Canada to not recognise results of Punjab 2020 Referendum organised by SFJ
The Justin Trudeau Government will not recognise the results of the Punjab 2020 Referendum being organised by the pro-Khalistan group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ). A statement sent to the Hindustan Times made this position explicit for the first time.
Responding to queries from Hindustan Times about Canadian Government’s stand on the referendum scheduled for November this year, aimed at carving out a separate state of Punjab from India, a spokesperson of the country’s Foreign Ministry, stated in an email response: “Canada respects the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of India, and the Government of Canada will not recognize the referendum.”
The spokesperson also said that the bilateral relationship between Canada and India “is a priority for the Government of Canada.”
Indian officials did not want to comment on this development on record, though one described it as “significant” that this was put in writing and a change from the earlier stance that the referendum was protected by freedom of speech and expression rights in Canada. An official also pointed out that a recent message in this respect from Ottawa, stating its opposition to the referendum, was also communicated to New Delhi, via the High Commission in Canada.
India’s High Commissioner in Ottawa Ajay Bisaria also refused to address this particular matter, but said, “We continue to engage closely with Canadian partners, including security agencies on a range of bilateral security issues. Canada has been requested to check anti-India activities and to proscribe individuals and entities declared illegal in India.”
Following the return of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister in October, New Delhi made it clear in official interactions that the issue of support for Khalistan in Canada had hindered relations between the two nations and expected more from the Canadian side. India, an official said, has noticed a perceptible difference in the attitude with which Canada has approached this contentious matter in recent months, a development described as “positive”.
Coordination between security and intelligence agencies has also improved, with a delegation of the Royal Canadian Mounter Police (RCMP) holding discussions with counterparts in the National Investigative Agency (NIA) late last year. “There is active diplomacy and conversations going on,” an official said.
In January this year, SFJ had written to Trudeau seeking his support for the non-binding referendum. The separatist organization plans to hold it in November, with in-person voting at various venues across the world including the Canadian cities of Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton.
Reacting to the statement, SFJ’s legal advisor Gurpatwant Pannun said they were “not seeking recognition” of the right to freedom of expression from the Trudeau Government since it was guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. He went on to say that such “political statements hold no water.”
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