By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada has withdrawn 41 diplomats from India amid a dispute over the murder of a Sikh separatist leader, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Thursday, adding that Ottawa would not take retaliatory steps.
New Delhi last month asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited what he said was credible evidence of a potential link between Indian agents and the murder in June of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, who was shot outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia.
Joly said India had threatened to unilaterally revoke the diplomats’ official status by Friday unless they left. This move, she said, was unreasonable and unprecedented and clearly violated the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations.
“Given the implications of India’s actions on the safety of our diplomats, we have facilitated their safe departure from India,” she told a press conference.
“If we allow the norm of diplomatic immunity to be broken, no diplomats anywhere on the planet would be safe. So for this reason, we will not reciprocate,” she said.
Canada now has 21 diplomats in India. The 41 who left were accompanied by 42 dependents.
India has dismissed as absurd Trudeau’s suspicions that its agents were linked to the murder of Nijjar, a Canadian citizen whom New Delhi had labeled a “terrorist.”
Around 2 million Canadians, around 5% of the overall population, have Indian heritage. India is by far Canada’s largest source of global students, making up for roughly 40% of study permit holders.
Immigration Minister Marc Miller said the diplomats’ departure meant Canada would slash the number of embassy staff dealing with immigration.
“We acknowledge the concerns and frustrations that this situation may cause for clients, families, educational institutions, communities, businesses in Canada as a whole,” he told the press conference.
Visa application centers in India are operated by third-party contractors and would not be affected, he said.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren;Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)