So, there’s Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy, the vaunted plan to counter an increasingly belligerent China by improving relations with regional democracies like… India.
It’s less clear after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s stunning speech in the House of Commons linked Indian government agents to the June killing in BC of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
But it is clear that there will be implications from this complete breach of relations for years to come.
In stark contrast to his approach to making public intelligence about China’s interference in Canada, Trudeau chose to make his statement in the heart of Canada’s democracy, the most public of all places.
He said a foreign government’s complicity in killing a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of sovereignty, which is clearly what will happen if the prime minister’s allegations stand.
But just as he urged Canadians not to rely on what he called inaccurate intelligence information leaked to the media earlier this year about China, it would be prudent not to rush to judgment now.
India has denied the allegations, calling them “absurd and motivated.” A statement from the Indian government said Canada was trying to shift the focus away from “Khalistani terrorists and extremists who have been given refuge in Canada.”
Nijjar is president of a Sikh temple in BC, after coming to Canada in 1997 on a false passport. His refugee claim has reportedly been rejected, although the government says he was granted citizenship in 2015. What is clear is that he favors an independent Sikh state in Punjab — Khalistan — and that the Indian government believes he is a terrorist, involved in a bombing campaign in Punjab. A warrant has been issued for his arrest in India and worldwide by Interpol.
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The Times of India claimed he ran terror training camps in Mission, BC, but he does not appear to have been arrested or charged with anything in Canada. Is that because he is completely innocent, as his supporters claim, or because, as Indian ministers say, the federal government’s indifference is rooted in “vote bank politics”? Canada’s 800,000 Sikhs are a crucial voting constituency in BC’s Lower Mainland and the Greater Toronto Area.
There is no hero in this story. The Indian government’s statement says: “We are a local government with a strong commitment to the rule of law.”
Two hundred million Muslims, increasingly targeted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, may disagree. Extrajudicial killings are not the only preferred method for Latin American death squads and Saudi autocrats looking to silence dissidents. It is widely believed that the Modi government ordered the killing of Nijjar.
Then again, the United States and Israel have also engaged in targeted killings of figures like Osama Bin Laden and a host of Iranian nuclear physicists, claiming they were acts of national self-defense.
Such relentless tactics on Canadian soil would make a mockery of any claim to “shared values.”
India is increasingly opposed to democracy and the rule of law, reflected in its description in The Economist’s Global Democracy Index as a “false democracy” which has fallen from 27th ranked in the index at 53street under Modi.
Indian tax police recently raided the BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai after the corporation aired a documentary critical of Modi. Critics are often targeted that way: Amnesty International shut down its India operation after its bank account was frozen.
India’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law is on full display as it buys cheap Russian oil, helping fuel Vladimir Putin’s war machine.
However, India is the fifth largest economy in the world and a bulwark for the West against China.
An indication that it has become indispensable in the US came in June, with Modi’s state visit to Washington.
President Joe Biden wiped his forehead as he talked about “two great nations, two great friends, two great powers.”
Americans will not be happy with the disagreement between key allies, perhaps wondering why, just because Canada has a cold, it has to go around sneezes on others.
Trudeau has no choice but to raise the issue with Modi privately if evidence of Indian involvement is conclusive. Whether he has to raise the matter in Parliament, especially without presenting evidence, is another matter.
Canada’s trade with India has long been over-promised and under-delivered. Trade in goods in 2021 reached only $7.6 billion, and trade in services reached an additional $6.8 billion. Now, a trade mission has been canceled in October to try to end the life relationship.
However, as new Conservative MP Shuvaloy Majumder recently wrote: “India is the center of the new world of geo-politics, the center of gravity in the Indo-Pacific region.”
In its Indo-Pacific strategy, the Liberal government identified India as a “critical partner for Canada” and praised its “shared tradition of democracy.”
All the friction in the relationship, which goes back at least to the time of Trudeau’s father, stems from what an Indian government statement described as “the inaction” of successive Canadian governments when it came to Sikh extremism.
Canada has a proud tradition of freedom of speech and expression but that does not extend to organizing terror training camps. If that allegation is true, then Canada is indeed harboring terrorists.
If this government is playing with extremist elements in exchange for their votes, it does not deserve the office it holds.