India Suspends Visa Services for Canadians Amid Diplomatic Tensions
In a recent turn of events, India has suspended visa services indefinitely for Canadian nationals, marking a significant escalation in diplomatic tensions between the two countries. The decision comes in the wake of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation of Indian involvement in the killing of Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a move that has intensified the already strained relations between the nations. As a response to perceived threats received on social media, Ottawa has also announced temporary adjustments in staff presence in India to ensure the safety of its diplomats.
The suspension of visa services, although not officially announced, was confirmed by BLS International, the organization responsible for managing visa application centers in Canada. A message posted on its Canadian website stated, “Important notice from the Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21st September 2023, Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice.” This suspension marks the first time India has taken such a step since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, the Indian high commission’s website was inaccessible, leaving the public without direct confirmation of the suspension at that time. An Indian official acknowledged the suspension but declined to provide further details, stating, “The language is clear, and it says what it is intended to say.”
The suspension of visa services follows an advisory issued by India on Wednesday, urging its citizens in Canada to exercise extreme caution due to the increasing anti-India activities and what it described as “politically-condoned hate crimes.” Indian students, in particular, were advised to remain vigilant in light of these developments.
The trigger for these escalating tensions was the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was fatally shot in the parking lot of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara he presided over in Surrey, British Columbia. Nijjar held a significant position within the separatist organization known as Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) in the province. SFJ has accused India of being responsible for his assassination.
In response to perceived threats, some Canadian diplomats received on social media platforms, Canada’s foreign ministry announced that it was assessing its staff presence in India. The ministry stated, “All of our locations are staffed by diplomats and locally engaged staff to ensure business and operational continuity.” This temporary adjustment in staff presence is being made out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety of Canadian diplomats in India.
In light of the situation, Canada has requested additional security measures around its missions, including the high commission in New Delhi and consulates in Mumbai, Chandigarh, and Bengaluru. Citing the Vienna Convention, which safeguards diplomats and diplomatic premises, the Canadian spokesperson emphasized their expectation that India would provide security for accredited diplomats and consular officers, just as they do for Indian counterparts in Canada.
It’s worth noting that security measures have also been enhanced at India’s missions in Canada, particularly for senior diplomats, following provocative actions by SFJ. In July, SFJ released posters with the slogan “Kill India” and continued with a series of others blaming New Delhi for Nijjar’s assassination on June 18. India responded by seeking additional security for its high commission in Ottawa and consulates in Toronto and Vancouver, especially after SFJ threatened to “shut down Indian missions” on September 25, labeling them as “terror houses.”
SFJ, which was banned in India in 2019 due to its pro-Khalistan activities, has escalated tensions further by issuing threats against Hindus of Indian origin in Canada, asking them to leave the country for their perceived support of India and alleged promotion of violence by celebrating Nijjar’s assassination.
In summary, the suspension of visa services for Canadians by India, along with the adjustments in diplomatic staff presence by Canada, underscores the deepening diplomatic tensions between the two nations. The allegations and threats have put significant strain on bilateral relations, prompting both countries to take measures to ensure the safety of their diplomats and missions. The situation remains fluid, with the potential for further developments in this ongoing diplomatic row.