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Canada's Defence minister describes relationship with India 'important'; says his country will continue to pursue partnerships like Indo-Pacific strategy

Toronto: Terming the relationship with India as "important", Canada's Defence Minister Bill Blair on Sunday said that his country will continue to pursue partnerships like the Indo-Pacific strategy while the investigation of the killing of a Sikh separatist leader continues.

Tensions flared between India and Canada ᨊfollowing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's explosive allegations of a "potential" involvement of Indian agents in the killing of Khalistani extremist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, on his country's soil on June 18 in British Columbia. India had designated Nijjar as a terrorist in 2020.

India angrily rejected the allegations as "absurd" and "motivated" and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move to Ottawa's expulsion of an Indian official over the case.

Canada had been seeking deeper trade, defence and immigration ties with India before the “credible intelligence,” as Trudeau called it, was first raised with Canadian officials, Global News reported.

In an interview aired Sunday on The West Block, Blair suggested Canada will continue to pursue those partnerships while the investigation into allegations continues, calling the relationship with India “important.” “We understand that this can be, and has proven to be, a challenging issue with respect to our relationship with India,” he was quoted as saying by Global News.

“But at the same time, we have a responsibility to defend the law, defend our citizens, and at the same time make sure that we conduct a thorough investigation and get to the truth.” If the allegations are proven true, Blair said “there is a very significant concern that Canada will have with respect to the violation of our sovereignty in the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil.” Blair said the Indo-Pacific strategy was still a critical one for Canada and has led to an increased military presence in the region and commitments for further patrol capabilities.

The strategy commits USD 492.9 million over five years toward those military priorities, out of a total of nearly USD 2.3 billion over the same period.

On Thursday, India asked Canada to come down hard on terrorists and anti-India elements operating from its soil and suspended visa services for Canadians, as escalating tensions between the two nations over the killing of Nijjar pushed their ties to an all-time low.

India also asked Canada to downsize its diplomatic staff in the country, arguing that there should be parity in strength and rank equivalence in the mutual diplomatic presence. The size of Canadian diplomatic staff in India is larger than what New Delhi has in Canada.

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