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Nijjar killing: Three accused appear before court

They appeared separately by video in front of a packed Surrey provincial courtroom on Tuesday to acknowledge the charges

A mural features the image of late Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was slain on the grounds of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple in June 2023, in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada September 18, 2023. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

By: Shajil Kumar

Three Indian nationals accused of killing Khalistan separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar last year have appeared before a Canadian court through video for the first time to face homicide charges in a case that has soured Canada-India relations.

Karan Brar, 22, Kamalpreet Singh, 22, and Karanpreet Singh, 28, all Indian nationals residing in Edmonton, were arrested and charged on Friday with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

They appeared separately by video in front of a packed Surrey provincial courtroom on Tuesday to acknowledge the charges of first-degree murder and conspiring to commit murder and to agree to have their cases adjourned to May 21 to give them time to consult with their lawyers, the Vancouver Sun newspaper reported.

The three – believed to be members of an alleged hit squad – appeared before the Surrey provincial court in British Columbia province, the report said.

Each appeared separately from North Fraser Pretrial Centre wearing jail-issued red T-shirts or sweatshirts and sweatpants.

Two of the accused appeared in the morning while Kamalpreet Singh’s appearance was delayed until after lunch to give him time to consult a lawyer.

All three agreed to have the proceedings heard in English and each of them nodded that they understood the charges of first-degree murder and conspiring to murder Nijjar, the report said.

The court granted the Crown prosecutor’s request for a no-contact order naming seven people under a Canada Criminal Code section that bans the accused from communicating directly or indirectly with any of them. Those named on the order include Nijjar’s son Balraj Nijjar, 21, the report added.

The three accused men had appeared before an adjudicator on Saturday for an interim judicial release hearing, after which they were kept in custody.

Their next step would be to have their lawyers apply for bail, said Surrey criminal and immigration lawyer Affan Bajwa, who has no connection to the case.

Hundreds of local Khalistan supporters showed up at the courthouse. A separate overflow room inside the courthouse was opened to accommodate those who wanted to witness the hearing.

Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, was shot dead outside a gurdwara in Surrey on June 18, 2023.

The indictments allege the conspiracy unfolded in both Surrey and Edmonton between May 1, 2023, and the date of Nijjar’s killing.

The alleged hitmen entered Canada over the past five years and were suspected of involvement in the world of drug trafficking and violence, according to local police.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Assistant Commissioner David Teboul said that he wouldn’t comment on the alleged links between the three men arrested and Indian officials but noted the force is “investigating connections to the government of India.” The police suggested more arrests might be coming.

Indian envoy’s warning

Amidst the diplomatic strain in India-Canada relations, India’s envoy has warned that the Sikh separatist groups in Canada were crossing “a big red line” that New Delhi sees as a matter of national security and of the country’s territorial integrity.

Indian High Commissioner to Canada Sanjay Kumar Verma said this on Tuesday in his first public remarks since three Indian nationals accused of killing Khalistan separatist Nijjar were produced before a court by Canadian police.

He warned that Sikh groups in Canada who call for the separation of their homeland from India are crossing “a big red line” that New Delhi sees as a matter of national security.

“Indians will decide the fate of India, not the foreigners,” Verma told the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, a prominent think-tank.

He also told the Council that relations between India and Canada are positive overall despite “a lot of noise”.

On Tuesday, India told Canada that celebration and glorification of violence should not be a part of any civilised society. Democratic countries which respect the rule of law should not allow intimidation by radical elements in the name of freedom of expression, it added.

Earlier on Tuesday, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly stood by allegations that the Indian government was complicit in the slaying of Nijjar.

Joly said her goal is still to conduct diplomacy with India in private. She said she would let the police investigate instead of providing any new commentary on the case.

“We stand by the allegations that a Canadian was killed on Canadian soil by Indian agents,” Joly said on Parliament Hill. (PTI)

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