Pns | Toronto / New Delhi
Canada has withdrawn 41 diplomats from India after it threatened to strip them of their diplomatic immunity by Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly has said, amid a diplomatic row over the killing of a Sikh separatist. Canada has also announced that it will be “pausing” all in-person services at its consulates in Chandigarh, Mumbai and Bengaluru and was directing all Canadians in India to the High Commission in New Delhi.
In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs on Friday rejected Canada’s attempt to “portray” the withdrawal of 41 Canadian diplomats from the country as a violation of international norms. India asserted that ensuring two-way diplomatic parity is fully consistent with the provisions of Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.
“We reject any attempt to portray the implementation of parity as a violation of international norms,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement. Tensions flared between India and Canada last month following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s explosive allegations of the “potential” involvement of Indian agents in the killing of Khalistani extremist Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 18 in British Columbia. India had designated Nijjar as a terrorist in 2020.
India has rejected Trudeau’s allegations as “absurd” and “motivated”.
“The state of our bilateral relations, the much higher number of Canadian diplomats in India, and their continued interference in our internal affairs warrant a parity in mutual diplomatic presence in New Delhi and Ottawa,” it said. The MEA said it has been engaged with the Canadian side on the issue over the last month in order to work out the details and modalities to ensure implementation of parity in diplomatic presence.
“Our actions in implementing this parity are fully consistent with Article 11.1 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” the MEA statement said.
In Ottawa, Foreign Minister Joly said that India has formally conveyed its plan to “unilaterally remove diplomatic immunities for all but 21 Canadian diplomats and dependents in Delhi by tomorrow, October 20.” The Canadian Embassy in New Delhi updated its travel advisory hours after Joly’s statement, urging its citizens to “exercise a high degree of caution” in and around Bengaluru, Chandigarh and Mumbai.
Joly said that in their “unreasonable” request for diplomatic parity, India would only allow 21 diplomats and their families to maintain their diplomatic status, putting the others at risk of having their protections stripped arbitrarily, leaving them vulnerable to reprisal or arrest.
“This means 41 Canadian diplomats and their 42 dependents were in danger of having immunity stripped on an arbitrary date, and this would put their personal safety at risk,” she said at a news conference in Ottawa.
Calling India’s action “contrary to international law,” and in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Joly accused India of escalating the bilateral tensions, but Canada will not be reciprocating. “There is a fundamental principle of diplomacy, and this is a two-way street. It only works if every country abides by the rules,” she said.
“A unilateral revocation of diplomatic privileges and immunities is contrary to international law,” Joly said.
“Threatening to do so is unreasonable and escalatory. So for this reason, we will not reciprocate,” she added. “Unfortunately, we have to put a pause on all in-person services in our consulates and Chandigarh and Mumbai and Bangalore,” she said.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Miller, who announced the shrinking of Canada’s footprint in India to one-third of what it was, said it will impact the level of service delivery Canada will be able to provide in the country.
He said the remaining Canadian staff will continue to focus on the work that can’t be moved out of the country, such as urgent cases, visa printing, and working with visa application centres. However, Canada’s 10 visa application centres are operated by third-party contractors and will not be impacted.
The Canadian Embassy in New Delhi in its travel advisory said that,” exercise a high degree of caution in and around Bengaluru, Chandigarh and Mumbai. Consular services in-person are temporarily unavailable in those cities or surrounding areas.”
If anyone needed consular services, they should contact the High Commission of Canada in India, located in New Delhi, the advisory read. Commercial programming for businesses will continue, but at reduced capacity, and Canada continues to employ locally engaged staff.
Miller noted that in 2022, India was the top country for permanent residents, temporary foreign workers, and international students in Canada, and so the federal government recognises the impacts that will be felt. “I want to reassure our clients in India and Canadians who have family and friends in India that Canada will continue to accept and process all temporary and permanent resident applications from India,” he said, adding that it may just take longer.
The remarks by the ministers come after Prime Minister Trudeau was asked on Thursday for a status update on the Indian government giving Ottawa an October 10 deadline to significantly reduce its diplomatic footprint. As CTV News reported at the time, Canada was asked to see dozens of diplomats depart, to put the contingent of officials in India on par with the number of Indian diplomats in Canada. Sources said then, that Canada had already evacuated a majority of the Canadian diplomats working in India outside of Delhi to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Trudeau did not directly answer the question, saying instead that Joly would have more to say later.
“We have been continually engaged in diplomacy and in dialogue with the Indian government,” Trudeau said. “This is a serious matter that we are taking extremely seriously.”
Joly also restated Trudeau’s calls for India to cooperate in the ongoing probe, noting federal law enforcement agencies in Canada “are working actively.” India has asked Canada to come down hard on terrorists and anti-India elements operating from its soil and suspended visa services for Canadians.