New Delhi: In another day of continuing dramatic developments amid further mounting political tensions between India and Canada, India on Thursday announced it had suspended visa operations in Canada for all categories of visas “temporarily” with immediate effect due to the “security situation” in that country and the “creation of an environment that disrupts the functioning of our high commission and consulates”, adding that “the issue (by itself) is not travel to India”. The visa restrictions will also apply to Canadian citizens in third countries wanting to visit India.
In another major step that will see a reduction of the number of Canadian diplomats in India, New Delhi said it had asked Canada for “parity and rank equivalence in diplomatic presence”, with the number of Canadian diplomats in India currently being “much higher” than the number of Indian diplomats in Canada.
At his weekly briefing, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi made it clear that “no specific information had been shared by Canada” at all regarding the Canadian government’s allegations against India of involvement in the killing of pro-Khalistan extremist and terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June this year on Canadian soil. He further said India has been in touch with partner countries (including Western nations) conveying the Indian position on the matter and rejecting Canada’s allegations which he termed as “politically-driven”, adding that it was Canada that “needs to worry about its international reputation”. Bagchi added that India had so far sent a list to Canada containing the names of 20 to 25 pro-Khalistan terrorists and extremists, including requests for their extradition but that Canada had not taken any action on this. “There is very specific information (shared by India) on activities by criminals on Canadian soil but it has not been acted upon (by Canada),” he said.
All this came as the Canadian high commission (CHC) here said some of its diplomats had received threats on the social media and called on India to ensure the safety of Canadian diplomats posted in India as per the Vienna Convention. The CHC further said that “out of an abundance of caution”, it has “decided to temporarily adjust staff presence in India” that comprises of both Canadian diplomats and locally-hired Indian staff, but added that “our high commission and all consulates in India are open and operational and continue to serve clients”.
Asked about the Canadian concerns, the MEA spokesperson said India too hopes Canada will address India’s concerns on the open threats of assassination hurled by pro-Khalistan extremists and terrorists at Indian diplomats and also on the display of their photos on posters of these extremists, adding that Canada was condoning such hate crimes and that such elements are having a “free run” there. He also said India takes its own diplomatic obligations “very seriously”.
The reference by the CHC to the staff adjustment indicates a reduction in staff strength that could have implications for local Indian staff hired at the CHC and Canadian consulates in the country. Asked about the Canadian statement hinting at the reduction, the MEA spokesperson said it was “pursuant” to the conversation between New Delhi and Ottawa on parity in diplomatic presence. “Their numbers (of Canadian diplomats in India) are much higher. I assume there will be reduction (in the number of Canadian diplomats in India),” Bagchi said. In response to a query on alleged discrimination by Canada on the issue of grant of visas to retired Indian armed forces officers, the MEA spokesperson said “discrimination on how Canadians grant visas is a matter of concern”.
In its statement issued on Thursday, the CHC said: “Global Affairs Canada continuously monitors the safety and security of our missions and personnel as we maintain a strict security protocol to respond to any events. 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. 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.”
The CHC added: “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. 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.”