India-Canada: India’s visa processing centre in Canada has suspended its services, further escalating tensions between the two nations.
This development comes after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that India may have been involved in the assassination of a Canadian Sikh leader.
Visa Services Suspended
The BLS Indian Visa Application Center in Canada issued a statement, saying, “Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 Sept. Indian visa services have been suspended [until] further notice.” However, no additional details were provided. BLS is responsible for processing various types of visas for India, including entry, tourist, student, and employment visas. The center has physical locations in cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Vancouver.
Tourism and Education Affected
In 2021, India welcomed approximately 80,000 Canadian tourists, making them the fourth-largest group of visitors, according to India’s Bureau of Immigration. Canada has also become an attractive destination for Indian students, with nearly 300,000 Indians pursuing higher education in the country in 2022.
Security Concerns Cited
India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, cited unspecified security threats faced by Indian high commissions and consulates in Canada. He stated, “This has disrupted their normal functioning,” adding that as a result, “our high commission and consulates are temporarily unable to process visa applications.”
In response, the High Commission of Canada mentioned that it was temporarily adjusting its staff presence at commission and consulate locations in India. This decision was made due to “some diplomats having received threats on various social media platforms.” The commission also emphasized its commitment to protecting the safety of its personnel and operations in India and called upon India to reciprocate by ensuring the security of Canadian diplomats and consular officers.
Allegations and Reputational Damage
The recent spat began when Prime Minister Trudeau stated in Parliament that there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the assassination of Sikh independence activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Nijjar had been wanted by India for years and was fatally shot outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C., on June 18.
India has consistently dismissed these allegations as absurd and an attempt to divert attention from the presence of Nijjar and other wanted suspects in Canada. Arindam Bagchi, the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson, criticized Canada, suggesting that it should be concerned about its reputation as a “safe haven for terrorists, extremists, and organized crime.”
Bagchi also noted that India had requested the extradition of 20 to 25 individuals it considers criminals but has not seen any action from Canada. However, the specific time frame for these extradition requests remains unclear.
Regarding the Nijjar case, Bagchi mentioned that Canada has not provided any information to support its allegations. He reiterated India’s willingness to examine any specific information provided by the Canadian side.