Trudeau Rejects India’s Denial of Involvement in Assassination in Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada on Tuesday firmly rejected the Indian government’s denial of any involvement in the assassination of a Sikh dissident in Canada, calling on India to take his country’s allegations seriously.

“We are not looking to provoke or escalate,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. “We are simply laying out the facts as we understand them and we want to work with the government of India.”

On Monday, the prime minister stunned Canadians when he told the House of Commons that “agents of the Indian government” had been behind the shooting in June of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader and a Canadian citizen, near a Sikh temple in suburban Vancouver, British Columbia.

The prime minister offered no details to support his charge that a nation had ordered a political killing on Canadian soil, citing only “credible allegations” that had been pursued by Canada’s security agencies for several weeks. The agencies, noting the continuing police investigation into the killing and the need to protect intelligence gathering methods, have declined to offer any more details.

A Canadian government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said the intelligence had been gathered by multiple countries. Canada is a member of the so-called Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance that includes the United States, Britain and Australia.

India has long claimed that Canada is harboring Sikh terrorists plotting from abroad to fracture the Indian state by providing funding and working to create a separate Sikh nation called Khalistan within India’s Punjab region. Mr. Nijjar was active in that independence movement.

He had been a key organizer in rallying community members in British Columbia to vote to establish Khalistan. The nonbinding vote, organized by a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit group called Sikhs For Justice, is being held in multiple cities around the world.

“I am a Sikh nationalist who believes in and supports Sikh’s right to self-determination and independence of Indian occupied Punjab through a future referendum,” Mr. Nijjar wrote in an open letter in 2016.

Sikhs For Justice has collected about 1.1 million ballots since it launched the voting campaign in 2021, said Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, its founder.

Mr. Pannun said that he spoke to Mr. Nijjar the day before he was killed. In Mr. Nijiar’s last speech at the temple, on the night of his murder, he urged its member to turn out at the vote on Sept. 10 Mr. Pannun said.

“He did say that, ‘I’m not sure if I’ll be alive by that time this voting happens, but I want the community to make sure that they vote,’” Mr. Pannun said. More than 135,000 Sikhs voted, he said.

Mr. Pannun said Mr. Nijjar had told him that he was approached by the authorities in July 2022 and twice in the spring of this year and warned that there was a threat to his life. They advised that he relocate and avoid being at the temple, he said.

Mr. Nijjar’s participation in the movement for an independent state was prominent in India’s adamant denial of involvement on Monday.

Even as the Foreign Ministry of India issued a statement rejecting “any attempts to connect the government of India” to Mr. Nijjar’s killing, it took the opportunity to admonish Canada, accusing it of sheltering “extremists and terrorists” who “continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Roland Paris, a professor at the University of Ottawa and a former foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau, said the allegations had created a sense of outrage in Canada that crossed all political lines.

“It’s a stunning and appalling set of allegations,” Professor Paris said. “If it’s true that India was behind this killing, then it represents the most offensive and appalling form of political interference in a democracy that would parallel the behavior of some of the worst authoritarian leaders in the world.”

On Tuesday morning in Surrey, British Columbia, people came to offer prayers and join in a meal service offered at the temple where Mr. Nijjar was president, the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara.

The previous evening outside the temple, Mr. Nijjar’s son, Balraj Singh Nijjar, said his father’s death remains a fresh wound for his family.

“He had even called home like five minutes before it happened to get dinner ready,” his son said, speaking to reporters. “It was kind of a big shock.”

Mihika Agarwal contributed reporting from Surrey, British Columbia.