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Three Indian nationals charged with killing B.C. Sikh activist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar


Three Indian nationals have been charged with the murder of B.C. Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in a killing last year that threw Ottawa’s relationship with New Delhi into disarray.

Police say they are investigating if the Indian government was involved, an allegation raised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons last year.

Integrated Homicide Investigation Team Supt. Mandeep Mooker said in a Surrey, B.C., news conference on Friday that the three men had been arrested in Edmonton that morning, and there may be more suspects and arrests as the investigation progresses.

“We are investigating if there are any ties to the government of India,” Mooker said. “However … it’s an ongoing investigation, and I don’t have any information to provide on that matter at this time.”

Nijjar was shot and killed in his pickup truck last June as he left the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, touching off a wave of protests and rallies from local communities against diplomats from India.

He was the president of the gurdwara. Nijjar also campaigned for a separate Sikh homeland in India — also known as Khalistan — and organized unofficial referendums around the world about Punjabi independence.

B.C. Gurdwaras Council spokesman Moninder Singh said he and Nijjar’s family were briefed by investigators in Surrey about the arrests, and Nijjar’s children were “very emotional.”

“At the moment, there is a bit of a sigh of relief in their father’s murder,” said Singh. “There’s a bit of anger and frustration around why this had to happen in the first place, and then there are a lot of questions around India.

“Is this over? How do we go back into our community and have this conversation around is this safe or is it not safe?”

Trudeau said in September that there was credible intelligence linking Nijjar’s killing to the Indian government, touching off a diplomatic row that resulted in India suspending issuing visas to Canadians for two months.

India has repeatedly denied involvement in Nijjar’s death.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner David Teboul said police in Canada have been trying to collaborate with Indian authorities on investigations such as the Nijjar case, an effort that began before his killing.

“I’ll be frank, I’ll characterize that collaboration as rather challenging and difficult for the last several years,” Teboul said. “However, the RCMP is very committed to continuing to establish a working relationship from law enforcement to law enforcement agency. So we’re going to continue our efforts.

“But it’s been difficult.”

Police say the three suspects arrested in Nijjar’s killing — Karan Brar, Karanpreet Singh and Kamalpreet Singh — are all male Indian nationals in their 20s living in Edmonton.

Mooker said the men have been in Canada for three to five years as non-permanent residents but provided no other details on their immigration status.

Police say the three suspects are expected to be transported to B.C. by Monday to face charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is a New-York-based Sikh independence activist who U.S. prosecutors say was a target in an assassination plot directed by an Indian government official.

He said the arrests were “a step forward” but “only scratch the surface.”

“Shaheed Nijjar was my dear personal friend and close associate,” Pannun said in a statement, using an honorific implying martyrdom. “He was an upright individual, a peaceful man with demonstrated commitment to community service.

“Canadian politicians of every stripe must stand with the Canadian Sikhs’ right to peacefully advocate for Khalistan without facing any violent retaliation from the Indian government.”

Federal Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said in Ottawa that he understands that members of the Indo-Canadian community and others “may still have questions or concerns,” and asked that they “put their trust in the justice system.”

“Every Canadian has the fundamental right to live safely and free of threats of violence,” LeBlanc said without taking questions, adding that his department will engage with community groups in the coming days.

“We want to hear their concerns and work with them to foster trust and open communications.”

In a statement, the federal Opposition Conservatives said while they are glad arrests were made, the party wished the Canadian government could have foiled the killing of Nijjar “as was the case in the United States,” a reference to the alleged assassination plot there.

B.C. Premier David Eby said Nijjar’s killing had “shaken the Sikh community in British Columbia, the larger South Asian community, and Canadians across the country.”

“I hope that today’s announcement of charges against three individuals is an important step towards justice for his family and accountability to the whole community,” he said in a statement.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada said it welcomed the news of the arrest of three members of an “alleged hit squad that assassinated” Nijjar.

But the group said in a statement that it believes the arrests raise disturbing questions about the connection between India’s government and criminal gangs.

It noted that the report by the Foreign Interference Commission says India uses proxies in Canada who work with intelligence officials in Indian and Canada.

An interim report into foreign interference released Friday in Ottawa said Indian officials engaged in a range of activities to influence Canada’s communities and politicians.

It says India’s interests in Canada related to the large South Asian community in the country.

“India does not differentiate between lawful, pro-Khalistani political advocacy and the relatively small Canada-based Khalistani violent extremism,” the report says.

Indian officials in Canada have increasingly relied on Canadian proxies and contacts in its network to conduct foreign interference, the report says.

“It views anyone aligned with Khalistani separatism as a seditious threat to India. Targets of Indian foreign interference are often members of the Indo-Canadian communities, but prominent non-Indo-Canadians are also subject to India’s foreign influence activities.”