Justin Trudeau's troubled history with India

Currently, Trudeau has been mired in controversy over charges of corruption back home in Canada. He has been subjected to investigation thrice by the Ethics Commissioner.
Justin Trudeau. (Photo | AP)
Justin Trudeau. (Photo | AP)

NEW DELHI: India’s relations with Canada have hit a diplomatic low. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s return from India after the G20 Summit earlier this month and his subsequent allegations against India’s involvement in the killing of Khalistani extremist Harminder Singh Nijjar (who was a Canadian citizen) in June stirred up a hornet's nest.

Diplomats were expelled from each other's country and Canada also reached out to the Five Eyes to pressurise India. His ratings on his home turf have plummeted to a low as a recent poll reveals that opposition leader Pierre Poililievre is the preferred PM with 40 per cent of Canadians favouring him in comparison to 31 per cent in favour of Trudeau.

Why is Trudeau sinking his reputation by aligning himself with Khalistani extremists? There are close to 7.7 lakh Sikhs in Canada, which constitute 2 per cent of the country’s total population and they hold significant political influence in Canada. Canadian Parliament has 18 Sikh MPs. Though not all Sikhs are radical in their approach, the ones who exercise deep influence over the community and also have deep pockets. They are said to be involved in organised crime and illicit activities. Trudeau seeks their support just for funds but also for vote-bank politics.

The association with Khalistani radicals isn’t new. Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, who was the 15th PM of Canada, had gone all out to provide a safe haven for radical supporters of Khalistanis in the 1980s when thousands of Sikhs migrated to Canada. These included Talwinder Singh Parmar who killed policemen in Punjab in 1981 before fleeing to Canada. India sought his extradition which Pierre refused.

On June 1st, 1985, Indian intelligence alerted Canada about a possible aircraft sabotage, which they ignored and exactly 23 days later, Air India Flight 182 (Kanishka) was blown up from Toronto to London killing 329 on board. This is considered the worst terrorist attack in Canada to date.

Unfortunately, Justin Trudeau carries his father’s legacy of supporting or rather seeking support from Khalistani extremists to vote bank politics.

The only time things improved between India and Canada was when Stephen Harper was the Prime Minister, and they nosedived again when Trudeau came to power as the 23rd PM of Canada.

He was sworn in as the Prime Minister in 2015 and first came to India three years later in 2018. His first India trip too was marred with controversy as his reception in Mumbai was attended by Jaspal Atwal, a Khalistani convicted in 1986 for attempting to murder Malkiat Singh Sidhu, a minister in the Punjab Government and also for assaulting former Premier of British Columbia, Ujjal Dosanjh. India was miffed with Jaspal’s attendance and cold-shouldered Trudeau who was accompanied by his wife and three children too. PM Modi met him on the sixth day of his arrival and voiced his displeasure and said there was no place for those who misuse religion. On the same trip, the then chief minister of Punjab Amrinder Singh refused to greet Trudeau in Amritsar, where he had gone to visit the Golden Temple.

Five years later, Trudeau came to India again, this time for the G20 Summit. Before he arrived in Delhi, he began to bicker about G20 not inviting Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskky. After arriving in Delhi, he courted controversy again as he defended the Khalistani extremists in Canada and their rights to protest `terming it as freedom of speech’. This naturally miffed India as there have been a series of instances in the past year where Khalistani extremists have spoken against India and desecrated temples which included graffiti on Hindu temples and rallies calling out to protest against India and even threatening the safety of Indian diplomats. Posters had appeared putting a bounty on the heads of Indian diplomats working in Canada.

India’s concerns and complaints at the official and diplomat levels yielded no results.

Meanwhile, Trudeau after finding little or no support in G20 was in the news again – as his aircraft developed a technical snag as a result of which he was the last leader to leave India. He refused to accept India’s offer of flying him out in a special aircraft which was kept on standby for him. He confined himself to his hotel room for the 36 hours that he had to stay back and refused to accept any courtesies extended by India. He left after his own aircraft was rectified. He got a lot of bad press back home in Canada too.

On returning to Canada, Trudeau stirred the hornet's nest and in Parliament made allegations against India stating that the government was involved in the killing of Khalistani extremist Harminder Singh Nijjar (who was a resident of Canada) who was found dead in June. He also went further to state that he had communicated the same to PM Modi, which PM Modi rubbished.

The fallout of this statement was unprecedented as Trudeau expelled an Indian diplomat, which was reciprocated in India. India went a step further and has stopped issuing visas to Canadians until further notice. The relations between the two nations have reached a diplomatic low and it is not a situation that will normalise soon.

India has also asked Canada to downsize its diplomatic strength in India in order to keep parity with the strength of Indian diplomats in Canada.

"Canadian diplomats are seen to interfere in our internal affairs," MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said recently.

Trudeau has always supported the Khalistani movement in Canada, primarily for vote bank politics. His party is funded by Khalistanis and he has also been a part of their rallies. The support of Khalistani’s runs in his family, as his father Pierre Trudeau who was the 15th Prime Minister of Canada was responsible for offering asylum and welcoming Khalistani hardliners into Canada when the Punjab problem was at its peak. The infamous Kanishka Aircrash also took place during his tenure.

When and whether diplomatic ties between India and Canada will normalise, only time will tell.

"If PM Trudeau was to come out and say that he didn’t imply India was responsible for the killing of Harminder Singh Nijjar, there could be a possible thaw," suggested an expert on India-Canada ties, adding that until then Indian citizens in Canada will be on tenterhooks and Canadians wanting to come to India will have to hold on to their plans for some more time.

Meanwhile, Trudeau has been mired in controversy over charges of corruption back home in Canada. He has been subjected to investigation thrice by the Ethics Commissioner.

Trudeau is merrily hosting his friend Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskky in Canada at present. He is pledging support to Ukraine, pretending to be oblivious to the challenges on his home turf!

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The New Indian Express