Tensions over Khalistani groups, interference operations mark Trudeau-Modi meet at G-...

Tensions over Khalistani groups, interference operations mark Trudeau-Modi meet at G-20

Both sides issue statements highlighting differences over the issues, PM Modi says extremists in Canada inciting anti-India violence and secession

India’s concerns over “anti-India” Khalistani violence in Canada, and Canadian concerns over “foreign interference” from India, were part of what appeared to be a tense and testy meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in New Delhi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit on Sunday. In readouts of the meeting, delivered by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in a statement and by Mr. Trudeau in a press conference at the Bharat Mandapam’s International Media Centre, both highlighted their differences.

Mr. Modi conveyed “strong concerns” about “extremist elements in Canada” to PM Trudeau, the MEA statement said. “They are promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship,” it said adding that the groups had a nexus with organised crime, drug syndicates, and human trafficking. “It is essential for the two countries to cooperate in dealing with such threats,” it added.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trudeau said he had raised the issue of “foreign interference” in Canadian elections, which his government has accused intelligence agencies of India and other countries of. The issue has snowballed in the Canadian Parliament, after Canadian National Security Advisor (NSA) Jody Thomas said in June that a report had found a number of “state actors and proxies” for countries including China, India, Iran, and Russia involved in influencing national politics and elections. Mr. Trudeau said he also discussed India’s concerns over Khalistani groups.

“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,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters, and said the actions of a “few” did not represent the whole community or country. “The flip side of it, we also highlighted the importance of respecting the rule of law and we did talk about foreign interference,” he added.

The two leaders, who last held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-7 plus Summit in Germany in May 2022, have failed to restore ties that have been in a freeze over a number of issues, including India raising concerns over Khalistani extremism in Canada, violence and vandalism against the Indian diaspora, and Canadian criticism of the Modi government’s handling of the Farm Bill protests. Most recently, Canada conveyed its decision to India to put trade ties and the ongoing Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on a “pause”, and it was also significant that neither side spoke of the resumption of FTA talks after the leaders met.

In the run-up to the G-20 Summit, Mr. Trudeau had also ruffled feathers in Delhi, when he spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and expressed disappointment that New Delhi had “excluded” him from the summit.

Even the meeting between the two Prime Ministers has caused some comment, as despite a request from the Canadian side, PM Modi’s office had not scheduled a time for the bilateral until late on Saturday. PM Trudeau also skipped the official banquet hosted by President Draupadi Murmu on Saturday for what he called “scheduling reasons”. When asked by several reporters about the “awkward” and “strained” ties between the two Prime Ministers, especially after a video from Sunday morning’s Rajghat event appeared to show Mr. Trudeau “pulling his hand away” from PM Modi, Mr. Trudeau said he would let journalists “read it” as they wished to, but added that he had a “good relationship” with PM Modi and they had “always been able to discuss difficult issues” between them.

“We recognise India is an extraordinarily important economy in the world and partner for Canada on everything from fighting climate change to growth and prosperity – for all of our citizens. There’s always a lot of work to do and we will continue to do it,” Mr. Trudeau added.

Mr. Trudeau faced more awkward moments a little later when he left for the Delhi airport, to find his flight had to be cancelled due to technical issues on board his plane.

“These issues are not fixable overnight, our delegation will be staying in India until alternate arrangements are made,” the Canadian PM’s office said in an official statement.

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