Canada’s three lead political parties have been competing for the Sikh vote to prepare for a possible snap poll in 2021(HT File Photo)
Canada’s three lead political parties have been competing for the Sikh vote to prepare for a possible snap poll in 2021(HT File Photo)

Not convenient, India tells Canada on meeting of top diplomats. It’s a signal

India’s decision to put off the foreign office consultations scheduled with Canada signals the downturn in political ties between the two countries over PM Trudeau’s remarks on the farm protests
New Delhi | By Shishir Gupta
UPDATED ON DEC 15, 2020 04:27 PM IST

India has asked Canada to put off the foreign office consultations between top diplomats of the two countries, a move seen to indicate the downturn that political relations between the two countries have taken after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments on the farm protests in India, people familiar with the matter said.

The foreign office consultations between Riva Ganguly Das, the foreign ministry’s secretary (East) and her Canadian counterpart expected to be held on Tuesday (December 15) have been postponed at India’s instance. New Delhi has told Ottawa that the date was inconvenient.

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Foreign minister S Jaishankar had last week skipped the Ministerial Coordination Group of Covid-19 organised by Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne to formulate strategies on the coronavirus pandemic for the same reason.

India, which had participated in a previous meeting of the group, had cited “scheduling” issues to stay away from the December 7 meeting.

PM Trudeau had waded into the farm protests in India during a video interaction to mark the 551st birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, describing the protests as “concerning” and asserting that “Canada will always be there to defend the right to peaceful protest”.

PM Trudeau’s comment had come despite New Delhi, which expected the matter to be raised in Canada’s House of Commons, briefing Canada’s foreign ministry, Global Affairs Canada, about the necessity of the farm laws.

Canada has about 1.6 million citizens of Indian origin, a large number of them from Punjab. A little less than half of them, about 7 lakh, are Sikhs.

PM Trudeau’s remarks were aimed at this constituency, preparing for the possibility that he may have to face elections in the spring of 2021. The other two political parties - New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative leader Erin O’Toole - have already expressed support. But PM Trudeau did not stop at letting his party court the Indian immigrants over the farm protests and took matters into his hand.

An upset New Delhi promptly summoned the Canadian envoy over the “unwarranted” comments and served a demarche or formal diplomatic representation that said the “comments by the Canadian Prime Minister, some Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament on issues relating to Indian farmers constitute an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs”.

India also complained to the Canadian envoy about other statements by the Canadian leadership that “encouraged gatherings of extremist activities in front of our high commission and consulates in Canada that raise issues of safety and security”.

Indian officials, however, underlined that economic relations between the two countries would not be impacted by the strain in political ties that was often attributed to the Canadian leadership letting local political interests of his party gain precedence over diplomacy and economics.

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