On the evening of June 18, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh leader in B.C., was gunned down in his grey truck in the parking lot of Surrey’s Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara.
Nijjar, 45, was president of the temple and an outspoken supporter of Khalistan, an independent Sikh nation supporters want to see carved out of the Indian state of Punjab.
His lawyer, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, told Postmedia that Nijjar had been warned by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service of threats against him because of his political activism. Nijjar had been helping organize a referendum for local Sikhs on Khalistan, part of an unofficial and non-binding worldwide vote by the group Sikhs for Justice.
India had accused Nijjar of terrorism-related activities in the past. It has described Nijjar as a member of the Khalistan Tiger Force, which the Indian government considers a terrorist group.
In 2016, New Delhi alleged Nijjar was linked to a 2007 bombing at a Punjab cinema that killed six. Last year, India’s counterterrorism National Investigation Agency announced a $16,000 reward for information leading to his arrest in relation to a conspiracy to murder a Hindu priest.
Nijjar had said the allegations were false. “I am living here since 1997. I did not go back to India,” Nijjar told Postmedia reporter Kim Bolan in an interview last year. “I’m working hard as a plumber and at the temple. … I’m a community servant, right?”
He even wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging him to “dispel the Indian government’s fabricated, baseless, fictitious and politically motivated allegations against me.”
His killing had led to a series of protests outside the Indian consulate in Vancouver and across Canada, as well as calls and a petition demanding the federal government investigate his death and determine whether foreign interference was at play.
Almost immediately after the shooting, mourners gathered outside the temple had called Nijjar’s death a politically driven assassination linked to his role in advocating for a separate Sikh state.
Nijjar worked as a plumber. He left behind a wife and two adult sons.
What do police say?
The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team has called Nijjar’s shooting targeted, but has not commented on whether police have determined a motive in his death. In August, IHIT spokesman Sgt. Tim Pierotti called it “an ever-evolving investigation.”
Investigators had described the shooters as two heavy-set masked assailants who fled the parking lot on foot, cutting through Cougar Creek park to a getaway car parked in the area of 121 Street and 68 Avenue.
Police believe the vehicle — a silver 2008 Toyota Camry — has been waiting for at least an hour and had a driver, the third suspect in the slaying.
To date, no one has been arrested.
How has this affected relations between Canada and India?
In the aftermath of Nijjar’s death, posters advertising marches in memory of the Surrey man became flashpoints in increasingly tense relations between Ottawa and New Delhi.
The posters referred to high-ranking Indian diplomats as “faces of Nijjar’s killers” and included the words “kill India.” Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly denounced the posters, calling them “unacceptable.”
Earlier this month, Ottawa paused discussions on a trade treaty with India despite the two countries saying they wanted to seal an initial deal by the end of the year.
The relationship between Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in India was visibly tense. India’s External Affairs Ministry said Modi expressed concerns about “continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada.”
Canada will always defend “freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and peaceful protest,” Trudeau said at a news conference in New Delhi.
— with files from Postmedia and Canadian Press
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