West spied on India to intercept plot to kill dissident Sikh leader in Canada

Narendra Modi and Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau told Narendra Modi that the killing was an 'unacceptable violation' at the G20 summit in New Delhi earlier in September - Evan Vucci/AFP via Getty Images

Western intelligence agencies spied on India to amass evidence of its alleged plot to assassinate a dissident on Canadian soil, according to a new report.

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, announced this week that “credible” intelligence linked the Indian government to the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, in British Columbia earlier in 2023.

The intelligence was gathered by human spies and intercepting communication networks during a months-long investigation by Canada and its allies, according to broadcaster CBC News.

Canadian government sources told the network that the intelligence involved Indian government officials’ communications, including diplomats posted in Canada.

Canada is part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance, along with the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand. It is unclear which member of the Five Eyes shared intelligence with Canada.

Obligations to Five Eyes partners

Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister, said she could not comment without risking the investigation and the country’s obligations to its Five Eyes partners.

India has rejected claims of its involvement as “absurd” and stopped processing visas for Canadians in retaliation.

But Canadian sources say that no Indian official has denied allegations of its involvement in private, according to CBC News.

Mr Nijjar, a prominent advocate for the creation of a separate Sikh homeland, was gunned down outside a Gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia on June 18 2023.

In an address to parliament, Mr Trudeau called the killing an “unacceptable violation” of Canadian sovereignty.

He said he “personally and directly” conveyed that message to  Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, at the G20 summit in New Delhi earlier in September.

US courting new superpower

The dispute has further damaged Canada’s relationship with India just as the US is courting the potential new superpower.

Washington has pushed back on suggestions it has shied away from raising the issue in order to avoid angering New Delhi.

US president Joe Biden and other Western leaders are also reported to have raised Mr Nijjar’s assasination with Mr Modi during the G20 meeting.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, declined to confirm the reports but said the US raised its concerns over the matter with India “at high levels”.

“It is something we take seriously. It is something we will keep working on. And we will do that regardless of the country,” he said.