Events involving Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the G20 summit in New Delhi last week indicate that India-Canada relations have descended to a new low.

Chances of the relationship emerging from the trough appear to be slim because of the Khalistan factor in Canadian politics.

The Khalistan issue is intractable because in Canada’s fractious politics, both the ruling Liberals and the opposition Conservatives are wooing the Khalistani lobby represented by the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Jagmeet Singh. In fact, Trudeau’s Liberal party is in power thanks to the NDP, which supplies 24 critical votes to Trudeau in parliament.

The Sikhs are a significant community in Canada numbering 1.4 million.

The other issues bedevilling Indo-Canadian relations are (1) Canada’s liberal definition of democratic rights and (2) the perceived “foreign intervention” in Canadian politics.

Besides Russia and China, India is also seen to be interfering in Canadian domestic politics.

The ruling Liberals as well as the Conservatives share these concerns giving New Delhi little room for manoeuvre. In fact, the Liberal Trudeau government sees India as a “major offender” charging India of interfering in the politics of the Sikhs in Canada. 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 of Punjab, threatening India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Trudeau had said that if he's granted a face-to-face meeting with Indian Prime Minister Modi, he'll bring up the issue of foreign interference.

"As always, we will emphasize how important the rule of law is," Trudeau said at a news conference in Singapore.

On September 7, the Trudeau government established an inquiry commission to go into “interference” by Russia, China and “and other powers” in Canadian elections in 2019 and 2021.

The Minister of Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs, Dominic LeBlanc, announced that Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue will serve as the inquiry commissioner.

In the midst of this, Vivek Katju, a retired Indian diplomat, revealed that Canada rejects visas to Indian security forces personnel who were posted in Jammu and Kashmir and also asks them about their various postings in India. These have security implications he pointed out. These are questions that even Prisoners of War are not obliged to answer, it is said.

In this respect, Canada is no different from China which gives stapled visas to Indians who had served in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.

Earlier, the Canadian government said that it was putting discussions on an Indo-Canadian Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on hold.

These Canadian steps virtually ruined Trudeau’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the side lines of the G20 summit.

India took time to fix the bilateral between Modi and Trudeau, and Trudeau absented himself from President Murmu’s dinner for the delegates. Modi’s grim visage clearly indicated his displeasure when he finally met Trudeau.

At the bilateral, India conveyed its “strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada,” an Indian External Affairs Ministry statement said.

It further said that Canada is “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.

Prime Minister Modi also mentioned that a relationship based on mutual respect and trust is essential for the progress of India-Canada ties.

On his part, Trudeau too stuck to his guns. 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."

Veteran Canadian journalist, Terry Milewski, gives in his book Blood for Blood: Fifty Years of the Global Khalistan Project (Harper Collins India) a damning expose of how the investigation into the 1985 Air India bombing by Khalistanis was botched by a biased justice system in Canada.

Canadian Sikh activist Ujjal Dosanjh, a Premier of British Columbia and a federal health minister, was viciously beaten by a Khalistani in Vancouver. The attacker, Jaspal Atwal of the International Sikh Youth Federation, was freed on a technicality. He later went on to shoot a Punjab cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu, on Vancouver Island in 1986. Atwal was in the Canadian Prime Minister’s delegation that visited India in 2018.

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, and in July 1987 was involved in the killing of 38 Hindu bus passengers near Lalru village in Punjab, according to South Asia Monitor. Malhi was later shot dead by the police in India. Meanwhile in Canada, no one was punished for attacking Balraj Deol.

The man who plotted the horrific bombing of the Air India plane off Ireland which killed 331 passenger, Talwinder Singh Parmar, was sheltered by Canada. Under Justin’s father, Pierre Trudeau, the Canadian government refused to extradite him to India on the specious plea that India, though a member of the Commonwealth, did not recognize the sovereignty of the Queen who was Canada’s sovereign.

Eventually, Parmar sneaked into India from Pakistan but was shot dead by the Punjab Police. Khalistanis in Canada eulogized Parmar while the authorities looked the other way.

Meanwhile, Canadian politicians across the political board attended rallies called by Khalistanis because all of them depended on the Sikh vote bank.

More recently, Khalistanis took out a procession in a Canadian town with a float representing the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two Sikh gunmen. Indian protests to the Canadian government fell on deaf ears. Canada, as always, said that it does not bar its citizens from expressing their views unless they indulge in violence.

But in India, the issue is a totally different kettle of fish. It impinges on its security and territorial integrity. Canada’s refusal to see the Khalistani issue in that light does not augur well for its relations with India, which is the third largest economy and whose huge market is being eyed by the rest of the developed world.

Bilateral trade with India is a measly US$ 9 billion. If Canada wants to increase it, it has to have an FTA with India. But it has decided to put off the talks for it unilaterally. It is unlikely that India will pick up the threads given the recklessness of the Trudeau regime.