Australia has described Canada's allegations about India's involvement in the killing of a Sikh separatist leader as 'concerning' and said Canberra is 'monitoring these developments closely' and has raised the issues with its Indian counterparts.
These remarks were made by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong at a press conference in the United Nations Headquarters on Tuesday.
Wong, who is leading Australia's delegation to the high-level 78th session of the UN General Assembly, was responding to a question on allegations by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the involvement of 'agents of the Indian government' in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, the chief of the banned Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF).
"Look, these are concerning reports, and I note that investigations are still underway, but obviously these are concerning reports, and as I've said, we are monitoring these developments closely with our partners, and we'll continue to do so," Wong said at the press conference on Tuesday.
Nijjar was one of India's most-wanted terrorists who carried a cash reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head and was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen outside a gurdwara in Surrey in the western Canadian province of British Columbia on June 18.
India has strongly rejected Trudeau's statement made in the Canadian Parliament and said 'allegations of Government of India's involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated'.
In response to a question whether Australia has raised the issue with India, Wong said, "We have, Australia has raised these issues with our Indian counterparts, as you would expect us to do."
She added that Australia has been 'monitoring these developments with partners closely, we will continue to do so, and I will confirm that we have raised our concerns with India. I'm not going to go into any further detail on that'.
When asked if she was planning on raising the issue with Japan, a partner with the US, Australia and India in the Quad group, Wong said, "I'm sure you would not expect the foreign minister of any country to run a commentary on how and what is raised, in detail or what will be raised, but I would say to you, you know, Australia's principal position is that we believe the sovereignty of all countries should be respected, we believe the rule of law should be respected, and our views as a matter of principle reflect those views."
Wong was asked if she has concerns about foreign interference from India in Australia, to which she replied: "I think Australia is a robust democracy, and I think the Indian diaspora has a range of views, and you know, we have made clear in relation to democratic debate in Australia that the peaceful expression of different views is a key part of Australia's democracy, and I think most Australians would agree with that."
When asked what guarantee of safety is provided to Sikh Indians in Australia, Wong said, "I'd note that these allegations are still being investigated, so I would recognise that fact, but more broadly I would say this: we take the view as a government that Australian democracy is precious, that as a matter of principle, and as a matter of law Australians of whatever persuasion have a right to peaceful protest, and in all circumstances we reflect that right in our public statements and in our private conversations with other governments.
"You would also know we have, as a Parliament, made very clear statements, but legislatively and as a matter of policy about the importance of Australian democracy being unaffected by external concerns."
Canada-based Nijjar was designated a 'terrorist' by India under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in July 2020 and his property in the country was attached by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in September 2020.
An Interpol Red Corner Notice was also issued against him in 2016.
The local police of Surrey had also put Nijjar under house arrest temporarily in 2018 on suspicion of his terror involvement but he was released later.
Bilateral ties between India and Canada have been tense in recent months.
Trade talks have been derailed and Canada just cancelled trade talks.