Canada withdraws 41 diplomats from India amid deepening spat

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Canada said on Thursday that it is removing 41 ambassadors based in India at the request of the latter, amid a growing diplomatic rift between the two nations over the death on Canadian soil of a Sikh separatist leader labelled as a terrorist by India.

According to an official statement, New Delhi formally informed Ottawa of its plans to unilaterally remove privileges for “all but 21 Canadian diplomats” by October 20. Following the move, Canada facilitated the departure of 41 diplomats and their families from India “given the security implications of India’s actions.”

Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly remarked that “unilateral revocation of diplomatic privileges and immunities is contrary to international law” and called India’s conduct “completely unreasonable and escalatory.”

Diplomatic immunities should be respected and cannot be unilaterally revoked by a host country. If we allow this norm to be broken, no diplomat anywhere would be safe. For this reason, we will not reciprocate,” Joly said at a news conference in Ottawa.

On Friday, India’s Ministry of External Affairs responded to the statement by denying “any attempt to portray parity implementation as a violation of international norms.” “The current state of our bilateral relations, the much larger number of Canadian diplomats in India, and their continued meddling in our internal affairs call for a parity in mutual diplomatic presence in New Delhi and Ottawa.” “We have been working with the Canadian side on this for the last month to iron out the details and modalities of implementation,” the ministry stated.

The news comes after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau linked the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a separatist leader labelled as a “terrorist” by India, to “agents of the Indian government.” Nijjar was gunned down by unidentified gunmen outside a Sikh temple in Vancouver on June 18. India dismissed the allegation as “absurd” and both countries expelled a diplomat each. 

The “mass expulsion” will have an impact on the Canadian mission’s operations, according to a statement issued by Ottawa on Thursday. “India’s decision will have an impact on the levels of services provided to citizens in both countries,” the statement claimed. All in-person services will be temporarily discontinued at the Canadian consulates in Chandigarh, Mumbai, and Bengaluru.

Following the withdrawal of the ambassadors, Canada’s Immigration Minister Marc Miller stated that the government would reduce the amount of embassy workers working with immigration. Miller pointed out that because visa application centres in India are run by third-party contractors, they would be unaffected. However, the reduction in staff is expected to result in a backlog of approximately 17,500 applications, which Canadian officials plan to resolve by early 2024, according to Canadian media.

India has previously stated that the number of Canadian diplomats posted in India is much greater than the number of Indian diplomats posted in Canada, and that it is seeking parity in terms of diplomatic strength. Canada’s “continued interference” in India’s internal affairs, according to the Indian Foreign Ministry, validates its desire for parity. In the early days of the diplomatic crisis, India suspended visa services to Canadian citizens, alleging “security threats” to its consular workers in Canada.