‘There’s a Panic Right Now’: B.C. Residents Worried About Indian Visa Suspension

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British Columbians say they’re worried about diplomatic tensions between India and Canada, with India having now halted visa services in Canada just as its travel season begins to peak.

The suspension comes days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped a bombshell in the House of Commons, citing “credible” intelligence that agents of the Indian government were behind the June slaying of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh separatist and community leader in Surrey, B.C.

“It is definitely impacting everyone, especially people who want to travel for health reasons, people who don’t have coverage here but want to go back to India for better service,” said Manbir Singh from outside an Indian visa office in Surrey.

“There are countries in the world where people go for medical reasons to get their treatment done if there’s a waiting time here. Those are the people who are going to suffer the most — and people whose parents are in India and they live here.”

India has vehemently rejected allegations of involvement in Nijjar’s murder, describing them as “absurd.” Both countries swiftly expelled diplomats from each other’s nations.

Thursday’s halt on visa services was preceded by a Canada travel advisory and accompanied claims that Canada is a “safe haven for terrorists.” According to India’s foreign ministry, however, anyone with a valid visa or other documents can still travel to India and the suspension is temporary.

“The issue is of incitement of violence, the inaction of the Canadian authorities, and the creation of an environment that disrupts the functioning of our high commission and consulates,” spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Thursday.

The suspension comes at a challenging time for tourists and travellers to India. The Sikh celebration of Bandi Chhorh Divas is fast-approaching in October, and the Hindu festival of Diwali follows in November.

Wedding season — another major draw — generally lasts between November and February.

“There’s a panic right now in the city that everybody might not be able to go,” said Singh, who was outside the visa office to obtain an Overseas Citizen of India card, which acts as a kind of passport for Indians who have had to give up their Indian citizenship to obtain another.

He said he thinks both Canada and India share the blame in the current diplomatic crisis and could have handled the situation better. He called on them to work cooperatively on the investigation into Nijjar’s murder, and in the interim, come up with a solution that would at least, grant an exemption to those travelling for medical reasons or family emergencies.

Nijjar was gunned down in the parking lot of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, where he served as president, after evening prayers on June 18. His death sent shockwaves through Metro Vancouver and Canada’s Sikh community, with thousands attending his funeral later that week.

Source : Global News