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The Canadian government announced on Thursday that 41 of its diplomats in India have departed, a day prior to the deadline set by New Delhi for their withdrawal, failing which they were liable to lose diplomatic immunity. However, Ottawa is unlikely to escalate the diplomatic row, as Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly said Ottawa has “decided not to reciprocate” even as the development was defined as “expulsion” of the Canadian diplomats.
The diplomatic drawdown came after India sought “parity” in the strength of Canada’s diplomatic presence by bringing down those stationed in the country from 62 to 21.
Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Joly said, “I can confirm 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.”
She added, “Given the implications of India’s actions on the safety of our diplomats, we have facilitated their safe departure from India.”
“This means that our diplomats and their families have now left and are on their way home,” she said.
In a statement from the country’s foreign ministry, Global Affairs Canada, Joly said, “India accredited each and every one of the Canadian diplomats they are now expelling. And all of those diplomats were carrying out their duties in good faith, and to the greater benefit of both countries.”
The original deadline for bringing down the number of Canadian diplomats in India was October 10. But Canada had let that deadline elapse, while engaging in private negotiations with India. However, those talks appear to have failed.
However, she added that Canada will “continue to engage” with India, as “Now more than ever, we need to have diplomats on the ground and we need to talk to one another.”
Joly said, “Canada will continue to defend international law, which applies equally to all states. Canada will continue to engage India and remains committed to dialogue as we move forward.”
She also said the decision by India was unprecedented. “A unilateral revocation of diplomatic privileges and immunities is contrary to international law. It is a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” she argued. She added that threatening to strip such immunity was “unreasonable and escalatory” since that allows “diplomats to do their work, without fear of reprisal or arrest from the country they are in.”
Joly was joined at the press conference by Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller. Canada will have to “pause” in-person services at its consulates in Chandigarh, Bengaluru and Mumbai “until further notice”. “The lower numbers of staff will have short-term repercussions, and I believe medium-term as well,” Miller said. India accounts for the largest cohort of international students and permanent residents in Canada and those applications processes could be adversely impacted. India had already announced in September that it was indefinitely stopping issuance of visas to Canadian nationals.
The Global Affairs Canada statement said “this mass expulsion will impact our operations, and client service will be affected.” “
“India’s decision will impact levels of services to citizens of both countries. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will continue to accept and process applications from India. However, certain application requirements will need to be completed locally or on-site in a secure environment. As a result, the reduction in the size of the IRCC team will affect service standards for residents of India,” the statement elaborated.
Five IRCC staff will remain in India and focus on work that requires an in-country presence such as urgent processing, visa printing, risk assessment and overseeing key partners, including visa application centres, panel physicians and clinics that perform immigration medical exams. The rest of the work and staff will be reassigned across its global processing network.
“India’s decision will not distract from Canada’s legitimate investigation into the killing of Mr. Nijjar. Canada’s priorities in this matter continue to be the pursuit of the truth, the protection of Canadians, and the defence of our sovereignty.”
This is the latest development in the cratering of the relationship between the two counties after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement in the House of Commons on September 18 that there were “credible allegations” of a potential link between Indian agents and the killing of Khalistani figure Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 18.
“India’s decision will not distract from Canada’s legitimate investigation into the killing of Mr Nijjar. Canada’s priorities in this matter continue to be the pursuit of the truth, the protection of Canadians, and the defence of our sovereignty,” Joly said.
Both countries had expelled a diplomat each in the immediate aftermath of Trudeau’s statement.
Nijjar was gunned down in the parking lot of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara that he headed in the town of Surrey in the province of British Columbia. Nijjar was considered a terrorist by Indian authorities but no charges had been levelled against him in Canada or were tested in a Canadian court.
Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.
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