SAD president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has decided to put off his visit to Canada scheduled for September after the ministry of external affairs (MEA) conveyed to the state government that it entailed significant risk to the Akali leader, especially from Sikh radicals.
The ministry also conveyed to the state government that the Canadian government had expressed its inability to provide adequate security cover to Sukhbir during his 10-day stay in the North American country starting September 13.
The visit assumes significance as Sukhbir was scheduled to meet Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper in Ottawa besides his meetings lined up with premiers of British Columbia and Alberta. The deputy chief minister was also supposed to visit business and educational centres in Canada besides holding meetings with People of Indian origin, especially those from Punjab.
In a communiqué to Punjab chief secretary, Rakesh Singh, the MEA joint secretary said since Canadian policies permitted protests, it could not be guaranteed that fringe elements would not participate in public functions arranged for Sukhbir in and around Toronto with a specific objective of shouting slogans, heckling and generating negative publicity to embarrass the deputy chief minister.
There was ample precedent that such public events were specifically targeted with a view to drawing maximum publicity for the Sikh radical groups, the MEA told the Punjab government.
The ministry reached the aforesaid conclusion after it held a series of meetings with the Canadian authorities and officials of the Indian mission and consulates in Canada.
According to the Canadian authorities, the significant concerns of security remain with regard to Sukhbir's visits to local gurdwaras situated in the Greater Toronto area since most of these are controlled by radical groups.
The MEA told the state government that even if security were provided, the Canadian police authorities would not intervene in preventing protesters from displaying black flags and placards at places where the dignitaries were present.
Such protests were organised during the visit of a senior union cabinet minister in March 2010 specifically focusing on issues relating to the troubled days of Punjab.
On Sukhbir's proposed meetings with the people of Indian origin, especially with the youth community, the Canadian authorities said, "The radical organisations have recruited Punjabi youth in particular, focusing on the troubled days in Punjab's recent history."
The Canadian authorities also informed the MEA that they had specific inputs in the past about the plans by 'Sikhs for Justice' to file a criminal case against the deputy chief minister of Punjab in case he visited Canada.
In its assessment to the Punjab government, the MEA said the proposed visit was not without significant risks to the dignity and legal standing of the deputy CM.
The MEA urged the Punjab government to take due caution in this account, measuring the advantages and disadvantages of such a visit, including the probability of there being negative publicity that might dilute the useful outcomes that were being sought from such an important visit.
The ministry of external affairs sources said the issue of Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal's security was taken up with both Canadian foreign ministry and Royal Canadian Mounted police.
"The matter was taken up with both Canadian foreign ministry and Royal Canada Mounted Police (which is the security in-charge of the visiting dignitaries.
"We were told that the deputy chief minister is not an international Protectee , so security cover cannot be given to him. The reports that we haven't taken up the issue with Canadian foreign office or RCMP) is wrong", official sources said