(Bloomberg) — Dozens of Canadian diplomats have left India after the country threatened to revoke their immunity in an “unreasonable and escalatory” violation of international law, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said.
Canada relocated 41 staff from its embassy and consulates in the country, leaving only 21 behind, Joly said Thursday in Ottawa. It’s the latest development in a diplomatic row that kicked off last month when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was “credible” evidence India’s government helped orchestrate the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in a suburb of Vancouver.
The accusation infuriated the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which retaliated with several measures including a suspension of visas for Canadians. Joly said India conveyed its plans to strip diplomatic immunity from the envoys by Friday, putting their personal safety at risk.
That left Canada with no choice but to arrange their departure, along with that of their families, the minister said. The result will be less service from Canada’s offices in India and slower processing times for its visa and immigration program.
“Immunities allow diplomats to do their work without fear of reprisal or arrest from the country,” Joly said. “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.”
With fewer staff, Canada must pause all in-person services at its consulates in Chandigarh, Mumbai and Bangalore, but those who need consular assistance can still reach out by email or phone or visit the embassy in New Delhi, she said.
India had requested that Canada reduce its diplomatic presence to make it equal to the number of Indians who have diplomatic immunity in Canada. The Canadian government had hoped to negotiate a different outcome: Joly said earlier this month that in moments of tension, having diplomats on the ground was more important than ever.
Unilaterally removing immunity is a violation of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, Joly said.
India was the top source of permanent residents, temporary foreign workers and international students in Canada last year. Immigration Minister Marc Miller said Canada would continue to welcome Indian immigrants, but the reduced number of staff would mean slower processing of visa applications, at least in the short to medium term.
In a background briefing with reporters, a Canadian government official said the immigration and visa program would be “severely curtailed.” The reduction in staff would mean a backlog of 17,500 application decisions through the end of December, though it’s hoped processing will return to normal by early 2024, another official said. They spoke on condition they not be identified by name.
Modi has dismissed Trudeau’s allegation that his country was involved in the murder of Nijjar as “absurd.”
(Updates with more detail from news conference and briefing.)
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