Nijjar’s Fatal Shooting Sheds Light on Un-stable Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy

By Tylor Anderson


On Nov 15, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, Minister Mary Ng stated that the resumption of trade talks with India hinges on their cooperation in investigating the killing of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil. The incident, occurring on June 18 in a Sikh temple parking lot in British Columbia, triggered a diplomatic crisis, degrading relations between Canada and India for months.

India, touted as the world’s largest democracy, veils beneath its democratic facade is an unstable reality. The imperative now is Canada needs to avoid its Indo-Pacific Strategy turning into an undo-Pacific strategy when normalized communication and dialogue with India are not returned sooner.


Solid Accusing

Three months following the incident, during the G20 meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced his discontent with India, only receiving a frosty reception from the host nation. Subsequently, on September 18, Trudeau levied a grave and public indictment against the Indian government for its alleged complicity in the killing within the outraged chambers of the House of Commons, precipitating the expulsion of a senior Indian diplomat. In swift rejoinder, the Indian government vehemently repudiated the accusation, denouncing it as “absurd”.

Accusing a nation of assassinating its citizens is a grave charge. Canada’s claims against India are rooted in intelligence shared by both Canadian national security services and a trusted Five Eyes Alliance member. National Security Advisor Jody Thomas has held extensive discussions with Indian officials, and the Prime Minister, following the United Nations General Assembly, reaffirmed the seriousness of the allegations made in the House of Commons.
India, consistently denying any involvement, responded to Trudeau’s address in the House of Commons by ceasing visa services for Canadians on September 21 Subsequently, on October 5, following Trudeau’s plea for India’s collaboration, India assertively demanded the withdrawal of 41 Canadian diplomats by violating their rights under the Vienna Convention. The culmination of these escalating tensions occurred on October 19 with the evacuation of Canadian diplomats and their families from India.


Unstable Democracy

The Punjab region, bridging northwestern India and northeastern Pakistan, is strategically crucial. Founded by Sikhs in the 15th century, Sikhism’s emphasis on equality conflicts with Hinduism’s caste system and hierarchical norms, particularly regarding women’s rights. Sikhs, with distinct beliefs and customs, established their kingdom in the 18th century. However, the British defeat in 1849 led to their incorporation into India. Post-World War Il, amidst global decolonization, the region was partitioned during India and Pakistan’s division. Approximately 20% of Punjab’s land, inhabited by around 25 million people, fell under Indian jurisdiction.

However, religious and historical disparities fueled the Khalistan movement, advocating for the establishment of a distinct Sikh state. The turning point came with Operation Blue Star in June 1984, which significantly heightened the conflict, resulting in the demise of Sikh leaders. Four months later, the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by Sikh bodyguards further intensified the Hindu-Sikh struggle, prompting a noteworthy Sikh diaspora to foreign lands.

The extensive history of suppressing Sikhs and minority inequalities contradicts the democratic principles valued by the West. However, to foster cooperation with India for strategic reasons, the West frequently overlooks these political disparities, inadvertently exacerbating internal conflicts.


India’s Enemy No. l

India perceives Sikhs in Canada as a security threat. In September, coinciding with the degrading relationship, an Indian media outlet, labeled Canada as the “new Pakistan.” Allegations include aiding terrorism, sheltering criminals, supporting organized crime, and facilitating financial networks for terrorists.

The incident in India involved the killing of a Sikh leader on Canadian soil raises questions about the distinction between state actors and terrorists. Beyond challenging Canada’s democracy, it directly undermines Canadian sovereignty, the national honor, and humiliates the significant Sikh community in Canada. With over 770,000 citizens (2% of the Canadian population), Sikhs contribute significantly to the nation’s development, holding 18 seats in the House of Commons and making Punjabi the third most spoken language in the Canadian Parliament.

Canada counts heavily on the pillars of democracy, namely freedom of speech, the rule of law, and basic human rights. The Sikh community’s success in Canada is attributed to a democratic ethos that values respect for minorities, understanding, and tolerance of diverse political dissidents. This stands in stark contrast to the Indian approach, which, as Prime Minister Trudeau noted, “…this really serious violation of international law and the sovereignty of a democracy. this is something that we are taking very, very seriously.”


The Rift in The Wall

Canada’s latest Indo-Pacific Strategy positions India, a Commonwealth member, as a key partner, emphasizing common interests in trade, commerce, and the well-being of its people. The relationship, initially aimed at cooperation and mutual benefit, has been strained by the recent incident. This rift, widening over months, has significantly impacted bilateral relations, business ties, and cultural exchanges, and ultimately, puts Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy in jeopardy.

As emphasized in Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent speech, ‘This is not a fight we want to be having right now, but we will unequivocally always stand up for the rule of law.’ In response to the incident, India must responsibly assume its role, cooperatively engaging in the investigation. Dialogue, communication, and adherence to the rule of law, not violence or assassination is the best way to promote democracy itself.


(Tylor Anderson is a freelance writer living in Beijing, China.)


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