Indian visa issue paused amid Canada tussle

Indian visa issue paused amid Canada tussle

Ministry of External Affairs says India expects reduction in the number of Canadian diplomats in India, calls for political will to deal with terrorism

Normal functioning of Indian missions in Canada has been affected because of “security threats” faced by Indian diplomats and they are therefore “temporarily unable” to issue visas, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced here on Thursday.

The suspension of visa facility in Indian missions in Canada will also be enforced for third-country applicants who may choose to apply for visas through Indian missions in Canada.

Speaking at the weekly press briefing, Official Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi further declared that India would prefer “parity” in posting of diplomats in each other’s missions saying the number of Canadian diplomats in India is expected to be reduced.

He further informed Delhi hasn’t received any evidence from the Justin Trudeau government regarding alleged Indian hand in the killing of Khalistan Tiger Force chief Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 18 in Surrey. He urged Canada to uphold the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by ensuring safety and security of Indian diplomats in Canada. 

“You are aware of the security threats being faced by our High Commission and consulates in Canada. These have disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly, our High Commission and consulates are temporarily unable to process visa applications. We will be reviewing the situation on a regular basis,” said Mr. Bagchi announcing suspension of Indian visas in Canada.

Since last Monday when Prime Minister Trudeau accused Indian operatives of carrying out the murder of Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia, threat perception has heightened for Indian diplomats in Canada and for Ottawa’s diplomats in India. On both sides vitriolic online comments targeted serving diplomats. However, on the Canadian side, Sikhs for Justice has carried out an online campaign calling for “Indo Hindus go to India” and took out targeted poster campaigns against Indian diplomats stationed in Canada.

Mr. Bagchi took note of the threats against Indian diplomats and reminded Ottawa to ensure security for Indian officials under the Vienna Convention. India had earlier cited “politically condoned” violence in Canada against Indian citizens while issuing a travel advisory on Wednesday. Mr. Bagchi called for political will to deal with terrorism and said, “The larger issue is of terrorism supported and funded by our western neighbour Pakistan. But the issue of safe havens and places to operate has been provided abroad including by Canada.”

Earlier, the High Commission of Canada informed The Hindu that in view of prevailing tension, Canada too had “adjusted” its staff count in the diplomatic missions in India saying, “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 abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily adjust staff presence in India.”

The Canadian mission also reminded India to uphold the diplomatic code of conduct as enshrined in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961. The Canadian side did not confirm if the staff reduction was because of a conversation with India but Mr. Bagchi during his briefing indicated that a conversation on reduction of diplomats in the Canadian missions in India is ongoing.

“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 ours in Canada. The details are being worked out. But I assume there will be a reduction from the Canadian side,” said Mr. Bagchi.

The controversy that was triggered with the allegations from Prime Minister Trudeau and Foreign Minister Melanie Joly has escalated and has now encircled the consular affairs on both sides which was visible on the visa front during Thursday when a private agency that issues Indian visas for Canada put up a public notice which was temporarily pulled down only to be flashed again. A source at the BLS International, the private entity that processes Indian visas for Canada, said the notice was put up after authorisation from the Government of India.

The consular hurdle is expected to broaden and affect normal exchanges between the two sides which has prompted former Indian High Commissioner to Canada Vishnu Prakash to point out the political clout of the Khalistan supporters in Canadian polity. “The Khalistani issue continues to bedevil the relationship, with certain political parties especially the Liberals prioritising their engagement with them over ties with India, as they control a few parliamentary constituencies and allegedly extend material and financial support to the latter parties,” said Mr. Prakash.

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