Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said his government is “not looking to escalate” the ongoing diplomatic tensions with India, state-run Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
“We’re not looking to escalate,” Trudeau told reporters. “As I’ve said, we’re going to be doing the work that matters in continuing to have constructive relations with India through this extremely difficult time.”
Trudeau’s comments came hours after the Financial Times quoted unidentified persons to report on Tuesday that India had told Canada to withdraw over 40 of its diplomatic staff before October 10.
The Indian government has reportedly threatened to revoke diplomatic immunity of the diplomats who remain in the country beyond the deadline. “Diplomatic immunity” refers to exemptions that diplomats enjoy from certain laws in the country they work in.
Relations between New Delhi and Ottawa had been growing increasingly strained in recent years but they were pushed to a new low after Trudeau alleged on September 18 that Indian agents were involved in Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s assassination near Vancouver in June.
After publicly accusing India of being involved in Nijjar’s assassination, Trudeau’s government had expelled India’s intelligence chief from the country. New Delhi reciprocated by expelling a Canadian diplomat and suspended visas for Canadians.
On September 22, Trudeau said that his government was not trying to provoke New Delhi. “There is no question that India is a country of growing importance and a country that we need to continue to work with … and we’re not looking to provoke or cause problems,” Trudeau said during a press conference in New York. “But we are unequivocal around the importance of the rule of law and unequivocal about the importance of protecting Canadians.”
Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, was one of India’s most wanted persons. He led the Khalistan Tiger Force, which India has designated a terrorist group. In recent years, India has accused Canada of being soft on the supporters of Khalistan, an independent Sikh nation that some Sikhs hope to establish in northwestern India.