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What went wrong between Canada and India?

Opinion by Devinder Singh

Has India arrived at the world scene? Is the rising India, after the significant achievements at G20 recently, too much for the dominant West to digest? Or is it sending the successful mission on the moon was not expected from a poor country like India or is it revenge for not supporting the West in the Ukraine-Russia war, as a result of which the West is ganging up against India.

Justin Trudeau’s bombshell just after he came from India after spending two extra days in New Delhi due to technical issues on his flight put India Canada relations in a tight spot. Western media has always highlighted any negative news story coming out of India, be it an accident, corruption, poverty or the likes. But if they have to report on any positive story, it is always either a one liner or tucked away in the corner of the newspaper.

Unfortunately, after 76 years of India’s independence, India is not the country it used to be – weak and dependent on western aid. Tables have turned and India has risen. Today, India is ranked as 5th largest economy in the world while Canada ranks 9th. India’s population has an upper hand while Canada depends on India for immigration. In 2022, there were as many as 319,000 Indian students, bringing in majority of the $15.3 billion from international students, according to the federal immigration department thus stimulating the Canadian economy. India too is dependent on Canada as it imports large quantities of Canola oil and lentils, which is a staple food in India. Briefly, the trade between the two countries have been strong, with a total export for India totaling $2.99 billion in 2021.

So why did Trudeau have to risk such a friendly relationship? His ‘credible information’ statement in Parliament has come as a shock to not only Canadians but also the international media. Opposition Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre grilled the Prime Minister in Parliament on the allegations. “The prime minister needs to come clean with all the facts. We need to know all the evidence possible so that Canadians can make judgments on that”.

Last Monday, Trudeau alleged in Parliament that Indian agents were involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot in the parking lot of a Gurdwara in Surrey in June this year, of which he was the president.

While he was a Canadian citizen, India called him a terrorist who had been involved in killing of six people in Ludhiana at a bomb blast. It was also reported in the media that Nijjar was also involved in training terrorists and videos have surfaced after his death of him, training terrorists and flaunting guns like AK 47, somewhere in BC.

Trudeau’s statement seemed to have emboldened the Sikh separatists in Canada who have now come out openly threatening India and others, who do not support their cause. In a video circulated last week, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, of Justice for Sikhs group based in New York, called for Indian Hindus to “go back to India,” accusing them of “working against the same country” that they economically benefit from. Pannun is declared as a terrorist by India and also has an Interpol red notice against him. However, only a handful of demonstrators are showing up at Khalistan rallies around Canada, most of them with their faces covered, for fear of repercussion and others are international students who are paid to hold Khalistan flags. Parents in India have to be careful when they send their children to Canada to study or work as it will not be difficult to get embroiled in communal politics, in return for food and lodging.

Last year, Rupinder Singh Mallik, who was acquitted in the 1985 Air India twin bombings, was killed on July 14 in Surrey, B.C, almost in a similar fashion as Nijjar.  The community believes that Mallik was killed by Nijjar’s men, who later took revenge with Nijjar’s killing. Reports have it that Mallik was planning to prop Nijjar’s competitors in the upcoming gurdwara elections. Both Nijjar and Mallik are known to be involved in organized crime in Canada including trafficking drugs, thus contributing to the prevailing opioid crises in the country. Was Gurdwara politics at play here as Gurdwaras in Canada are a huge source of income and power in the community? There are also allegations that money from just a few of the Khalistani supported Gurdwaras go towards supporting the Liberal political party. However, allegations cannot be proved in the courts of law and we will have to wait for investigative reports to come in, as Trudeau has not divulged any evidence. Yet it cannot be ignored that Nijjar already had death threats against him and had been warned by CSIS. Providing security to anyone within Canada is not India’s responsibility but the police agencies of Canada. They definitely failed to protect their ‘Canadian citizen’.

Despite not showing any ‘credible evidence’, Trudeau went ahead to create rift with India. This was a big political decision on his behalf and to believe that he wasn’t aware that this will not come back to bite him, is unbelievable.  Why did he take that risk? After coming home after the G20 meeting, where Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, brought up the Khalistan issue with him, opposition parties were waiting to question Trudeau’s government on a number of issues like inflation, housing crises, increase in bank interests along with foreign interference from China during 2019 and 2021 elections. His statement changed the course of question period and ironically, none of the members of Parliament, asked any questions. Yet another school of thought is that Trudeau’s is a lame government, dependent on NDP, led by known Khalistani supporter Jagmeet Singh. Trudeau had no choice but to appease his supporters and he went ahead and laid the blame on India, without concrete evidence.

The Sikh community in Canada form mere 2 per cent of the population. Was it his aim to appease this vote bank? But then South Asians form a total of 7 per cent of the population. Out of the 2 per cent Sikhs, just a fraction of them are supporters of Khalistan. Unfortunately, Trudeau seemed to have ignored the rest of the 6 per cent of the population, which is today seething in anger. Trudeau’s statement seemed to have painted all Sikhs in Canada with the same brush, a fact either deliberately ignored by him or he lacks the knowledge about the community and certainly needs to attend classes to understand the South Asian community.

While India has strongly denied any hand in killing Nijjar and has repeatedly said that it will cooperate in investigation, if evidence is provided, Indian media is going all out to defame Canada and Trudeau’s government, at times with false information, creating fear among the relatives of Indo-Canadians back in India.

Yet another gaffe in Parliament last week where speaker of the House, Anthony Rota called a Nazi war criminal living in Canada for decades, a ‘hero’, brought the spotlight on Canadian immigration system. While Rota apologized and resigned immediately, the harm had been done. Hunka, now 98 years old, belonged to a voluntary unit that was under the command of the Nazis and accused of killing a number of Jews. Like Nijjar, he too had moved to Canada on the basis of fake documents.

This episode, so close to the Nijjar one, exposed Canada as a safe haven for criminals, including those with red alerts on Interpol, who are allowed to emigrate based on fake documents. However, thanks to Trudeau statement, India has become alert and is now cracking down on Khalistani terrorists and their supporters on its soil, trying to nip the problem in the bud.

It cannot be denied that India and Canada are Frick and Frack and need to get their relations on track as soon as possible. Unfortunately, while the two countries work their differences and play the blame game, it is the common man who is suffering as India has stopped issuing visas to Canadian citizens. Many Indo-Canadians have booked tickets to go back to India to attend weddings or celebrate festivals, which are just round the corner. Now they are in a dilemma as tickets have been bought, relatives informed and bags packed but no visa. Airlines may or may not return their money. For years India has been sending lists of wanted terrorists to Canada but to no avail. Canada refuses to cooperate and has been issuing visas to wanted extremists, who have reportedly been entering Canada on fake passports and documents. Simranjeet Singh Mann, an Akali Dal MP, has admitted in an interview that he gives out letters to anyone who pays to issue false statements that they are being persecuted by Punjab Police for being Khalistan supporters to get Canadian visas.

Canada and other western countries’ turning a blind eye to the Khalistan movement have to realize that when you breed snakes, there is no guarantee that it will not bite its owner. It is a well-known fact that the Congress created Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale in the 70s to win elections and Indira Gandhi was killed by one of her own breeds. Same for Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan, which was created by Pakistan to terrorize India but now is working against Pakistan government and is responsible for a number of blasts within the country. Same for Osama-Bin-Laden who was alleged to be protégé of CIA, who went ahead and killed more than 3000 Americans during the worst terrorism incident in history on 9/11. Someone said it right – you reap what you sow!

Disclaimer: Devinder Singh is an independent writer. Views expressed in the writeup are independent and ANM doesn't share any responsibilities   for these

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