The deepening diplomatic rift between Canada and India culminated as 41 Canadian diplomats and their dependents left India following a dispute over the murder of a prominent Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, on Canadian territory.

The events set off a chain reaction of political manoeuvring.

The origins of the dispute can be traced back to 18 June when Canada accused India of being involved in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot and killed by two masked gunmen outside the Sikh temple he led in Surrey, British Columbia. Canadian authorities described it as a “targeted attack,” and an ongoing investigation is in progress. Nijjar was a vocal advocate for the creation of Khalistan, a separate Sikh state in India, a movement opposed by the Indian government. The Indian government designated him a terrorist in 2020.

India denied Canada’s accusation, considering it absurd. India also demanded Canada to withdraw its diplomatic staff.

However, the standoff persisted with both nations accusing each other of violating international law.

In response to India’s demands, Canada’s Foreign Minister, Melanie Joly, confirmed the departure of Canadian diplomats and their dependents from India, with only 21 diplomats remaining. The staff reduction will significantly impact the services provided by the Canadian diplomatic mission, as in-person operations in Bangalore, Mumbai, and Chandigarh will be paused indefinitely. Services will continue to be available from the High Commission of Canada in Delhi, and third-party-run application centres will remain open.

The reduction affects Indian citizens, particularly international students hoping to study in Canada.

India also announced its intention to unilaterally remove diplomatic immunity from all but 21 Canadian diplomats by 20 October. Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly stated that Canada would not reciprocate by removing immunity from Indian diplomats.

India’s External Affairs Ministry justified this action by citing the state of bilateral relations, the disproportionately higher number of Canadian diplomats in India, and perceived interference in India’s internal affairs.

Canada’s assertion that India may have been involved in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar reached a critical point in September when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a public statement, citing credible evidence of a potential link between India and Nijjar’s murder. Canada considers this a violation of its sovereignty.

However, Prime Minister Trudeau stressed that Canada does not seek to escalate tensions with India. He has called on Indian officials to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into Nijjar’s death, indicating a desire for cooperation and resolution.