Diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Ottawa hit a low point on Tuesday after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged the involvement of “agents of the Indian government” in the killing of a prominent Sikh separatist in his country, and each of the two countries expelled a senior diplomat of the other. 

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) rejected as “absurd” and “motivated” Trudeau’s allegations, which he made during an emergency session of the Canadian Parliament.

Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” of India’s involvement in the shooting of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was designated a terrorist by India in 2020, outside a gurdwara in the British Columbia province on June 18. “Canada has declared its deep concerns to the top intelligence and security officials of the Indian government,” he said Monday night in the House of Commons in Ottawa.

After Trudeau’s remarks, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly confirmed she has ordered the expulsion of “a senior Indian diplomat”.

Trudeau again spoke on the matter on Tuesday on his way into a cabinet meeting, saying: “We are not looking to provoke or escalate … we want to work with the government of India to lay everything clear and to ensure that there is proper process.” He said: “The Government of India needs to take this matter with the utmost seriousness.”

India dubbed the Canadian allegations a bid to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists who had been provided shelter in Canada and continued to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“That Canadian political figures have openly expressed sympathy for such elements remains a matter of deep concern. The space given in Canada to a range of illegal activities including murders, human trafficking, and organised crime is not new,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.

Canadian High Commissioner to India Cameron MacKay was summoned to South Block and the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes. He was informed about the decision to expel the senior diplomat, with the MEA saying the move reflected New Delhi’s growing concern at the “interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-Indian activities”.

Though New Delhi did not divulge the name of the Canadian diplomat who has been asked to leave India within five days, a PTI report, citing people familiar with the matter, said it was the Canadian intelligence agency’s station chief in New Delhi Olivier Sylvestere.

Canada has asked Pavan Kumar Rai, posted as minister (eco, coordination, community affairs) in the Indian High Commission in Ottawa, to leave. However, the North American nation’s foreign minister’s office identified Rai as station chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in Canada.

The Canadian public service broadcaster CBC News reported Trudeau had provided information about the Nijjar case to G7 allies. In a situation that has quickly deteriorated, Australia and the United States have voiced “deep concern” over the allegations.

Nijjar, 45, the chief of the banned Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) and one of India’s most-wanted terrorists who carried a cash reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen outside a gurdwara in Surrey in the western Canadian province of British Columbia. His property in India was attached by the National Investigation Agency in September 2020; earlier an Interpol Red Corner Notice was also issued against him in 2016. The local police of Surrey had also put Nijjar under house arrest temporarily in 2018 on suspicion of his terror involvement but he was released later.

Tuesday marked the fourth time since 2020 that the Canadian envoy was summoned. Earlier he was summoned over Trudeau’s remarks on the farmers’ protest in Delhi, Khalistani extremists threatening Indian diplomats, and they holding a “referendum” in Canada on the issue.

Trudeau had a frosty meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, after which India issued a tersely worded statement expressing “strong concerns about the continuing anti-Indian activities of extremist elements in Canada”. Trade talks between the two nations have been derailed and Canada just cancelled trade talks.