New Delhi: Canada on Thursday (October 19) has stated that 41 diplomats have left India after New Delhi demanded ‘parity’ over diplomatic representation as it lashed out over Ottawa’s allegation of Indian agents being involved in killing of a Canadian national.

As a result, Canada will stop the in-person visa services in all three consulates at Mumbai, Chandigarh and Bengaluru, while the overall visa processing time for Indian nationals will increase.

This is likely Canada’s largest withdrawal of diplomats from a single country at one time.

Last month, Canada had expelled an Indian diplomat after accusing New Delhi of being potentially involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh NIjjar, a Khalistan supporter. Angrily dismissing the charges, India had also expelled a Canadian diplomat, stopped all visa services for Canadians and asked Ottawa to bring down the number of diplomats in line with Indian diplomatic presence.

Canadian foreign minister Mélanie Joly said that India had formally communicated its plan to remove diplomatic immunity from most of its diplomats by October 20.

“This means 41 Canadian diplomats and their 42 dependents were in danger of having immunities stripped. Given the security implications of India’s actions on these Canadian diplomats and their families, Canada has facilitated their safe departure from India,” Joly told reporters in Ottawa.

She also said that the consular team has now been drastically reduced. “Five IRCC staff (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) remain in India and will focus on work that requires an in­-country presence such as urgent processing, visa printing, risk assessment and overseeing key partners, including visa application centres, panel physicians and clinics that perform immigration medical exams. The rest of the work and staff will be reassigned across our global processing network.”

As per Canadian media reports quoting unnamed officials, the number of Canadian staff who will deal with consular work has been decreased from 27 to five. They review applications not just from India, but also Nepal and Bhutan.

Canadian officials stated that 45% of Canada’s international students, 27% of new permanent residents and 22% of temporary foreign workers come from India.

Stating that Canada will be forced to pause all in-person services in the consulates, Joly added, “Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will continue to accept and process applications from India. However, certain application requirements will need to be completed locally or on-site in a secure environment. As a result, the reduction in the size of the IRCC team will affect service standards for residents of India.”

Canadian media had earlier reported that India had given a deadline of October 10 for downsizing its embassies, but that deadline passed without any change.

India had meanwhile reiterated that it will pursue diplomatic parity with Canada “given the much higher diplomatic presence of Canadian diplomats or diplomatic presence here of Canada and their continuing interference in our internal affairs”. However, India had not publicly announced a deadline for the return of Canadian diplomats.

In her announcement in Ottawa, Joly had described India’s threat to unilaterally revoke diplomatic immunity as contrary to international law, including the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

“This action taken by India is completely unreasonable and escalatory. India accredited each and every one of the Canadian diplomats they are now expelling. And all of those diplomats were carrying out their duties in good faith, and to the greater benefit of both countries,” she said.

Asserting that diplomatic immunities cannot be unilaterally revoked by host country, Joly noted that if this norm was broken, “no diplomat anywhere would be safe”.

She also stated that Canada will not reciprocate Indian actions. “As such, the Government of Canada will continue to respect diplomatic norms and not reciprocate this action. Canada will continue to defend international law, which applies equally to all states. Canada will continue to engage India and remains committed to dialogue as we move forward.”

India disputed Joly’s statement and claimed that the implementation of diplomatic parity was not a violation of international law.

“The state of our bilateral relations, the much higher number of Canadian diplomats in India, and their continued interference in our internal affairs warrant a parity in mutual diplomatic presence in New Delhi and Ottawa. We have been engaged with the Canadian side on this over the last month in order to work out the details and modalities of its implementation,” said a Ministry of External Affairs statement issued on Friday afternoon.

It also noted that India’s actions were consistent with the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations. India cited VCDR’s Article 11.1 which states: “In the absence of specific agreement as to the size of the mission, the receiving State may require that the size of a mission be kept within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal, having regard to circumstances and conditions in the receiving State and to the needs of the particular mission.”

The Indian government’s press statement concluded that New Delhi “reject[s] any attempt to portray the implementation of parity as a violation of international norms”.

The Canadian foreign minister also reiterated that India’s decision “will not distract from Canada’s legitimate investigation into the killing of Mr. Nijjar”.

“Canada’s priorities in this matter continue to be the pursuit of the truth, the protection of Canadians, and the defence of our sovereignty,” she added.

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