I’ve taken my time in commenting on the prime minister’s trip to India. To say that I’m very disappointed is to put it mildly … I’m disappointed and a little embarrassed to be a Canadian. But the Trudeaus playing “Mr Dressup and Family” in exotic locations on the taxpayers’ dime isn’t the problem. We have, in fact, a serious problem as far as India is concerned and we, Canada, one of India’s oldest and firmest friends is in danger of being seen as an adversary. That’s a problem and it is, in my mind, a HUGE problem for Canada.
As Vishnu Prakash, former Indian envoy to Canada, told Indian news site The Print on Monday, ““Over the years, the Canadian political establishment, across the spectrum (whether it is the NDP, Conservatives or Liberals) has been mollycoddling Khalistani elements. Under the Trudeau government, this has increased. He had himself appeared on a Khalistani platform in Toronto in April last year.” It, the “mollycoddling Khalistani elements,” has been going on since at least the 1980s, back when Indira Ghandi’s government cracked down (1984) and nearly provoked a civil war and even in 1985 when Air India flight 182 was bombed, almost certainly an attack organized by Canadians, in Canada, as retaliation. Then the governments of the day spent 20 years and over $100 million on an investigation that retired Supreme Court Justice John Major described as a “cascading series of errors” by the government, writ large, including, especially, the RCMP and CSIS. India was not impressed.
India was less impressed when Canadian political parties began to actively court the Canadian the entire Indo-Canadian community but failed to condemn Sikh separatism. Canadians, including Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau have “explained,” correctly, that people are allowed to support unpopular causes here in Canada, so long as they don’t break our laws, but India, not unreasonably, given Canada’s own history of separatist violence, would like something more. But the Sikh vote is active and “efficient” and all parties want it and that seems, to India, anyway, to mean turning a blind eye to the (disputed)
fact assertion that the Khalistan independence movement is centred in and funded from Canada … Prime Minister Trudeau made thing worse, according to The Hindu, when “On April 30,  Mr. Trudeau addressed a parade for ‘Khalsa Day’, which included floats glorifying Sikh militant leaders Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Amreek Singh and former General Shahbeg Singh who were killed in the siege of the Golden Temple and Operation Bluestar in June 1984.” That act appears to have crossed a line, leading to what the whole world is now interpreting as a major diplomatic snub, but the same paper gives this “reading” of Prime Minister Trudeau’s reaction:
A few points, in random order:
- Canadians, regardless of race or creed, have a right to support unpopular causes;
- India matters ~ almost as much as China, which also mildly snubbed Justin Trudeau for being too forward in his ambitions ~ too big for his boots. India is a rising power and an important trading partner. Indian sensitivities matter, too and I suspect his quip about having more Sikhs in his cabinet than India’s prime minister does did not go over well;
- Separatists are separatists and, in Indian eyes, Justin Trudeau in 2017 looked at lot like Charles de Gaulle in 1967;
- Canadians of Sikh origin are a large, sophisticated and politically active community ~ their votes matter in . Canada and it is not wrong to court them; and
- Actions, even domestic political campaign actions, have consequences.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with politicians chasing “money and the ethnic vote,” as Jacques Parizeau so infamously put it. Everyone does it, even in India, and Prime Indian Minister Singh received Prime Minister Harper warmly in 2012 despite the fact that the Conservatives had been cozying to up Sikh-Canadians even more than the Chrétien and Martin Liberals had:
I appears, to me, that Justin Trudeau’s appearance at one event, the April 2017 Khalsa Day parade in Toronto, may have been a step too far … possibly a big step too far.
We, Canadians, are deluding ourselves, and we have been deluding ourselves for decades, if we think that Sikh separatists are any different than Québec separatists. We put troops in the streets in 1970, just as Indira Gandhi did in 1984, for what the government of the day (Pierre Trudeau) decided were good and valid reasons … we virtually expelled Charles de Gaulle in 1967 for fuelling the flames of separatism. We saw separatists as a serious, internal, domestic threat to our national security and to our very existence as a country; and that is how India, not unreasonably, sees Sikh separatism today. Should we blame them? As I have mentioned, “disinformation warfare” (sometimes called influence operations) is real and dangerous and I have no doubt that Prime Minister Trudeau’s attendance at the Khalsa Day parade was well publicized by Sikh separatists and was interpreted by some Indians as something close to tacit approval of the Khalistan independence movement; India might have been justified in regarding the act as overtly hostile. We must not be surprised that India takes its separatist threat seriously and we may even wonder a bit at how polite and diplomatic Prime Minister Modi is in even agreeing to meet Prime Minister Trudeau at all after the April 2017 event.
This is not the first time that South Asian conflicts and Canadian partisan politics have collided. We should remember the ethnic Tamil uprising against the Sinhalese-majority government in Sri Lanka just a few years ago … both Conservative and Liberals politicians were guilty of getting too close to the Tamils. But until 2016 it appeared, to me, that prime ministers usually listened to the advice of the Privy Council Office’s national security and intelligence staff when they said that this, that or the other group was problematical and should be avoided … now it seems vote buying outweighs good policy.
The big issue is not the rather gentlemanly snub of Justin Trudeau by India’s highest officials; our prime minister appears more interested in having an all expenses paid vacation with his family than in doing the nation’s business in any event; the real issue is the Canadian political actions that made it politically necessary for Prime Minister Modi to administer that snub at all.
What Canada needs to do now is repair relations with India, and that may require Prime Minister Trudeau to look very, very closely at any ties any of his ministers may have with the Khalistan independence movement, he says there are none, and either making them sever all ties with separatists or severing them from the Liberal cabinet, caucus and even the Party. Andrew Scheer needs to do the same with the Conservatives and Jagmeet Singh needs to speak out for national unity ~ if it’s good for Canada then it’s good for India, too. On this issue, at least, politics should indeed, stop at the water’s edge.