Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused “agents of the government of India” of carrying out the assassination of a Sikh leader in British Columbia this past June.
Trudeau’s explosive comments, which took place before the House of Commons on Monday, pointed the finger for the shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar at India, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “in no uncertain terms” based on intelligence gathered by the Canadian government.
Nijjar, 45, a strong supporter of an independent Sikh homeland known as Khalistan, was killed on June 18 outside a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver located south of the Fraser River on the U.S.-Canada border.
“Over the past number of weeks, Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar,” Trudeau said.
Here’s everything you need to know about the case:
Canadian Sikhs and The Khalistan Movement
Sikhs are a small religious group with about 25 million around the world, most of them in India. Canada has a Sikh population of more than 770,000 people, equal to about 2% of the country’s total population. In fact, Canadian Sikhs are one of the country’s largest non-Christian religious groups and form the country’s largest South Asian ethnic group.
The vast majority of Sikhs live in Asia, but government figures show that there were 455,000 Sikhs in Canada in 2011 — more than double the 1991 population estimate of 145,000. Almost half of the country’s Sikh’s make British Columbia their home.
The call for a separate Sikh state began in the wake of the fall of the British Empire. In 1940, the first explicit calls for the creation of Khalistan was made in a pamphlet titled “Khalistan.”
Sikhs living in Canada are affected by events regarding Sikhism in India, including the rise of a nationalist movement for an independent state known as Khalistan. Many Canadian Sikhs have supported the independence movement financially, especially after the Indian army’s 1984 storming on the Golden Temple in in Amritsar — the holiest site in Sikhism — to attack a group led by separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.