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From Canada stand on farm stir to protests by pro-Khalistan groups: The deepening rift

WHILE THE tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats marks a new low in India-Canada ties, there have been a series of diplomatic face-offs between the two countries over the last few years, especially after Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister in 2015.

While India has alleged inaction by the Canadian government against pro-Khalistan supporters, seen as the Trudeau government’s attempt to woo the Canadian-Sikh community, Canada has denied the charge.

Even at the G20 earlier this month, India expressed “strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada”.

n In February 2018, Trudeau’s week-long trip to India ran into trouble after it was revealed that Jaspal Atwal — a former member of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), a pro-Khalistan outfit that was banned in Canada and designated a terrorist organisation in 2003 – was invited to two events organised for Trudeau, in Mumbai and Delhi.

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Atwal was earlier convicted in an attempt to murder case after then Punjab minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu was shot at on Vancouver Island, during a visit to Canada in 1986. Atwal and three others were sentenced to 20 years in jail, but he was released early for good conduct.

As photographs of the Mumbai reception showed Atwal with Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and a Canadian minister, the Indian government’s frosty behaviour was evident during the visit. The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi later said it had rescinded the invitation to the reception in the Capital.

n In December 2020, Trudeau expressed support for the farmers protesting against the farm Bills. India responded sharply against the “ill-informed comments” on the “internal affairs of a democratic country”.

Speaking to Canadian-Sikh community leaders at an online event, Trudeau had said: “I would be remiss if I didn’t start by recognising the news coming from India about the protest by farmers. The situation is concerning. We are all very worried about family and friends… Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protesters.  We’ve reached out through multiple means to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns.”

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The Ministry of External Affairs had reacted sharply: “We have seen some ill-informed comments by Canadian leaders relating to farmers in India. Such comments are unwarranted, especially when pertaining to the internal affairs of a democratic country. It is also best that diplomatic conversations are not misrepresented for political purposes.”

India also summoned the Canadian High Commissioner and conveyed that the comments constituted an “unacceptable interference” in the country’s internal affairs, and such actions would have a “seriously damaging” impact on bilateral ties.

n In February-March this year, India lodged a protest with Canada over actions of “separatist and extremist elements” against Indian diplomatic missions and consulates. The MEA summoned the Canadian High Commissioner and conveyed India’s “strong concern” over the attacks. “The Government of India sought an explanation on how such elements were allowed, in the presence of police, to breach the security of our diplomatic mission and consulates,” the MEA said.

India also reminded the Canadian government of its obligations under the Vienna Convention, and asked it to arrest and prosecute the individuals “who have already been identified as being involved in such acts”, the MEA said.

khalistan nijjar A photograph of Hardeep Singh Nijjar is seen on a banner outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib in Surrey, British Columbia, on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. (Photo: AP)

On March 19, a dinner in British Columbia’s Surrey organised by ‘Friends of Canada and India Foundation’ for Indian High Commissioner to Canada Sanjay Kumar Verma had to be cancelled following violent protests by pro-Khalistan supporters.

n In July this year, India sent out a strongly-worded message to the Canadian government on posters by pro-Khalistan groups inciting violence against senior Indian diplomats. The posters had surfaced ahead of a “rally” organised by Khalistani groups.

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“In the name of freedom of expression, we should not be giving space to those who advocate violence or propagate separatism or legitimise terrorism… the posters inciting violence against our diplomats and our diplomatic premises abroad are unacceptable and we condemn them in the strongest terms,” the MEA had said.

“It is a matter of concern that freedom of expression and speech is once again being misused by anti-India elements based in Canada and elsewhere. We continue to press the Canadian side to ensure that our diplomats can carry out their normal functions without fear or intimidation,” it had said. India had summoned the Canadian envoy in New Delhi and issued a demarche.

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At that time, Trudeau had said that Canada has always taken “serious action” against terrorism. He said it was “wrong” to believe that his government was soft on Khalistan supporters. His remarks came two days ahead of a proposed pro-Khalistan rally outside the Indian High Commission in Ottawa on July 8.

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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