PERHAPS THE CANADIAN high commissioner shut the door of his vehicle too hard. But relations between India and Canada had nosedived long before September 19 when the high commissioner was summoned and informed about the decision to expel a senior Canadian diplomat. The spiral continues: On September 21, India stopped visa services for Canadian citizens. All this has happened in between tit-for-tat travel advisories issued by the two countries. Matters are unlikely to stop here.
At the heart of the problem is the extraordinary claim made by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in parliament that Indian agents were responsible for the gunning down of a Khalistani terrorist in Surrey, British Columbia, this June. The statement came days after Trudeau’s second disastrous visit to India during the G20 Summit in New Delhi.
The dead man at the centre of the storm is Hardeep Singh Nijjar—held by Trudeau as an “innocent Canadian”—a designated terrorist under Schedule 4 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA). Nijjar, originally from Bhar Singh Pura village in Punjab’s Jalandhar district, was designated as a terrorist in July 2020. But much before that, he had a Red Corner notice issued by Interpol at the request of India in 2016. He was wanted for terrorism in India. One case pertained to the 2007 bombing of the Shingar Cinema in Ludhiana, Punjab, while another was about his role in the murder of a Hindu priest in the state. In 2020, there were two cases pending against him at Police Station (PS) Nurpur in district Rupnagar, Punjab, and at PS Kotwali in Patiala district. This was over and above the National Investigation Agency (NIA) wanting him to investigate his role in the terrorist group Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF). In 2013-14, well after he had moved to Canada, Nijjar had travelled to Pakistan to meet with Jagtar Singh Tara—a key accused in the assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh— to revive terrorism in Punjab. All these facts and the requests of the Government of India to extradite Nijjar fell on deaf ears of the Trudeau government.
There is, however, more than what meets the eye in the case of Nijjar and dozens of terror suspects and gangsters operating from Canada who are wanted in India. Nijjar’s case is particularly egregious for violations of Canadian laws.
When Nijjar landed in Canada in 1997, it was on the basis of a forged passport that described him as ‘Ravi Sharma’, an offence of sufficient gravity to have anyone deported from that country. But Nijjar was given a wide berth. After immigration authorities ruled that the evidence of persecution he cited for seeking asylum did not meet evidentiary standards, Nijjar married a Canadian citizen and sought citizenship. This happened 11 days after the immigration review went against him. This was part of the infamous ‘immigration wives’ racket used by people from Punjab who seek to settle in Canada. Even that did not lead to citizenship for Nijjar. Yet, in less than 10 years—by 2007—he acquired citizenship after violating Canadian laws.
This grisly record is, of course, of no consequence for Canadian authorities investigating Nijjar’s killing. Since June 18 this year, when he was gunned down, the Surrey Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have yet to disclose anything they have found in the investigation. The fact that Nijjar had a violent dispute with another former terrorist over the ownership of a printing press has been highlighted in the Canadian press. Ripudaman Singh Malik, 75, had a feud with Nijjar. Some claim this became aggravated after Malik—an accused in the bombing of Air India flight 182 in 1985—recanted his past. He was allowed to travel to India in 2019 and praised the Indian government for meeting the demands of the Sikh community in the country. He was gunned down in Surrey in 2022. It is, of course, too much to expect Trudeau to mention this in his outrageous claims in the Canadian parliament.
The reality, viewed from the vantage of Canadian politics, is very different. Trudeau’s party is in hot water for its mismanagement of the Canadian economy. From inflation to house prices and, in general, the nosedive in the Canadian economy, Trudeau’s Liberal Party (LP) is in hot water. The 2021 elections to parliament did not yield the results when Trudeau ordered the dissolution of the House elected in 2019. With 155 seats in a 338-member House, Trudeau has less than the 170 needed to form a government. In securing his government, Trudeau is dependent on support from the New Democratic Party (NDP) which is led by a Khalistani, Jagmeet Singh.
Justin Trudeau did not calculate the consequences of his actions and is instead taking a great nation down the rabbit hole with him. His pique at India has been obvious since his 2018 visit. But instead of analysing his missteps, the man has given a new dimension to individual anger
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In normal countries, foreign and security policies are shielded from the rough and tumble of daily politics. But this elementary rule has been thrown in the dustbin in the case of Trudeau and his party. Since 2015, LP and Trudeau in particular, are structurally dependent on the Khalistani vote. To this irrationality, there exists another compounded—biological— layer: Trudeau’s father—Pierre—was similarly antagonistic towards India. Trudeau Sr was prime minister when Khalistanis began organising themselves in Canada. During the time of his prime ministership (1980 to 1984), India faced the same stonewalling as it is facing under his son. Repeated requests to check the Khalistani menace fell on deaf ears. As now, it was said that Canada has freedom of expression and Canadian citizens could not be prevented from saying what they wanted. One could be forgiven for thinking the diplomatic fracas has genetic roots.
So far, Trudeau has not provided any evidence to back his claim that Indian agents are responsible for Nijjar’s killing. Canada’s Leader of Opposition, Pierre Poilievre, has openly said that no evidence was provided by Trudeau beyond the claim he made in parliament. He urged the prime minister to provide evidence about the case. The wording of Trudeau’s statement in parliament was quaint. He said, “Over the past number of weeks, Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar.”
How can allegations be credible even as they remain “potential”? This is all the more so in the case of a murder investigation. As noted earlier, three months have elapsed since Nijjar’s murder and the investigating agencies, Surrey Police and RCMP, are yet to say anything worthwhile on the subject, let alone take the case to court. And yet, Trudeau precipitated a diplomatic crisis by making claims that have little evidential value.
This has, however, not prevented Western commentators who write against India from giving credence to the statement. It is held that intelligence in such matters—on which Trudeau is allegedly relying—and evidence necessary for a conviction in a court have different standards. This is an argument of despair that violates one’s intelligence and is not worth pursuing beyond this point.
The fact is that Justin Trudeau is a spoilt dynast who did not calculate the consequences of his actions and is instead taking a great nation down the rabbit hole with him. His pique at India has been obvious since his 2018 visit. But instead of analysing his missteps, the man has given a new dimension to individual anger.
India’s response has been proportionate. But it has other— impersonal—issues to handle. Gangsters and terrorists operating in Punjab from Canadian soil are now a security menace. Security officials admit that terrorists in the Pir Panjal zone of Kashmir are getting active support from elements in Punjab. This has happened after security threats were neutralised in key parts of North and South Kashmir. This danger is too high for India to afford. The Centre must treat Overseas Citizens of India (OCI), especially those hailing from Punjab, with caution and, if necessary, suspend their OCI cards. Careless words of a spoilt dynast should not come in the way of securing India.