Canada expelled a “top Indian diplomat” Monday after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped a major allegation that agents of the Indian government were tied to the June murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia.
The diplomat in question is Pavan Kumar Rai, according to the office of Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly. He was posted to the Indian High Commission in Ottawa, and Joly had told reporters in Ottawa on Monday that the expulsion was “as a consequence” of the intelligence.
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Joly said Rai led the Canadian branch of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s foreign intelligence service.
“The allegations that a representative of a foreign government may have been involved in the killing of a Canadian here in Canada, on Canadian soil, is not only troubling but it is completely unacceptable,” she said.
“If proven true this would be a great violation of our sovereignty and of the most basic rule of how countries deal with each other.”
The Indian High Commission’s website lists Rai as minister for “eco, coordination, community affairs.” And while details about his background have been sparse from Canadian officials, Indian media outlets are reporting more about his background and previous roles.
Global News has not independently verified the reports from Indian media about Rai’s background and previous postings.
What is Indian media saying?
According to India’s Outlook Magazine, a weekly English news publication, Rai is an officer of the Indian Police Service’s (IPS) 1997 batch. He was posted to the northern Sikh-majority state of Punjab, which in the 1980s and early 1990s was the centre of an armed conflict between the Indian state and Sikh militants fighting for secession.
According to the Indian Express, a daily newspaper, Rai was posted as the top cop in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district, which borders Pakistan, in 2009 and 2010. The district became known for the cross-border drug trade that led to a drug use epidemic in Punjab.
The Free Press Journal, an English daily based in Mumbai, reported that Rai, 53, went on to develop a “close professional relationship” with Samant Kumar Goel, the former chief of India’s spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
Rai’s association with Goel, who was also from the Punjab cadre of the Indian Police Service, and his experience and expertise were reportedly key in getting him appointed to the agency.
In 2018, India’s Ministry of External Affairs announced Rai’s appointment to the ministry position and he was soon moved to Ottawa, to work in the Indian High Commission.
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After Trudeau said Canadian authorities are investigating “potential links” between Nijjar’s murder and agents of the Indian government, India issued a rebuttal of these claims.
While it did not mention Rai by name, it rejected what it called Canada’s “absurd” claims. In retaliation, India also expelled a high-ranking Canadian diplomat. The unnamed senior diplomat has been asked to leave India in the next five days.
“Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
“The decision reflects Government of India’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters,” it said.
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Nijjar was a vocal proponent for the creation of Khalistan, a separate Sikh homeland in the Indian subcontinent.
India considers the Khalistan movement an affront to it’s sovereignty.
Nijjar had an arrest warrant in India over terrorism charges, which he had denied prior to his death. He was killed in the parking lot of his gurdwara in Surrey, B.C. on June 18.
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