David Akin, reporting for Global News, says that “Indian government officials believe that the problem of Sikh extremism in Canada is a lot bigger than the Canadian government thinks it is.” That’s important because Mr Akin, a season, trusted journalist is saying Indian government officials, not Indian journalists of Canadian commentators. He adds, this time citing Canadian security sources, that “India believes that the Trudeau Liberals are too careless about allowing extremists to get involved with their party.” He reiterates the point that the RCMP was NOT responsible to vet the guest list for the Canadian High Commissioner’s gala dinner and Jaspal Atwal was invited “because a Liberal MP, Randeep Sarai, invited him and no Liberal politician or aid bothered” to check his bona fides. David Akin wonders out loud if the Atwal affair was just an “unforced error” of if Trudeau’s Liberals are turning a blind eye to extremists in exchange for the votes of the Sikh community.
I will repeat that I think all parties, Conservatives, Liberals and NDP, are guilty of being “careless” about cozying up to extremists. I explained how I thought Jason Kenney handled the issue properly; it should be clear that I believe that trying to lay off the blame for all this on to Surry MP Randeep Sarai is ducking both the real responsibility and the real problem.
The Indian government has been worried about Sikh extremists in Canada for
years decades; they have been worried about growing Sikh influence in Canadian politics; but the Indians kept their peace until Justin Trudeau arrived on the scene. What changed, I suspect, was his attendance at the Toronto Khalsa Day event in April 2017. He seemed to have reversed the long standing Canadian political policies of courting Indo-Canadian votes ~ and Indian politicians understood that ~ while avoiding any signs of supporting the Khalistan independence movement; instead he seemed to be endorsing Sikh separatism.
The Liberals have now tried to propagate the entirely ludicrous notion that, somehow, months ago, “rogue elements” in the Indian government removed Mr Atwal’s name from a persona non grata list because, somehow, magic I guess, they knew that, months later, he would be invited, by Canadian Liberals, to two events ~ one in Mumbai and one in New Delhi ~ and, thereby, embarrass Justin Trudeau! In fact the notion was spread by someone that Campbell Clark of the Globe and Mail described as “a senior official who spoke to journalists from several news organizations Thursday. (This writer was not one of them.) The unnamed official was described variously as a “senior Canadian official with knowledge of security issues” and a “senior security source within the Canadian government,” among other things. That indicates it was a public servant, not a politician, in the security domain … [but] … That’s remarkable, because public servants have to be careful about political spin operations. And also because senior national-security officials are usually loath to talk about the plotting of foreign entities. Typically, they’re unwilling to describe even egregious plots, especially to several reporters at a time, or point a finger of blame at another country.” It smells like political chicanery and it appears that someone persuaded a “senior Canadian official” (alleged to be Daniel Jean, his National Security and Intelligence Advisor, who is very senior, indeed) to do something
incredibly silly very improper … but then politicians and senior political staff can be very threatening generous with job offers persuasive. The end result of that, suggesting that the Indian government set Prime Minister Trudeau up, months in advance, is not going to do anything to repair Indo-Canadian relations. In fact it almost certainly made matters even worse; and it now smells like Trudeau corrupted (that is the right word) a senior civil servant in order to try to salvage a public relations disaster. What was he, what what anyone thinking? Was anyone thinking at all? Does anyone in the prime minister’s inner circle have the brains the gods gave to green peppers?
India matters. It is the world greatest democracy and a rising power in its own right. It is the only Asian counterbalance to and bulwark against China’s inexorable rise. Ever since 1948 Canada and India had a special relationship …
… even after the Air India bombing relations remained, at the very least, correct and were, generally, cordial. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has, very possibly, in just one week spent trying to use India as domestic political prop, undone seven decades of sincere friendship, cooperation and diplomacy.
But it must be noted that not everyone sees it that way. Evan Dyer, writing on the CBC News/Politics site, has a decidedly different view and said that “Rarely has the journalistic echo chamber rung more hollow than on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to India,” which is very true, and, he suggests that, “The reality is this trip drifted somewhat from Day 1, featured a few successes and one major self-inflicted wound with the presence of Jaspal Atwal, and ended in a surprisingly warm glow when the Trudeau government finally gave the Indians what they’d been waiting for all along … [but] … Had the trip begun with a bilateral summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ended with a family visit to the Taj Mahal, instead of the other way around, it might have avoided most of the issues that arose.” That is factual but it misses some key points. My Dyer acknowledges that Sikh separatism is a major policy and political concern for India but he fails to address the fact, and I assert it is a fact, that the Trudeau Liberals, unlike the Harper Conservatives and the Chrétien Liberals and Canadian governments going back to the 1940s, appears to be too cozy with the Khalistan independence movement. He also failed to address the problem of
using misusing a senior civil servant to try to solve a partisan political PR problem.
As I have said before, Canada needs to mend fences with India, or as the Times of India says, maybe it’s an opportune time to “reset” the relationship, “But it may take a long time to change perceptions [in India], particularly if Trudeau goes back to the same old after his return.” That, mending fences, resetting the relationship, call it what you will, should include Prime Minister Trudeau thinking long and hard about the value of multicultural tokenism in cabinet appointments …
… and he should be able and willing to, positively, assure his Indian counterpart that Canadian security officials have carefully reviewed the lives of his ministers and none are, in any way, supporting the Khalistan independence movement.* But I fear he will be unwilling because he will be unable to give those assurances. Some Indian politicians (and, one assumes, officials) have concerns; they cannot just be shrugged off as “none of our business, they’re in Canada now.” The same applies to Conservative and NDP politicians, including to Jagmeet Singh, himself. We do not want other countries being “soft” on Quebec separatism; we do not want Canadians to be too cozy with Sikh separatists. It may be difficult on a community, family and even personal level but it is the price of leadership.
In conclusion, and I sincerely hope this is the end of this matter for me: I’m not sure which is worse, the bumbling incompetence that allowed Jaspa Atwal to be photographed with Mme Gregoire Trudeau and the invitation to the gala, the cozying up to Sikh separatists in Canada, or the subversion of a senior civil servant and his mealy-mouthed attempt to lay the blame for the Trudeau PMO’s screw-ups on “rogue elements” in the Indian government. Each played into the other ~ in fact Sikh separatists are, now, congratulating the prime minister for his performance in India ~ and the sum of them all is that Canada is, at the end of Prime Minister Trudeau’s trip, a less trustworthy country than it was a week ago. We really do need a new, grown up prime minister.
* I thought about those words; it’s no one’s business if someone, even a minister, is, privately, sympathetic to this that or the other position or cause; but Canadian have a right to expect that ministers are, always, putting Canada first and doing that requires that ministers are 100% behind Canada’s foreign policy which is that we do support India’s national unity and that we do support India’s right to deal with its own internal affairs. That means that no minister may ever, in any way, show any signs of support for, say, Khalistan independence ~ even if they may, privately, want that ~ but in every moment of their lives they must be scrupulously neutral if not downright pro-India. If a minister cannot be, 100%, behind Canada’;s position then she or he must resign from cabinet. That’s one of the basic rules of cabinet government: every minister is fully supportive of every government policy … or they’re out.