In a series of flip-flops, BLS International, a private agency hired by India to undertake the initial scrutiny of visa applications of Canadians, put out a note on its website on Thursday, 21 September, saying visa services had been suspended due to “operational reasons”, withdrew it within hours, and then again put it back online.
The agency also informed the stock exchanges that it had suspended India visa services in Canada with immediate effect.
Canada assessing staff complement
Meanwhile, Canada on Thursday said it was assessing its staff complement in India and taking action to ensure the safety of its diplomats in the country, claiming that some of them had received threats on various social media platforms.
The Canadian High Commission said Ottawa expects New Delhi to assure the security of its diplomats and consular officers in India and that it had decided to “temporarily” adjust staff presence in the country as a precautionary measure.
The note put on the Canada page of BLS International’s website, which was withdrawn and restored later, read, “Important notice from Indian mission. Due to operational reasons, with effect from September 21, 2023, Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice. Please keep checking the BLS website for further updates.”
New Delhi and Ottawa are embroiled in a diplomatic row over the killing of a Khalistani separatist leader in Canada in June.
The row erupted following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement on Monday of a “potential” involvement of Indian agents in the killing of a Khalistani separatist in Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
India on Tuesday rejected the allegations as “absurd” and “motivated” and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move to Ottawa’s expulsion of an Indian official over the incident.
In a reflection of its hardening position, New Delhi on Wednesday advised all its nationals living in Canada and those contemplating travelling there to exercise “utmost caution” in view of growing anti-India activities and “politically-condoned” hate crimes as well as “criminal violence” in that country.
The India-Canada ties have been reeling under some strain for the last few months in view of increasing activities of the pro-Khalistani elements in the North American country. India believes the Trudeau government is not addressing its genuine concerns.
Shiromani Akali Dal raises concerns
Amid the strain in India-Canada ties, Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal on Thursday met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and hoped for a quick resolution to disputes between the two countries, noting that Punjabis in large numbers live there and the deteriorating relations have left them in a state of panic.
Badal told reporters after the meeting that it is very disturbing to hear of the woes of Punjabis, including a large number of Sikhs, because of the worsening relations between the two countries.
“There is a sense of panic in India. Both governments, India’s as well as Canada’s, should find a solution as soon as possible,” he said.
With India repeatedly conveying its concerns to Canada over Khalistani activities on its soil, Badal said Sikhs have been the most patriotic people who made maximum sacrifices during the independence struggle. The community should not be blamed for what a few persons do, he said.
The issues involving the two countries should be settled rather than escalated, he said. There are over 18 lakh Indians in Canada and a large number of them are Punjabis, he noted.
Sukha Duneke murder
Meanwhile, adding fresh fuel to the tensions, Gangster Sukhdul Singh alias Sukha Duneke, one of Punjab’s most wanted criminals, was killed in the Canadian city of Winnipeg by unidentified people, sources said on Thursday.
“It is believed to be the result of inter-gang rivalry,” a source told PTI.
However, his rival gangsters in Punjab, Lawrence Bishnoi and Jaggu Bhagwanpuria, in separate Facebook posts on Thursday, claimed responsibility for the killing of Sukha Duneke.
The killing of the Canada-based gangster, who had at least 18 cases against him, including those of murder, attempt to murder, and robbery, took place on Wednesday night Canada time, the sources said.
Hailing from Duneke Kalan village in Punjab’s Moga district, the gangster fled to Canada in December 2017, official sources said.
An active member of the Davinder Bambiha gang, Duneke was closely associated with Canada-based gangster-turned-terrorist Arsh Dalla, gangster Lucky Patial, Malaysia-based gangster Jackpal Singh alias Lali, and other criminals.
The dreaded gangster was managing the activities of the gang from foreign soil. He was reportedly involved in running an extortion racket by targeting rival gang members in Punjab and neighbouring areas through his local contacts, and managing the network of his foreign-based associates, the sources said.
In the last few months, the number of extortion calls made by Duneke had increased considerably in Punjab and neighbouring areas, they added.
(With PTI inputs)