and Modi has responded by expelling ‘a Canadian diplomat with five days’ notice to leave the country.’ Canada’s federal police, the RCMP, is continuing to investigate the shooting and Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc has stated that ‘(w)e’ll hold the perpetrators accountable and bring them to justice.’

Threat and intimidation

Writing for The Breach, Kunal Chaudhary has pointed out that, while this killing has prompted lots of news stories ‘about the Khalistani movement—a Sikh-separatist movement advocating the creation of a self-determining Sikh state in the Indian state of Punjab,’ there has been no corresponding readiness to consider ‘the Hindu-supremacist ideology and movement behind this attack, which informs much of the violence and repression of the Indian government at home and abroad.’

There is no doubt that Nijjar’s murder is part of a pattern of threat and intimidation that Sikh communities in Canada have been subjected to by Indian state authorities. The British Columbia Gurudwaras Council and the Ontario Gurdwaras Committee issued a report earlier this year that detailed these activities. They include ‘attempting to influence the media and elected officials in Canada, harassing academics, intimidating Sikh activists by cancelling their visas and travel documents to fly home.’

The report notes that CBC News spoke to 18 academics in Canada who had faced such treatment. These included ‘Chinnaiah Jangam, a Dalit (low-caste) professor from Carleton University, faced years of harassment both in-person and online for his work’ but the other academics couldn’t be named because they refused ‘to go on the record out of fear of further repercussions, including visa denial.’

‘Sukh Dhaliwal, the Liberal MP for Nijjar’s riding [constituency] of Surrey, spoke in the House of Commons’ about the harassment he has faced for challenging India’s human rights record. ‘I was refused a visa to travel to India,’ he said. ‘This is how the government of India intimidates parliamentarians, let alone the public.’

The efforts of the Indian state to silence critical voices has extended to efforts to limit public discourse and academic freedom. ‘In 2021, the Indian consulate in Ottawa sent a stern letter to Ontario’s Office of International Relations and Protocol demanding that they stifle lessons being taught in GTA schools about large-scale demonstrations by predominantly Sikh farmers.’

It has now emerged that, after Nijjar was murdered, ‘FBI agents visited several Sikh activists in California this summer with an alarming message: Their lives were also at risk.’ Pritpal Singh, a coordinator for the American Sikh Caucus Committee, told The Intercept that ‘I was visited by two FBI special agents in late June who told me that they had received information that there was a threat against my life.’

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that ‘the US is cooperating with Canada in its investigation’ but Singh made clear that Sikhs in the US expect far more substantial protections. ‘If India can target Canadians, Americans will be next,’ he said. ‘From the Biden administration, we expect immediate support. We do not want thoughts and prayers later.’

Enabling Modi

A resort to extrajudicial killing by agents of the Indian state may be considered a step too far by the Canadian government but there is still an obvious desire to prevent the dispute from leading to any serious rift. Like other Western governments, the Trudeau Liberals are fully aware of what the Modi regime is all about. They know that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in power since 2014, ‘forms the political wing of a broad coalition of Hindu-nationalist groups.’

The reactionary movement that Modi gives expression to has long sought ‘to transform India from a pluralist democracy to a Hindu-led ethno-state.’ The Trudeau government has been ready to disregard this hateful ideology and the persecution of Sikhs and Muslims within India it has unleashed. It stood by while Modi ‘detained thousands of people in Jammu and Kashmir, once the only Muslim-majority state in the country, whose statehood Modi dissolved in 2019.’

This readiness to look the other way and enable Modi is based on economic considerations and political convenience. ‘In 2022, the two countries traded nearly $12 billion in goods and $9 billion in services.” More decisively, however, ‘t)rade relations with India fall under Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which has identified $2.1 trillion in “strategic investments and partnerships” in the region in infrastructure alone.’

In the context of global rivalry with China, moreover, the cultivation of Modi as an ally has been given considerable importance. In 2018, an intelligence sharing agreement was signed that sought to ‘facilitate effective cooperation in the fields of security, finance, justice and law enforcement including, where appropriate, at the operational level.’ Ironically, this was supposed to be ‘based on a fundamental respect for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of India and Canada.’


The tensions that the murder in BC has unleashed aren’t inconsequential but what is actually most striking about the situation is how restrained the response has been to such a harsh and provocative act. The Canadian government has raised objections and taken some diplomatic reprisals but no major retaliation is in the works.

The obvious comparison that must be made is to the orchestrated frenzies that were unleashed in response to quite flimsy allegations of Chinese interference. Claims that Beijing was floating ‘spy balloons’ in the skies over North America unleashed endless media accounts of the supposedly dire threat that these posed and calls were issued for a military build-up.

Unfounded allegations that China was influencing elected politicians, led to another media barrage, a motion in the House of Commons demanding a public enquiry and the disgraceful and dangerous conjuring up of a Chinese ‘enemy within.’ The long and ugly history an anti-Chinese racism in Canada was given a new lease of life in order to promote something very close to war fever.

Astoundingly, however, when the Trudeau government concludes that agents of a foreign government have gunned down someone in Canada, the lack of outrage is palpable. No dire threats are issued, no parliamentary competition unfolds to see who can make the most inflamed statements for the cameras and no lurid headlines appear about deaths squads operating on Canadian soil.

While US drone operators can select their victims with impunity in the countries Washington and its allies target, Modi may have overstepped somewhat with an extrajudicial killing in Canada. However, he will not face sanctions or other major consequences. His enablers in the West remain ready to tolerate his hateful ideology and brutal methods.

The killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar was a shocking act of exported state violence and it is essential that it not be downplayed or forgotten. We should redouble our efforts to build solidarity with working class movements and oppressed minorities in India who resist Modi’s regime and those who courageously speak out against it here in Canada.

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John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.

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