Addressing a press conference on 10th Nov, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, stated, ‘we have serious reasons to believe that agents of the Government of India have been involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil. India’s response was to kick out a whole bunch of diplomats by violating their rights under the Vienna convention.’ He reignited the spat which had shown signs of abating. Trudeau is compelled to regularly defend his accusations, as he has failed to place evidence, to support his claims, in public domain.
Throughout deteriorating ties, India defended its decision of removing additional Canadian diplomats claiming them to be within norms of the Vienna Convention and seeking evidence on Canada’s accusations. The Indian High Commissioner to Ottawa had even mentioned in a local press interview, ‘there is no specific or relevant information provided in this case for us to assist them in this investigation.’
Trudeau’s statement came just when India conveyed its concerns on the growing Khalistan movement to the US during the 2+2 meeting in Delhi. The Indo-Canada spat came into discussion only during a bilateral between Jaishankar and Blinken. This was also around the time when the leader of SFJ (Sikhs for Justice) Gurpatwant Singh Pannun issued a video threatening Indian Airlines.
The Indian Foreign Secretary, responding to a question concerning discussion on the spat, mentioned, ‘we have core security concerns (emanating from Canada).’ Referring to the video released by Pannun he mentioned ‘this is a serious security concern for us.’ Thus far Canada has refused to act against Pannun, despite India raising the subject of threats to its airlines.
Joining the battle against Justin Trudeau was the Indian External Affairs Minister, Dr Jaishankar. He stated in an interview in London, one of the ‘five eyes’ members that had advocated that India cooperate with Canada in the investigation, that Ottawa has not provided any evidence to back its claims. He added that he has regularly discussed the subject with his Canadian counterpart, Melanie Joly, despite which no inputs have flowed.
These comments indirectly accuse Trudeau of making false statements or collating supposed inputs through illegal eavesdropping. Jaishankar also accused Canada of providing space to anti-India groups.
India has gone all guns blazing at Canada. The Indian representative, responding to Canada’s report in the UN Human Rights Council, mentioned ‘Canada must strengthen its domestic framework to prevent misuse of freedom of expression for inciting violence and disallow activities of groups that are promoting extremism; effectively prevent attacks on places of worship of religious and racial minorities and strengthen legislative and other measures to address hate crimes and hate speech.’ India publicly accused Canada for supporting terrorist groups.
Similar views were echoed by Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh’s envoy mentioned that Canada must intensify efforts against racism, hate speech, hate crimes and discrimination against migrants and Muslim population. Sri Lanka followed suit. It appears, that apart from India, other nations too are unhappy with Canadian policies.
To aggravate the deteriorating relationship were attempts by Sikh activists to disrupt Indian consul activities in Vancouver last week, as also attacks on those celebrating Diwali. Once again there was no concrete action taken by the Canadian authorities. The Indian foreign affairs spokesperson stated in his weekly briefing last week, ‘We reiterate the need for nations to respect the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations so that our diplomats can discharge their diplomatic obligations.’ With Canada refusing to act against anti-India elements, there is bound to be a retaliatory action in New Delhi. This will be visible in the coming days.
Canada had stopped Free Trade Agreement negotiations with India, citing the Nijjar case. The Indian minister of Commerce and Industry, Piyush Goyal, stated, ‘They stopped the talks with us. There are some misconceptions among some Canadian politicians, which are baseless. They will lose out (from halting the talks), India will not lose out. The Indian market is bigger, and our country offers (more) opportunities.’ Trudeau is desperate to push his accusations while providing no inputs, thereby derailing a relationship which could have grown.
Trudeau is known to be playing for votes. His survival in office is dependent on Jagmeet Singh’s NDP (New Democratic Party), none of whose members, largely Sikh, can ever visit India, due to their anti-India stance.
Another example of Trudeau fighting to save his seat was his changed view on the Israel-Hamas war, post being booed while visiting a Mosque. Realizing that he is losing support from Canada’s Muslim community, Trudeau began accusing Israel of employing excessive force. He stated, ‘Even wars have rules. All innocent life is equal in worth – Israeli and Palestinian. I urge the government of Israel to exercise maximum restraint.’
Trudeau was rebuked by his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, who tweeted, ‘It is not Israel that is deliberately targeting civilians but Hamas that beheaded, burned and massacred civilians in the worst horrors perpetrated on Jews since the Holocaust. It is Hamas not Israel that should be held accountable for committing a double war crime – targeting civilians while hiding behind civilians.’ For Trudeau, global flak has little impact, while internal loss of support is more concerning.
As far as India is concerned, Trudeau is aware that it cannot win the diplomatic battle against India. Hence, while throwing accusations on India, he has also attempted a conciliatory tone. In his last press conference, he mentioned in regard to deteriorating relations with India, ‘(this) is not a fight we want to be having right now.’
The India of today is not what it was a decade ago. It is aware of where it stands globally. Hence, will not easily back down. New Delhi is pushing Ottawa to release evidence in public domain, which, even if it exists, could implicit its allies for illegal snooping activities. Trudeau is compelled, for his political survival, to continue raising accusations, while avoiding sharing evidence.
This is hampering his political future. There are growing demands for his resignation while the standing of Canada’s opposition leader Pierre Poilievre is rising. It appears that his diplomatic battle against India and supporting secessionist movements is speeding up his political demise. Very shortly Canada could see the end of Justin Trudeau.
The author is Major General (Retd)