Canada to act against Khalistan elements who break the law, says envoy

As concerns heighten in India over a perceived uptick in Khalistan-related extremism in Canada, the government of the North American nation has affirmed that it will act if any laws are broken by activists on its soil.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2016 07:34 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times
Canada-India ties,Prime Minister Narendra Modi,Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
File photo of Canada’s high commissioner to India, Nadir Patel.(HT Photo)

As concerns heighten in India over a perceived uptick in Khalistan-related extremism in Canada, the government of the North American nation has affirmed that it will act if any laws are broken by activists on its soil.

The “bottomline”, according to Canadian high commissioner Nadir Patel, is that “if there is anything that could create concern, we will act on it”.

In an interview, Patel spelt out that assurance: “At any time, if there’s any information that suggests laws are being broken, there’s any type of extremist activities that could affect safety and security of people, we will take immediate steps to investigate and take action.

“So we have a standing discussion, if any information suggests that, let us know.”

The envoy was skeptical about reports of arms training being carried out by a Khalistani activist in a suburb of Vancouver this year, but his statement about Canada acting against extremism on its territory comes at a time when India is worried over pro-Khalistan elements, particularly as assembly elections in Punjab near.

Patel, however, pointed out peaceful separatist protests in Canada could not be stopped since “freedom of speech, freedom of expression are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada and unless a law is being broken we won’t impinge on (it)”.

While there may be some irritation on this issue, the bilateral engagement is flourishing.

Patel pointed to Canada lobbying on India’s behalf at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG): “We are a strong supporter of India’s membership of the NSG, we’ve made that very clear at multiple meetings. We feel that the NSG can benefit from India’s participation.

“We also have commended India for stepping up and adopting a number of the guidelines and protocols that are associated with the membership.”

There may be scope for greater cooperation between the two sides as both vie for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2020, for the 2021-2022 term.

“We’re seeking India’s support. They haven’t made a decision yet. India has been seeking support for a permanent seat. Canada has expressed its support for a temporary seat because we are in support of broader reforms to the Security Council process,” Patel said.

The foreign policy component of the bilateral strategic dialogue, stalled because of the persistent health problems of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, will occur in 2017. “Our expectation is that we would have this dialogue in the coming months,” he said.

While finance minister Arun Jaitley visited Toronto in October, the formal dialogue between the two countries is also imminent. After nearly two years in the doldrums, discussions on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) have moved, with negotiations having resumed.

Patel said the Narendra Modi government’s economic reforms “provide a very meaningful backdrop to take things forward in way that perhaps didn’t exist before”.

Another deal-in-the-making, the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), will also witness negotiators meeting in January. Canadian investment in India has “increased dramatically” to $13 billion over the past 18 months.

“Which is great, it shows confidence in the market. But that makes the conclusion of a FIPA that much more important, to ensure that the stability that investors want through a treaty which can do that,” Patel said.

As anti-immigration rhetoric rises in the US, Canada could benefit in terms of attracting Indian professional, like entrepreneurs. “What we have to offer is very strong and piggyback on to that is a government that is pro-immigration, pro-innovation in a big way.”

But Patel stressed this was “regardless” of what was happening “south of the border” since it has been drawing startups for the last couple of years. Digital payment firm PayTM, for instance, has its only location outside India at Mississauga, a Toronto suburb.

Demonetisation may have opened up avenues for Canadian companies, as Patel said, “Fintech is an area that Canada can play a very significant role in. We are exploring ways in which we can contribute to demonetisation initiatives here. How can we support that? Definitely, that’s an area of ongoing potential.”

The envoy said the relationship is “moving in a really good trajectory”, brushing away criticism that it appears to be on autopilot as Justin Trudeau’s government focussed on countries such as the US, Mexico and China in its first year.

Patel takes that as a positive, implying those nations being given emphasis meant plenty of differences had to be managed. In the Indian context, “that doesn’t require a lot of issues management, hand-holding, if you will, that’s a good thing”, he said.

First Published: Dec 18, 2016 07:33 IST