The head of Australia’s national intelligence agency has said that the Canadian government’s claims of possessing evidence of India’s involvement in the killing of a Sikh separatist leader near Vancouver this past June are credible – even without Ottawa providing any evidence to back up its accusations, which are denied by New Delhi.
The director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Mike Burgess, told ABC News that he had “no reason to dispute what the Canadian government has said in this matter.”
“There’s no doubt any allegation of any country being accused of carrying out an execution of a citizen in that country, it’s a serious allegation, and something that we don’t do and something that nations should not do,” he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed while speaking in parliament in September that his government had “credible intelligence” linking the death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an outspoken leader advocating for the creation of a separate Sikh homeland to be carved out of India, to “agents of the Indian government.” Nijjar was designated as a terrorist by India, which had offered a reward for information leading to his arrest.
While New Delhi has dismissed the allegations as “absurd,” Trudeau’s statements sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries, with senior diplomats expelled and India having stopped issuing visas to Canadians.
Burgess was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the Five Eyes intelligence grouping, which comprises the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Trudeau made his allegation against India based on intelligence shared by Canada’s partners in the Five Eyes, public broadcaster Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported in September, adding that the Canadian government had amassed “both human and signals intelligence which includes communications involving Indian officials themselves, including Indian diplomats present in Canada.” The New York Times has reported that US agencies provided their Canadian counterparts with certain context that helped the latter draw their conclusion of Indian involvement.
US Ambassador to Canada David Cohen said it was the “shared intelligence among Five Eye partners” that prompted Trudeau to go public with his allegations.
Ottawa, however, hasn’t shared any evidence supporting its claims, despite New Delhi repeatedly asking it to do so and stating that it would be willing to look into the matter. “We are willing to look at any specific information that is provided to us, but so far we have received no specific information from Canada,” India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said days after the allegations were made.
According to an ABC report, Burgess was briefed on the matter before last month’s G20 summit in New Delhi, where Trudeau first raised his concerns with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Upon being asked whether a similar incident could happen in Australia, which is home to nearly 210,000 Sikhs, Burgess said, “I can assure you that when we find governments interfering in our country, or planning to interfere in our country, we will deal with them effectively.”
In June, tensions flared in Australia among the Sikh and Hindu communities over an unofficial referendum designed to build political support for an independent Sikh state in India, to be named Khalistan. Although there can be “communal violence” or “spontaneous violence” in a country, Burgess said, that is not the same as a nation-state seeking to “interfere and covertly or deceptively harm and intimidate people.”