Canada- India Fracas: What is Trudeau up to

4 Min
<strong>Canada- India Fracas: What is Trudeau up to</strong>

The diplomatic fracas between India and Canada has taken a new turn over   the June 18 killing of Khalistan secessionist Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Gurudwara near Vancouver in British Colombia. Tit for tat expulsions is a corollary. So is the demand to downsize the diplomatic missions.

New Delhi has bluntly told Ottawa that while India is always open to looking at any specific information provided to it, Canada will have to bear the responsibility for misuse of its freedom of speech that amounts to incitement to violence. India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar conveyed more or less the same message to his interlocutors on the side lines of UNGA in New York and Washington. His message was simple: Don’t give space to Khalistani radicals as it harms your interests as well.

On September 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India, on the floor of Canadian Parliament of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of Nijjar, who became a Canadian citizen with fake documents and through marriage alliance. He did not present any verifiable evidence to substantiate the claim. New Delhi has denied the allegations and termed them as absurd. And suspended visa services.

“Our doors are not shut to look at any information Canada provides,” Jaishankar said and added “there is today a climate of violence, an atmosphere of intimidation. We have had smoke bombs thrown at the mission. Individuals have been targeted and intimidated. There are posters put up about people.”

Terming suspension of visa operations as temporary, Indian foreign minister pointed out: “Our diplomatic missions and our diplomatic personnel have been consistently and continuously intimidated in Canada, to a point, where it is not safe for them to carry on with their work. They made it very difficult for us to operate these services.”

Jaishankar elaborated: “The ongoing problem with Canada is because of its permissiveness regarding terrorism, extremism and violence. This permissiveness is also reflected in the fact that some important extradition requests by India have not been responded to from their side.”

A recent Washington Post report says Canada has asked its closest allies, including the United States, to publicly condemn killing of Nijjar but the request went unheeded.     Prime Minister Justine Trudeau wanted Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, who along with Canada constitute the Five Eyes Alliance, to jointly announce the probe findings, he had reportedly shared with them, and condemn India but they turned down the request. These countries are aware of the pro-Khalistan elements operating from their soil as well creating law and order problems, and inciting violence against India and Indian diplomats.

A word about Hardeep Singh Nijjar. He was an activist of militant organization, Khalistan Tiger Force, KTF, which is banned in India. He was wanted by India in a series of heinous crimes and Khalistani activities in the Sikh majority province of Punjab in North India but he absconded to Canada in 1996 without a passport. Interpol issued a Red Corner Notice (RCN). Delhi made extradition requests. Yet, Canada granted Nijjar its citizenship. “It was (is) Justine politics, stupid”, as a commentator said.   

Since March this year, Canda and some other Western countries have been witnessing a spurt in Khalistani violence and vandalism against temples, gurudwaras and Indian missions. This development came after self-styled Khalistani preacher, Amritpal Singh, was jailed in India in a kidnapping and extortion case.

The Indian Consulate in San Francisco was set on fire by Khalistani separatists on July 2. The fire was put out promptly before any major damage was caused. Some Khalistani activists tried in March to pull down the Indian flag and put up the Khalistan Flag at the entrance to the Indian High Commission in London. These elements also staged a noisy demonstration.

On September 29, the Indian High Commissioner to the UK, Vikram Doraiswami was stopped from entering a Gurudwara in Glasgow by pro Khalistani activists. The diplomat was forced to leave the premises though he had arrived on invitation to meet the local leadership of the Gurudwara. His hosts condemned the brazen Khalistani act.

Though strictly unrelated to the row with Canada, India has since rounded up a number of Khalistani suspects in a crackdown to dismantle terror-drug-gangster nexus.

Sleuths of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) raided suspected hideouts of sympathizers of Khalistani secessionists in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.

And confiscated the properties of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, founder of US-based Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a pro-Khalistan outfit, which claims to be “an international advocacy and human rights group”.

Nijjar was heading SFJ in Canada at the time of his killing.

Lately, Pannun has put out a video threatening Hindus of Indian origin in Canada to leave the country. This communally surcharged message has gone viral.

 As pointed out at the outset, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made his India charge open ended, and has not tried to substantiate his claim of potential link between Indian agents and the killing of Nijjar.  Why is he leaving the issue open after making a formal charge against an old friend, which India is, by giving a go-by to all diplomatic nuances, and niceties.  

The inescapable surmise is that Trudeau is guided by domestic politics and the fact that he has to face a ballot before Aug 2025.  The poll date, observers say, could be advanced factoring in Trudeau’s declining popularity. Canada is home to the largest diaspora of Indian origin – most of them Sikhs, estimated at around 7,70,000.

Trudeau’s politics notwithstanding, Canada is not unaware of the reality – namely radical Khalistanis misusing its constitutional right of freedom of speech. This is the reality in some other Western countries as well. 

Otherwise, posters ‘Kill India’ would not have appeared in Vancouver, Ottawa and some other Canadian cities. Also, social media posts against India’s unity, integrity and sovereignty.

It is a serious matter to be pondered over by the international community.

Can any country allow posters, banners or graffiti to be displayed against Ambassador and senior diplomats of a friendly country, pledging large rewards on their heads? Do such actions give immunity under freedom of speech to radical elements, openly preaching secessionism in another country?  

Good food for thought to Prime Minister Trudeau. Not merely in the interests of Canada- India relations but also in the interests of Canada’s liberal image as a part of the new Eldorado of the world.

—By Ratan Saldi

The writer is a New Delhi based commentator