In a significant diplomatic turn, the Indian government has indefinitely suspended visa services for Canadian nationals, citing “security reasons.” This comes amid escalating tensions between the two countries, intensified by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s accusations of India’s involvement in the assassination of a Sikh separatist.
A spokesperson from India’s foreign ministry explained that the Indian High Commission and consulates in Canada are facing disruptions due to security threats. Reportedly, Indian diplomats received threats on social media platforms, which prompted this measure. And, it’s not just in Canada; even Canadian citizens trying to secure Indian visas from third countries will face hurdles because, at some phase, the process might involve the Indian High Commission situated in Canada.
BLS International, a private entity handling visa applications for India in Canada, flagged this suspension on its website. Their notice announced the cessation of visa services starting 21st September 2023, with no specified end date. However, as of Thursday, neither the Ministry of External Affairs in India nor the Indian High Commission in Ottawa provided an official announcement or further clarity on the suspension.
This suspension implies a de facto ban for Canadians desiring an Indian visa. Amplifying concerns, the Indian government recently issued an advisory to its nationals in Canada, alerting them to be cautious of purported anti-India activities and supposed “politically-condoned hate crimes.” The advisory is significant given that Indians constitute a whopping 40% of all international students in Canada.
The tension isn’t unilateral. The Canadian High Commission in India revealed its plan to “temporarily adjust staff presence” due to alleged “security threats” to its diplomats. Citing the escalating tensions and potential threats received on social media, Global Affairs Canada is reevaluating its diplomatic staff strength in India. However, they reassured that all diplomatic missions in India remain functional.
Both nations are taking the security of their respective diplomatic missions seriously. While Canada is boosting security at its missions in India— including locations in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, and Bengaluru—India has reciprocated with heightened security requests for its High Commission in Ottawa and its consulates in Toronto and Vancouver.
Adding fuel to the fire, the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), proscribed by the Indian government in 2019, threatened to “shut down Indian missions,” labeling them as “terror houses.” A viral video showed SFJ’s legal counsel, Gurpatwant Pannun—who India considers a terrorist—issuing threats to Hindus of Indian origin in Canada, urging them to depart. Indian authorities have, in the past, sought Pannun’s extradition.
The diplomatic rift was ignited when Trudeau, in a startling revelation to the Parliament, accused India of having a hand in the murder of Indian-Canadian Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June. While Trudeau’s administration hasn’t publicly shared evidence corroborating the claim, they remain assertive about its authenticity. Conversely, India has vociferously refuted these allegations.
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