Chandigarh, Sep 30 (IANS) Canada does not recognise the recent unofficial Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) referendum to express support for a separate Sikh nation-state, Consul General of Canada in Chandigarh Patrick Hebert remarked on Friday.
On tackling Indian-origin gangsters in Canada linked to extreme levels of violence, he told IANS in an exclusive interview here that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has a close relationship with a number of agencies in India and will continue to work with them to ensure that criminals are not able to act with impunity.
On Canada's stand on SJF campaigns for an independence referendum to carve out a separate Khalistan state, Hebert replied firmly to IANS: 'Canada has made clear, on a number of occasions, that we respect the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of India. Canada does not recognize the recent unofficial Sikhs for Justice referendum.'
The US-based SFJ, a pro-Khalistan group, was banned by the Indian government in 2019 for its alleged anti-national activities.
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is the legal adviser of the group.
India last week took strong objection to Canada allowing a 'Khalistan referendum' to take place in Brampton, while calling it a farcical exercise held by extremists and radical elements.
On Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann seeking support from Canadian High Commissioner Cameron Mackay for nabbing the gangsters operating from Canadian soil, the Consul General, who is based in Chandigarh, said the RCMP has a close relationship with a number of agencies in India and will continue to work with them to ensure that criminals are not able to act with impunity, whether in Canada or India.
Responding to a question on growing trade relations between Canadian and the businesses in this region, Hebert said Saskatchewan-based company Clean Seed recently announced it had entered into a Letter of Intent with the Northern Farmers Producer Company Limited Mega Farmer Cooperative to market and distribute 1,000 smart seeder machines from 2023-2025 in both Punjab and Haryana, the prominent granary states.
With its multipurpose solutions such as managing straw and accurate seed and fertilizer placement in combination with the unique no-tillage practices, the smart seeder machines can bring a paradigm shift.
Hebert says both nations recognise the interest for direct flights between Punjab and Canada.
'This is an issue that Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann has raised with me directly. This is also an issue that has been raised by Indian Minister of Civil Aviation, Jyotiraditya Scindia, during a recent trip to Canada.'
'While I would personally welcome the direct flights between Punjab and Canada, at the end of the day this is a business decision that has to be made by airline companies, in line with the provisions of our bilateral air agreement,' the Consul General was responding to a question on demand by Punjab for more direct international flights connecting Amritsar and Chandigarh cities from Canadian destinations.
For him, there is a tremendous potential to grow the trade relations between Canada and the northern region, in particular Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
Saying Canada and India have long-standing bilateral relations built upon shared traditions of democracy, pluralism and, crucially, strong people-to-people ties, Hebert, who became the Consul General in Chandigarh in December last, told IANS that there is now a growing community of over 1.4 million Canadians of Indian origin who make an important contribution across Canada, many of whom are of Punjabi descent.
'The deep cultural and political ties between our two countries are strengthened by a growing network of official dialogues, agreements, memoranda of understanding and working groups.
'As we work to reinvigorate economic growth as we recover from the pandemic, we work closely together in a range of areas, including science and technology, finance, and education.
'We also share common interests in a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, and collaborate on joint priorities, such as climate change, and strengthening global trade.'
Without mincing words, he said: 'As the Consul General of Canada in Chandigarh, my role is to support partnerships with northern India, and make sure that we contribute to the broader ties between Canada and India for the benefit of people in both countries.a
Some of the key areas for potential trade growth include agriculture and agro-tech, clean technology and the digital industries.
'We work very closely with local trade associations, such as CII, TiE and NASSCOM, to support greater business and trade relations between Canada and the region. I work very closely with Canadian provinces, which have offices in India, and they are keen to expand their trade relations with local partners,' he said.
Saying the economic partnership is already robust, he said' 'I remain convinced that a free trade agreement between our countries would give a serious boost to both Canadian and Indian exporters and investors, and would be mutually beneficial for both countries.
'I am also in contact with several officials from state governments in the region to explore how we can grow our economic partnership in a way that is beneficial to all parties. Our role as officials is to identify opportunities for companies from both sides to come together and create those partnerships.'
Right now, the economic partnership between Canada and India is approximately C$100 billion. This includes C$70 billion in Canadian portfolio investment in India.
'However, I believe there is much room to grow our bilateral merchandise and service trade. In fact, the promotion of trade and investment was a key element of High Commissioner MacKay's visit in the region last June,' said the Consul General, who this month met the Chief Secretaries of both Haryana and Punjab separately.
Firmly believing that there is a lot of room to grow the trade relations, he said: 'A Canadian-India CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) will provide a number of advantages for the business community from both countries.
'It would also boost trade between two G20 trusted partners, and create more favourable conditions for our exporters, importers and investors.'
For Indian business in particular, he said, a CEPA will open up opportunities with a proven reliable commercial partner.
'Canada is a nation of free traders, as demonstrated by our 15 trade agreements, which cover 51 countries and nearly 1.5 billion consumers. Our experience has demonstrated that free trade agreements benefit both parties.
'This has been true for the Canada-United States-Mexico (CUSMA) agreement, the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).'
An optimistic Hebert added' 'I am confident that a Canada-India CEPA will also be beneficial for businesses in both countries.'
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at )