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Spurt in Anti-India Activities in Canada

5 Min
Spurt in Anti-India Activities in Canada

Rattan Saldi

Diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Ottawa have bottomed out year over the allegations of a potential Indian link in the killing of a pro-Khalistan activist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Gurudwara near Vancouver in June last year.

And last September Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had spoken of credible allegations that Indian agents were “potentially linked to the murder of Nijjar.”

India had outrightly rejected the charge, as “absurd”, “unsubstantiated”, and “politically motivated” and has been seeking evidence that even remotely connects New Delhi with the Nijjar killing, but Canada has not shared any evidence so far.

The two countries also gave marching orders to a senior diplomat from each other’s country. The row overshadowed bilateral trade talks and impacted Indian nationals’ immigration to Canada.

This was not the first instance of strain in India- Canada relations. For decades, pro Khalistan activists have been brazenly indulging in anti-India activities on the Canadian soil.  And New Delhi has been raising its concern and has been demanding extradition of Khalistani extremists wanted in India. Nijjar was on India’s wanted list.

These extremists demand an independent Sikh State of Khalistan, carved out of the northern Indian province of Punjab, bordering Pakistan.

They continue threatening Indian diplomats in Canada, occasionally putting out anti-India posters and holding demonstrations. Canadian Government has been ignoring all such concerns raised by India.

The latest anti-India provocation was the presence of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Khalsa Day event in Toronto on April 29, 2024, where, in his presence, pro Khalistan and anti-India slogans were raised.

Secessionist elements belonging to the banned outfit, “Sikhs for Justice”, displayed anti- India banners and placards.

Separatist slogans were raised eulogizing Khalistan at the event organized at the Gurudwara complex which was addressed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Opposition leader in Canadian Parliament Pierre Poilievre, New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow were also present at the Khalsa Day event.

Expressing India’s deep concern over the incident, Canadian Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi was summoned to the Foreign Office, and a strong protest was delivered for repeatedly allowing unchecked such anti-India actions on the Canadian soil.

A statement issued by the Foreign Office said “It illustrates once again the political space that has been given in Canada to separatism, extremism, and violence.

Their continued expressions not only impact India-Canada relations but also encourage a climate of violence and criminality in Canada to the detriment of its own citizens.”

Yet, such provocative actions continue unabated in Canada indicating a sharp rise in anti-India sentiment, but these are grossly overlooked by the authorities there. Political masters in Canada have clearly deep empathy towards Khalistan activists for reasons of their domestic vote bank compulsions.

In March last year, Khalistan supporters staged noisy demonstrations outside Indian Missions in Canada. They were protesting the arrest of separatist leader Amritpal Singh in India.

The protesters also assaulted an Indian journalist covering the event.

Once again, the High Commissioner of Canada in New Delhi was summoned to the Foreign Office and reminded of their obligations under the Vienna Convention and asked as to how breach of security was allowed.

Again, within a week of the Khalsa Day in Toronto, a pro-Khalistan annual Nagar Kirtan   march was organized by the Ontario Gurudwara Committee at Malton, a township near Toronto.

It was Nagar Kirtan only in the name’s sake; it was in reality an event for display of Khalistan flags and floats in praise of Khalistani separatism besides inflammatory speeches targeting Indian political leadership.

India deplored the lee-way Canada was providing to Sikh separatists. “Democratic countries which respect the rule of law should not allow intimidation by radical elements in the name of freedom of expression”, said External Affairs Ministry Spokesman in New Delhi.

And added: “India continues to remain concerned about the security of our diplomatic representatives in Canada and expect the Canada government to ensure that they are able to carry out their responsibilities without fear”.

Another glaring instance, on whose outcome India should really seriously be concerned was the adoption in the Canadian Parliament on 8th May 2024 a resolution moved by a Liberal Party member of Indian origin, Sukh Dhaliwal.

The resolution stated that recent events, including the credible allegations of a link between agents of the Government of India and the Nijjar killing are examples of rising forms of intimidation, threats and interference from countries such as India, China, Russia, Iran and others.

It asked the Trudeau Government to review the measures to ensure that diaspora communities are protected from acts of political interference, violence or intimidation on the Canadian soil.

This reaffirms India’s contention that Canada was becoming a haven for terrorists with state protection in the name of freedom of speech even as the demand for stern action against those indulging in such activities or their deportation is met with deafening silence.

No surprise the Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar has gone on record to say, “Khalistan forces have been given a lot of space in Canadian politics. It is not India’s interest and not in Canada’s interest either”.

He added: “New Delhi remains open to cooperation if Canada provides pertinent information regarding violence relevant to India”. 

The Khalistan movement has died down in India’s Punjab nearly four decades ago but elements inimical to India’s interests are raking it up from time to time in Canada, U.K., the United States and some other western countries.

Authorities must deal with such diaspora elements firmly giving paramountcy to relations with India.     

This is not an unjustified demand by any means.

The West, particularly Canada must demonstrate what they preach in the name of democracy, peace, and security rather than playing vote bank politics with no concern whatsoever to the territorial integrity of a friendly nation.

As I was about to wrap up the commentary, came the report that on Thursday, June 6, around 30 protesters gathered in front of the Indian Consulate in Vancouver, vandalised the Indian flag and glorified the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh body guards in 1984.  

Significantly, the abhorrent Khalistani display has drawn criticism from two federal ministers and a Canadian law maker.

Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc said, “This week, there were reports of imagery depicting the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Vancouver. The promotion of violence is never acceptable in Canada”.

LeBlanc- speak is a rare and firm stance by the Canadian government against those who glorify violence. 

Anita Anand, President of the Treasury Board, expressed her concerns as well, saying, “The use of violent imagery in relation to Indira Gandhi is disturbing and unacceptable as it promotes and perpetuates hate and violence.”

In a detailed post, Canadian MP Chandra Arya said, “Khalistan supporters in Vancouver with posters, of Hindu Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi body with bullet holes with her bodyguards turned assassins holding their guns, are again attempting to instil fear of violence in Hindu-Canadians.”

He pointed to a similar float in Brampton a couple of years ago and recent provocations by Gurpatwant Singh Pannun of separatist “Sikhs for Justice”, who had urged “Hindus to leave Canada.”

Pannun is a wanted terrorist in India.

Elaborating on the symbolism used by the extremists, Chandra Arya said: “The prominence of bindi on the forehead of Indira Gandhi is to make doubly sure the intended targets are Hindus in Canada”.

He called upon Canadian law enforcement agencies to take ‘immediate action’, highlighting that ‘with picture of guns readily being used to convey the message may lead to something real if this is left to continue unchallenged’.

These three statements of LeBlanc, Anita Anand and Chandra Arya indicate that despite Trudeau-ism, there is still scope for a turn-around in India-Canada ties.  

(The writer is a veteran broadcast journalist)