WASHINGTON: Having dropped a bombshell by alleging the Indian government was behind the assassination of a Khalistani extremist in Canada, the country’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said Ottawa was not looking to escalate matters with India even as Washington cautiously backed his demand for an investigation into the killing.
“We are not looking to provoke or escalate. We are simply laying out the facts as we understand them,” Trudeau told reporters Tuesday before a cabinet meeting, adding, “The government of India needs to take this matter with the utmost seriousness. We are doing that.”
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“We will remain calm. We’re going to remain grounded in our democratic principles and values, we’re going to follow the evidence,” Trudeau said, while explaining that “Canadians have a right to know and need to know when things are going on like this….and that’s why we made the decision (to go public with the allegations).”
Trudeau’s explosive allegations has stunned the diplomatic community across the world considering the sketchy nature of the charges. He told the Canadian Parliament on Monday that Canadian intelligence agencies were “actively pursuing credible allegations of potential links between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen.”
The Canadian Prime Minister was trolled relentlessly on social media for jumping the gun, purportedly with an eye on domestic political support, despite having failed to convince allies of the need to confront India. He reportedly tried to persuade the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to issue a joint statement condemning Khalistani extremist Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing as contravening international norms, but his counterparts advised raising the issue privately instead, which Ottawa now says he did.
After a sharp rebuke from New Delhi for allowing Khalistani extremists in Canada to threaten Indian officials and diplomatic property, Trudeau opted to go public, setting off a diplomatic firestorm that has now scorched bilateral relations and singed the broader partnership the US is trying to forge with New Delhi in an effort to contain China.
On Tuesday, the Biden White House joined Trudeau’s demand for an investigation, saying it is “deeply concerned” about the allegations and it is critical that “Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice.”
Australia too joined in saying it is “deeply concerned by these allegations and notes ongoing investigations into this matter” and “We are closely engaged with partners on developments. We have conveyed our concerns at senior levels to India.”
Trudeau’s bombshell came even as a Quebec judge appointed by the government began an independent public inquiry into allegations of attempted foreign interference in Canadian affairs by China and Russia, among others. Although India was not specifically part of its terms of reference, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said reviewing India’s actions are within the inquiry’s mandate. “Obviously these allegations are at a much more serious level,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ottawa has cancelled a much-anticipated trade mission to India scheduled for the second week in October. No explanation was offered for the cancellation.
India and Canada have modest bilateral trade of about $ 8 billion annually. In recent years, Canada has become the second most favored destination for Indian students after the United States. According to the Canadian Bureau of International Education, in 2022, their number rose 47% to nearly 320,000, accounting for about 40% of total overseas students. While they bring in revenue that helps Canada provide a subsidised education to domestic students, India, particularly Punjab, also benefits from remittances from the large Indian diaspora in Canada.