India asks Canada to cut number of its diplomats amid escalating tension

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi . Photo: AP

New Delhi: The diplomatic spat with Canada has forced India to take immediate action to reduce the presence of Canadian officials in the country. External affairs ministry on Thursday confirmed that India asked Canada to cut the number of their staff in the country citing parity in strength and rank equivalence in mutual diplomatic presence.

India also suspended issuance of visas to Canadian citizens as both countries are embroiled in a diplomatic row over the killing of Khalistani separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi on Thursday said the size of Canadian diplomatic staff in India is larger than what New Delhi has in Canada and that there should be a parity in strength and rank equivalence in the mutual presence.

"We have informed the Canadian government that there should be parity in strength and rank equivalence in our mutual diplomatic presence. Their numbers here are very much higher than our's in Canada. The details of this are being worked out," he said at a media briefing.

"I assume that there will be a reduction from the Canadian side," he added.

India's decision to ask Canada to downsize its diplomatic presence is being seen as New Delhi hardening its position on the ongoing diplomatic row that erupted following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's allegations of "potential" involvement of Indian agents in the killing Khalistani separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June.

India on Tuesday rejected the allegations as "absurd" and "motivated" and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move to Ottawa's expulsion of an Indian official over the case.

Nijjar was shot dead by two masked gunmen outside on June 18 in British Columbia. India had designated him a terrorist in 2020.

"Safe haven is being provided in Canada. We want the Canadian government to not do so. It should either take action against those facing terrorism charges or send them to India to face justice," Bagchi said.

He said India had put up extradition request or other assistance related at least 20 to 25 individuals in the last few years but there has been no helpful responses from Ottawa.

On concerns relating to security of Indian missions as well as Indian diplomats in Canada Bagchi said it is the host government's responsibility to provide security.

Separately, Canada said it is assessing its staff complement in India and taking action to ensure the safety of its diplomats in the country, claiming that some of them have received threats on various social media platforms.

The Canadian High Commission said Ottawa expects New Delhi to provide for the security of its diplomats and consular officers in India and that it has decided to "temporarily" adjust staff presence in the country as a precautionary measure.

"In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats. With some diplomats having received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada is assessing its staff complement in India," the high commission said.

Global Affairs Canada handles Canada's diplomatic and consular relations.

"As a result, and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily adjust staff presence in India. All of our locations are staffed by diplomats and locally engaged staff to ensure business and operational continuity," it said.

In responding to media queries, the high commission said Global Affairs Canada will continue to take all "appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of all our personnel, including locally-engaged staff, and to protect our operations in India".

"Decisions are made based on a number of factors including the professional profile of an employee or personal circumstances," it said.

"In the context of respect for obligations under the Vienna conventions, we expect India to provide for the security of our accredited diplomats and consular officers in India, just as we are for theirs here," it added.

(With PTI inputs)

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