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Monday, May 27, 2024

India Resumes Visa Services for Canadians Amid Diplomatic Tensions

India's embassy in Ottawa announced the reopening of visa services for Canadians, a potential step towards reducing tensions amid the dispute over a Sikh separatist's killing on Canadian soil.

After weeks of diplomatic tensions, India has decided to resume visa services for Canadians in select categories, marking a significant development in the ongoing dispute between the two nations. The decision comes nearly a month after India suspended visa services following allegations by Canada that Indian entities were involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

This move led to a subsequent departure of 41 Canadian diplomats from India, as per New Delhi’s request. While tourist visas and e-visas remain on hold, the Indian High Commission in Canada announced the acceptance of visa applications for entry, business, medical, and conference purposes.

The Indian High Commission in Ottawa issued a press release detailing the decision, attributing it to a “considered review of the security situation” that took into account recent measures by the Canadian government. It mentioned that further decisions regarding visa categories, particularly tourist visas and e-visas, would be based on an ongoing evaluation of the situation, leaving their status uncertain for the time being.

The suspension of visa services had repercussions for numerous Canadians planning to visit India, including those wishing to reunite with their families for the festive season and individuals seeking medical treatment in India. Canada also temporarily halted its “in-person” visa services at its consulates in other cities, and it remains unclear if these services will be reinstated in light of India’s decision.

Tensions Escalate Over Allegations and Expulsions

The diplomatic rift between India and Canada reached a public stage after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Indian intelligence of involvement in the killing of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Trudeau’s statement, made on September 18, referred to “credible allegations” that Indian government agents were responsible for Nijjar’s death in Surrey earlier in the year, a charge vehemently denied by India.

In response to these allegations, India suspended visa services for Canadians and demanded the departure of 41 Canadian diplomats based in Delhi, nearly two-thirds of the mission’s personnel, as part of maintaining diplomatic “parity” with Indian missions.

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This unprecedented step disrupted diplomatic relations between the two countries, and it was apparent that concerns about the security of Indian diplomats played a significant role in India’s decision. Threats from separatist Khalistani groups, exemplified by posters and videos naming Indian diplomats at the Indian High Commission and Consulates in Toronto and Vancouver, exacerbated India’s concerns about the safety of its diplomatic personnel.

On its part, Canada bolstered security measures around its missions and diplomats in response to these concerns. However, it remains uncertain whether the recently departed diplomats will return to India after the resumption of visa services by India.

Ongoing Dispute and Implications

The bilateral dispute has been deeply impactful, with both nations taking significant measures to assert their positions. Canada’s calls for India’s cooperation in the investigation into Nijjar’s death and its expulsion of an Indian diplomat intensified the conflict. In response, India suspended visa services for Canadians, significantly affecting thousands of travelers, and advised its nationals not to travel to parts of Canada due to increased “anti-Indian activities.”

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an advocate for a separate Sikh state, Khalistan, had been a person of interest to Indian authorities for alleged terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder. His murder in Canada elevated longstanding tensions within Canada’s Sikh community, home to about 770,000 Sikhs, who represent around 2 percent of the nation’s population.

As the dispute continues, it remains to be seen how diplomatic relations between India and Canada evolve and whether the resumption of visa services will contribute to de-escalating the ongoing tensions.