Defence minister emphasizes criminal investigation after week of diplomatic fallout from India accusations
After a week of fallout from the prime minister’s accusation that India was involved in the murder of a prominent a pro-Khalistan activist, Defence Minister Bill Blair sought to shift focus away from questions of intelligence on Sunday and toward the ongoing criminal investigation into the issue.
Following the allegations put forward by Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons on Monday, Canada and India have been locked in a diplomatic dispute, with two officials expelled and an Indian freeze on visas for Canadians.
In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live airing Sunday, Blair said he was keenly aware of the impact the diplomatic dispute was having on Indian-Canadians.
“It’s another reason why I place such emphasis on the investigation that’s taking place, that we’d be able to move beyond credible intelligence to evidence, strong evidence of exactly what happened, so that we and the Indian government can know the truth, have the facts and then work together to resolve it in an appropriate way,” he told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.
“I’m not going to say anything that would in any way compromise the integrity of that investigation, it’s just too important.”
Among those caught up in the fallout of Canada’s accusations — that India was involved in the killing of Sikh independence activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar — is Suvro Ghosh, who told Barton he is not able to return home to help care for his ill father.
“I really want [the two countries I love] to start talking. I know once they start talking, once they really want to help their citizens, I’m pretty sure they’ll find common ground to make friends,” he said.
Allies also urge cooperation with investigation
India has responded by flatly denying “any attempts to connect the government of India” with Nijjar’s murder. A foreign ministry spokesperson earlier in the week also referred to Canada as having a “growing reputation” as a “safe haven for terrorists, for extremists and organized crime.”
Canada has called on India to co-operate with the investigation into Nijjar’s death.
“The only request we’ve made of our allies and India is that they co-operate fully in that investigation because its outcome is very important,” Blair told Barton.
Blair’s emphasis on the investigation echoed similar statements by U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and U.S. Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti earlier in the week.
“We have deep concerns about the allegations and we would like to see this investigation carried forward and the perpetrators held to account,” Sullivan said Thursday.
Blair skirted a question about what intelligence Canada had received from allies to help reach the point where they made the decision to speak publicly on the issue. CBC News reported earlier this week that Canada had in its possession emails from Indian diplomats, and had received intelligence from a Five Eyes ally. On Saturday, the New York Times reported the United States had provided information.
Blair also made the case that if the allegations are proven true, India’s actions would represent a major challenge to international law and rules-based order.
“I understand completely, every country in the world has strong trade interests in the Indo-Pacific region, as does Canada. But at the same time, our engagement in that region or in any place in the world has to be based on those rules,” Blair said.
The fallout from Canada’s accusations has also raised fears of divisions within diaspora communities in Canada.
Jaskaran Sandhu, a board member with the World Sikh Organization of Canada, told Barton that while the Sikh community felt “validated, vindicated” by Canada’s claims, the efforts of advocacy organizations like his were aimed at the Indian government, not Hindus or the Indian people generally.
Asked about a video released by the New York-based group Sikhs for Justice, which called for Indian Hindus to “go back to India,” Sandhu said comments like that were “not helpful at all.”
“I think it does a disservice to what the actual issue here is, and that is Indian state interference in Canada.”
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