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India-Canada Row Over Khalistani Terrorist: ‘Worst period ever in bilateral relations’

Speaking exclusively with Asianet Newsable's Gargi Chaudhry, Ritesh Malik, National Convener- Canada India Foundation, expressed concern over the escalating tensions between India and Canada after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged India’s involvement in the killing of a “Khalistani terrorist”.

Niijar Killing Exclusive Interview with Canada India Foundation National Convener Ritesh Malik gcw
First Published Sep 25, 2023, 1:02 PM IST

The remarks made by Justin Trudeau in the Canadian Parliament, accusing India of being behind the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia, has taken the India-Canada-India relations to the ‘worst period’ ever.

Canada has yet to present any evidence in public of Indian involvement in the June killing of Nijjar. Speaking exclusively with Asianet Newsable, Ritesh Malik, National Convener- Canada India Foundation, expressed concern over the escalating tensions between India and Canada after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged India’s involvement in the killing of a “Khalistani terrorist”.

Here are some excerpts from the interview: 

  • What do you think of the allegations levelled against India?

First of all, at this stage, they are just that – allegations. And allegations cannot be described as ‘credible’. Our Prime Minister has chosen to take a very public posture on these allegations. Many international experts have questioned this line of action. We would have preferred to see a more diplomatic and thoughtful approach to this sensitive issue. Let the investigations continue and take it to its logical conclusions. More recently, we have seen news of another terror-linked individual killed in Canada, claimed by yet another criminal/terrorist resident in Canada, and wanted in India.

  • How do you see Justin Trudeau's claims impacting his country's ties with India?

It has already taken a beating, and some describe it as the ‘worst period’ ever in Canada-India relations. We have already seen the tit-for-tit actions from both sides. This is very unfortunate. A very promising trade deal stays off track now following Canada’s decision to call off a critical trade mission to India in October. This mission, according to our information, had the potential to iron out the last few remaining hurdles and finalize an early harvest agreement. Now it seems unlikely.

  • Why is the Trudeau government hesitant to act on India’s concerns about Khalistani elements on its soil?

This is not a new phenomenon. Minority government dynamics may have been at play here. Canada has for some time become a haven for separatist elements, from not just India, but other territories too. 

Unfortunately, our charter of rights is interpreted to be protective of such elements as long as they seek refuge in Canada and peacefully do their political work. It just so happens due to some historical reasons, Khalistanis happen to wield a great deal of political clout. 

There is also a mistaken impression among mainstream Canadian politicians that all Sikhs support these elements. As you know, most of the Sikh population in Canada has no issue with India. They are quite happy to live and thrive in Canada while staying emotionally connected to their roots in India.

  • Indo-Canadian Hindus are now being openly threatened in Canada. What is the situation there?

Let me make it clear that overall, Indo-Canadians live in mutual harmony with fellow Canadians. The threat is coming from just one extremist group. Yes, that is very disturbing. What is even more frustrating for most of us is that even after such open threats that clearly violate the charter protections, no action has been taken against the group or individuals associated with it. I am sorry to say that they may even have implicit or explicit support from some politicians. 

The Indo-Canadian community, for the most part, is not scared by such violent rhetoric, as the intercommunity links are very strong here. We stay largely united and a tiny faction of troublemakers will not be able to create divisions within Indo-Canadian communities in Canada. Nonetheless, some of the community members do feel uneasy and we would like to see our leaders respond strongly to these threats, by openly naming the group that makes the threats.

  • How is the visa suspension going to impact Indians?

It already has created great anxiety among the Indo-Canadians. First and foremost, winter is the preferred time for people here to travel to India for family reunions, and weddings and the seniors take time off from the harsh Canadian winters. So, yes, it will upset many plans. We are not clear at this juncture whether OCI holders will be also equally affected. And what happens in emergencies? We believe India has its own reasons to revisit and filter some visitors to their country based on national security concerns. Against increased threats from abroad, we can understand that stance. It is our earnest wish, however, that India puts in place at the earliest a system that takes care of its security requirement while opening the window to a large number of people eager to visit their home country.

  • How can relations between Canada and India normalise?

As an organization dedicated to building a strong Canada-India bilateral relationship, the recent events have been painful for us. At the same time, we accept that in democracies, and we are both strong democracies, there will be times when certain issues and electoral politics play a negative role. 

Despite the tension between the two governments, we believe that we need to maintain the goodwill created in the past decades. There are enormous opportunities for both Canada and India to be partners rather than adversaries. There are far too many common interests that bind us including the recently proposed Indo-Pacific strategy than what divides us. 

We are very optimistic that we will go past this serious setback and be on the path to a mutually respectful and productive relationship soon. That is the very least we expect both sides to do for the sake of all the people in Canada and in India. Canada India Foundation can play a great role in facilitating discussions that will help bring things back to normal.


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