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Canada probe of India's role in Sikh separatist's murder strains ties further

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his nation's security agencies have actively pursued credible allegations of a potential link between the Indian government and the June murder of a Sikh separatist leader and Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in Canada.

Trudeau's comments on Monday marked the latest strain in relations between Ottawa and New Delhi this year.

Canada has the highest population of Sikhs outside their home state of Punjab in India, and the country has been the site of many protests that have irked India.

Here are some recent examples of uneasy ties between the two countries:

Sept 2023: Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng postponed a trade mission to India planned for October. Both countries said they paused trade talks after expressing earlier in 2023 they aimed to seal an initial trade deal this year.

Bilateral commercial relations between the two countries are worth $100 billion, which includes $70 billion of Canadian portfolio investment, according to Indian figures.

Sept 2023: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed strong concerns about protests in Canada against India to Trudeau on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi.

While a Sikh insurgency was suppressed in India in the 1990s, authorities have been wary of any revival of agitation, with a particular focus on small groups of Sikhs in Canada, who support the separatist demand and occasionally stage protests outside Indian embassies.

June 2023: India's foreign minister, S. Jaishankar, hit out at Canada for allowing a float in a parade depicting the 1984 assassination of then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, perceived to be glorification of violence by Sikh separatists.

Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 by two Sikh bodyguards after she allowed the storming of the holiest Sikh temple, aimed at flushing out Sikh separatists who demanded an independent homeland to be known as Khalistan. The storming of the temple had angered Sikhs around the world.

March 2023: India summoned Canada's High Commissioner to convey concern over pro-Khalistan protesters in Canada who breached the security of India's diplomatic mission and consulates.

CONTEXT:

Canada is home to an influential Sikh community and Indian leaders say there are some fringe groups there that are still sympathetic to the cause of an independent Sikh state, carved out of India.

The Sikh insurgency of the 1980s and 1990s killed some 30,000 people. Sikh militants were blamed for the 1985 bombing of an Air India Boeing 747 flying from Canada to India in which all 329 people on board were killed.

In 2018, Trudeau assured India that Canada would not support anyone trying to revive a separatist movement in India but he has repeatedly said he respects the right to free speech and assembly of protesters to demonstrate.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Sandra Maler)