By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
Colombo, September 18: Domestic political compulsions that make Canadian politicians bow to the demands of the Sikh and Tamil Diaspora have strained Ottawa's relations with India and Sri Lanka.
Disregarding this, ruling parties in Canada have glibly justified the indulgence they show to these communities on the grounds that
they cannot deny them the democratic right to protest against rights violations in their countries of origin. The view that these groups question the integrity and sovereignty of the countries of origin is not taken into account. The impact of that on Canada's interests vis-à-vis these countries is ignored.
The Sikh and Sri Lankan Tamil communities in Canada are large. The Sikhs are over 770,000 and the Sri Lankan Tamils about 240,000. Their concentration in certain areas makes them solid vote banks that political parties will ignore at their peril.
In the case of the Sikhs, the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh separatist, has 25 members in parliament on whom the Justin Trudeau government is dependent for survival.
Canadian political parties turn a blind eye to provocative demonstrations and depredations of the Khalistanis (advocates of a Sikh separatist movement in Indian Punjab) and the demands of the Eelamists (advocates of a separate Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka). As a corollary, a
deaf ear is turned to protests by New Delhi and Colombo.
The G20 summit in New Delhi held from September 9 to 10 was witness to a highly visible standoff between the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau over the Khalistan issue.
The other issue bedevilling Indo-Canadian relations is“foreign intervention” in Canadian politics. The suspected“interventionists” are Russia, China and India. According to Jody Thomas, Trudeau's National Security Adviser,“India has been a top source of foreign interference in Canada.”
It is undeniable that New Delhi seeks to counter pro-Khalistani separatist tendencies among Canadian Sikhs and their collaboration with Pakistan which have an impact on the Sikhs in India, threatening India's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
On September 7, the Trudeau government established an inquiry commission to go into“interference” by Russia, China and“and other powers” in Canadian elections of 2019 and 2021. The Quebec Court of Appeal Justice, Marie-Josée Hogue, was appointed Inquiry Commissioner.
Canada had also started denying visas to Indian security forces personnel who were posted in troubled Jammu and Kashmir.
The Trudeau government also said that it was putting on hold discussions on an Indo-Canadian Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
At the Indo-Canadian bilateral at the G20 summit, India conveyed its“strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada.”
The Indian External Affairs Ministry accused
Canada of“promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship.”
“The nexus of such forces with organized crime, drug syndicates and human trafficking should be a concern for Canada as well. It is essential for the two countries to cooperate in dealing with such threats,” the Indian statement said.
But Trudeau would not give in. He said:“Canada will always defend freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and freedom of peaceful protest and it is extremely important to us. At the same time, we are always there to prevent violence and to push back against hatred. It is important to remember that the actions of the few do not represent the entire community or Canada. The flip side of it, we also highlighted the importance of respecting the rule of law and we did talk about foreign interference.”
“Diaspora Canadians make up a huge proportion of our country, and they should be able to express themselves and make their choices without interference from any of the many countries that we know are involved in interference challenges.”
But the fact is that successive Canadian governments have given the Khalistanis a run of the place since the early 1980s.
Veteran Canadian journalist, Terry Milewski, says in his book Blood for Blood: Fifty Years of the Global Khalistan Project (Harper Collins India) that the investigation into the 1985 bombing of an Air India flight by Khalistani separatists was scuttled by a biased Canadian judiciary.
Moderate Canadian Sikh leader Ujjal Dosanjh, a Premier of British Columbia and a Federal Health Minister, was brutally assaulted by a Khalistani, Jaspal Atwal, in Vancouver. But Atwal, a member of the International Sikh Youth Federation, was freed on a technicality. He later went on to shoot an Indian Punjab cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu, on Vancouver Island, in 1986. Though convicted, Atwal was in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's delegation that visited India in 2018. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Atwal was invited to the reception at the request of Liberal MP Randeep Sarai, one of 14 MPs who paid their own way to take part in Trudeau's official visit.
Khalistanis thrashed Balraj Deol of the Hindu-Sikh Forum in Toronto.
One of his unpunished attackers, Kulwinder Singh Malhi, went to a Pakistani training camp, crossed over to India. In July 1987 Malhi was involved in the killing of 38 Hindu bus passengers near Lalru village in Punjab, according to South Asia Monitor. He was later shot dead by the police in India.
The man who plotted the horrific bombing of the Air India plane off Ireland which killed 331 passengers, Talwinder Singh Parmar, was sheltered by Canada. The Canadian government refused to extradite him to India. Eventually, Parmar sneaked into India from Pakistan but was shot dead by the Punjab Police. Khalistanis in Canada eulogized Parmar while the Canadian authorities looked the other way.
More recently, Khalistanis took out a procession in a Canadian town, Brampton, with a float representing the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two Sikh gunmen in 1984. As usual, Indian protests to the Canadian government fell on deaf ears. Canada said that it would not bar its citizens from expressing their views unless they indulged in violence.
In May 2022, Canada's Parliament made May 18 the day to commemorate the“genocide of Tamil people in Sri Lanka.” Liberal party Tamil MP Gary Anandasangaree had put forward the motion. Canada became the first national Parliament in the world to create such a day.
Reacting to it, the then Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G. L. Peiris summoned Amanda Strohan, the Acting High Commissioner of Canada to the Foreign Ministry, and handed over a demarche saying that the Lankan government rejected the motion because it was not based on any finding about a“genocide” in Sri Lanka.
Peiris said that genocide was a technical term which had to be used with caution. According to the Canadian Encyclopaedia:“Genocide is the intentional destruction of a particular group through killing, serious physical or mental harm, preventing births and/or forcibly transferring children to another group.”
“This term has been applied to the experiences of Indigenous people in Canada, particularly in the final reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry” (See: The Canadian Encyclopedia – urged the Canadian Government to take appropriate action to correct the fallacies contained in the motion, but to no effect.
In May 2023, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry summoned the Canadian High Commissioner and registered a strong protest over Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's“Tamil Genocide” comment on the 14th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka.
“Our thoughts are with the victims, survivors, and their loved ones, who continue to live with the pain caused by this senseless violence,” Trudeau said.“The stories of Tamil-Canadians affected by the conflict – including many I have met over the years in communities across the country – serve as an enduring reminder that human rights, peace, and democracy cannot be taken for granted,” Trudeau had said.
“Canada will not stop advocating for the rights of the victims and survivors of this conflict, as well as for all in Sri Lanka who continue to face hardship,” he added.
Sri Lanka's Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Trudeau's statements, asserting that they contained outrageous claims of genocide relating to past conflicts in the country.
“Sri Lanka urges Canada and its leaders to refrain from making pronouncements from Canada which promote hatred, misinformation and extremist views and to cease its unhelpful focus on Sri Lanka based on distorted facts,” the Foreign Ministry said in a protest note.
But such pleas have had no effect on the powers-that-be in Canada.