India urges its citizens to exercise ‘extreme caution’ in Canada

<span>Photograph: Chris Helgren/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Chris Helgren/Reuters

The diplomatic row between India and Canada over the murder of a Sikh activist has continued to escalate as New Delhi warned its nationals of “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate crimes” in Canada.

Justin Trudeau alleged on Monday that there were “credible allegations” that the Indian government played a role in the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was connected to a Sikh separatist movement, in British Columbia in June.

Related: Canada killing adds to suspicions of Indian crackdown on Sikh separatists

After rejecting Trudeau’s allegations outright, on Wednesday India’s foreign ministry urged its citizens based in Canada to “exercise extreme caution and remain vigilant”, alleging that there was a “deteriorating security environment” in the country that could put the tens of thousands of Indian students at risk.

There are currently more than 300,000 Indian students studying in Canada, its largest contingent of overseas students. Indian nationals living in Canada have also been advised to register with the consulate.

The warning came after Canada updated its own travel advisory for India, informing citizens to “exercise a high degree of caution” while traveling to India due to the “threat of terrorist attack throughout the country”.

The spat over travel advisories was the latest strain on diplomatic ties between India and Canada, which are widely acknowledged to have plunged to their worst since the 1980s.

Trudeau was sidelined at the G20 leaders summit held in Delhi this month, where he had met with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and directly raised allegations of the involvement of Indian agents in the killing of Nijjar. Modi had then reprimanded Trudeau for allowing extremists associated with the Khalistan movement – which fights for the Indian state of Punjab to become an independent Sikh state – to operate freely on Canadian soil.

After Trudeau went public with the allegation of Nijjar’s assassination this week, the two countries had then engaged in a tit-for-tat expulsion of senior diplomats.

Related: Why India’s souring relations with Canada could have wider implications for the west | Chietigj Bajpaee

While Canada has said it has sought India’s help in investigating circumstances around Nijjar’s killing, the Indian government showed little sign of being willing to cooperate with the investigation. On Wednesday, India’s national investigation agency (NIA) released its own list of individuals in Canada it alleged had “terrorist” links to the Khalistan movement.

Politicians on all sides of the political divide in India came out to condemn the Trudeau’s allegations. Amarinder Singh, the former chief minister of Punjab, called his remarks “highly irresponsible”.

Canadian officials have so far not disclosed any of the evidence for the allegations, prompting angry demands by Indian columnists and politicians that it should be made public. However, speaking to Canadian radio CBC, Dick Fadden, a former head of the Canadian intelligence services, said that with intelligence investigations there was a “a different level of proof” than in a usual criminal investigation.

“For a government like Mr Trudeau’s, who has not made national security a priority, for him to rise in the House and to make these allegations, they must be very compelling,” said Fadden.

In response to queries over whether Canada was withdrawing diplomatic staff in Delhi over safety concerns, Global Affairs Canada, which operates the country’s diplomatic missions, said that the high commission in Delhi remained open and it would take “all appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of all our personnel, including locally-engaged staff, and to protect our operations in India”.