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Fallout continues after a Sikh activist was murdered on Canadian soil

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now to a diplomatic quarrel that's erupted between Canada and India. It all started yesterday when Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, claimed that intelligence services were pursuing credible allegations that linked India's government to the murder of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil. The Indian government has responded, calling the allegations absurd. NPR's international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting) Who's a terrorist?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Modi.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting) Who's a terrorist?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Modi.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting) Who's a terrorist?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Modi.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Sikh demonstrators gathered outside the Indian consulate in Vancouver earlier this month, chanting slogans and calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a terrorist. It's one of several similar demonstrations across Canada since the June killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh leader.

NEILESH BOSE: At Indian consulates, there were photos posted of Indian diplomats with captions suggesting that they were killers, suggesting that they should be assassinated. Hindu temples in Canada have been vandalized.

NORTHAM: Neilesh Bose is a professor of modern South Asian history at the University of Victoria. He says some Sikh activists are advocating for an independent Khalistan state in the Punjab region - something the Indian government vehemently opposes. It sees the Khalistan movement as a violent organization responsible for, among other things, the bombing of an Air India jet in 1985 from Toronto to London, which killed more than 300 people.

BOSE: The Air India bombing, which is attributed to members of the broader Khalistan movement - that itself has not been fully resolved in Canada and in India.

NORTHAM: The Indian government has complained to Ottawa about the Sikh activism. Trudeau says Canada believes in free speech. And that is the heart of the deepening breach between Canada and India. This morning, Trudeau defended his accusation that India ordered the killing of Nijjar.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: We are not looking to provoke or escalate. We are simply laying out the facts as we understand them and...

NORTHAM: What's unclear is why Trudeau chose to publicly blame India for the killing of a Canadian citizen without detailing the evidence, effectively placing India in the same category as Russia for assassinations in a foreign land. Indian media have been hitting back with their own questions, including this one from WION TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Mr. Trudeau, why has your country become a sanctuary for terrorists? Do you ever give a thought for victims of terrorism?

NORTHAM: New Delhi has dismissed the charges. In the northern city of Jammu, Indian demonstrators held their own protest, shouting, Justin Trudeau, down, down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Chanting) Justin Trudeau...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Chanting) Justin Trudeau...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Chanting) Justin Trudeau...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Chanting) Justin Trudeau...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

NORTHAM: Trudeau says Canada will work with other members of an intelligence-sharing alliance called Five Eyes, which includes the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. But this spat with India comes at a time when those countries are trying to build a relationship with Prime Minister Modi to help contain China. Trudeau's bold accusations could impact those aspirations.

Jackie Northam, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "FOOD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.