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India resumes issuing visas to Canadians

The Indian government has resumed issuing visas to Canadian citizens, easing diplomatic tensions between the two nations over the killing of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil.

India will start issuing visas again on Thursday for entry as well as for medical and business conferences, reversing a ban that had been in place for a month. The Indian High Commission, as well as the Indian consulates in Toronto and Vancouver, will continue to work with emergency services. Canadian Emergency Management Minister Harjit Sajjan said the decision was “good news for Canadians”.

More than a month ago, India stopped issuing visas to Canadian citizens after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused New Delhi of possible involvement in the killing of 45-year-old Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada.

Unidentified masked gunmen shot dead Nijjar outside a Sikh temple outside Vancouver on 18 June. India has long accused the Indian-origin Nijjar, who favoured an independent Sikh state within India, of having links to terrorism, but he has strongly denied the allegations. India has strongly denied any link to the assassination, saying such allegations are “absurd” and politically motivated.

In September, Trudeau issued a statement saying there were “credible allegations” that the Indian government may have been involved in Nijjar’s murder. Trudeau said:

Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. Canada is a rule-of-law country, the protection of our citizens and defence of our sovereignty are fundamental.

India disagreed with the statement and said it was ready to examine any “concrete” or “relevant” information Canada had on the case. Canada’s ally the US has called for India’s full co-operation in the investigation.

Ottawa said India not only suspended visas over the spat, but also warned Canada that it would revoke the immunity of 41 of its diplomats. As a result, Canada recalled 41 of the 62 diplomats expelled to India. India said it simply wanted Canada to recall the diplomats to maintain an equal diplomatic presence in both countries. Matthew Miller, a Canadian State Department spokesman, said in a statement last week:

Resolving differences requires diplomats on the ground. We have urged the Indian government not to insist upon a reduction in Canada’s diplomatic presence and to cooperate in the ongoing Canadian investigation.

Canada has about 1.4 million people of Indian origin and 777,000 Sikhs, the largest population outside India. A minority of Sikhs favour a separate state called Khalistan in the state of Punjab and other Punjabi-speaking areas of northern India.

New Delhi has long accused Canada of tolerating the activities of Sikh separatists, which it considers “extremism,” and claims it provides “safe havens” for “terrorists” and “criminals.”

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