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Minhaz Merchant

Minhaz Merchant is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla and author of The New Clash of Civilizations (Rupa, 2014). He is founder of Sterling Newspapers Pvt. Ltd. which was acquired by the Indian Express group

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Time Up For Trudeau

Trudeau’s attempt to persuade the Anglophone countries – Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the US – to make common cause against India has proved unsuccessful

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a dynast. His father Pierre Trudeau was prime minister of Canada from 1968-1979 and again from 1980-1984. Pierre Trudeau was a French-speaking separatist. He fought for decades to make Quebec, Canada’s large French-dominated province, a separate sovereign nation.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as his son Justin has shown.

Pierre Trudeau lost power in 1984 but Quebec’s bid to secede from Canada continued. A final 1995 referendum for an independent Quebec was defeated by the narrowest of margins: 50.58 per cent voting against secession and 48.42 per cent voting in favour.

Quebec has subsequently reconciled to being a part of Canada. It is economically prosperous and Montreal is one of Canada’s trendiest cities. Vancouver in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast may have beautiful views but Montreal has undefinable cool.

Justin Trudeau became prime minister in 2015. Now in his third term, Trudeau has been one of Canada’s most controversial leaders. While he cultivates a modern woke image and has packed his cabinet with ethnic minorities and women, a racist gene occasionally pops up.

In 2019, Timemagazine published photographs and videos of Trudeau in 2001, when he was 30, wearing blackface and brownface make-up at a themed party. Trudeau admitted the make-up idea was racist and apologised.

More serious allegations have haunted Trudeau in his near-decade as prime minister, including corruption, nepotism and kow-towing to China. Trudeau is accused of shielding China over its interference in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 general elections.

But the most serious charge against the Trudeau government is that it has turned a blind eye to the activities of Khalistani terrorists in Canada. The controversy over the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a proscribed Khalistani terrorist, is the tip of the iceberg.

By alleging in Canada’s Parliament that the Indian government was “probably” involved in Nijjar’s murder, Trudeau is caught in a bind. He has produced no evidence to substantiate his charge of Indian state complicity in an extra-judicial assassination.

If Trudeau cannot provide concrete evidence, the Opposition will use it to defeat him in the next general election. Trudeau’s popularity rating has already plunged to an all-time low of 33 per cent. Trudeau, who runs a minority government, needs the support of the New Democratic Party (NDP) to stay in power.

The NDP is headed by Jagmeet Singh, a known Khalistani sympathiser. Singh has attended pro-Khalistani rallies and had praised Nijjar despite his status as a fugitive. If Singh’s NDPwithdraws support from the Trudeau government, it will fall.To appease Jagmeet Singh’s NDP, Trudeau has been forced into a gamble: accusing India for Nijjar’s death, despite the lack of evidence.

A more sinister reason is Trudeau’s reported complicity with China over Beijing’s growing influence in Canadian politics. As Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury explained inThe Economic Times:“Trudeau’s government has faced growing criticism over the past several months after media reports surfaced alleging that China sought to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 Canadian elections. Earlier this year, a Canadian law-maker stepped down from Trudeau’s Liberal Party after a media report raised questions about his dealings with China. Canadian MP Han Dong was accused of lobbying with a Chinese diplomat to keep two Canadians imprisoned in China.

“Sources claimed that Trudeau is attempting to shield Chinese inroads into Canadian politics, including the Liberal Party structure, through a diversionary strategy. Canada’s economic situation has worsened through the year and the Leader of the Opposition is pushing for an early election, creating a big challenge for Trudeau’s political future.”

The rupture in the relationship between India and Canada may heal over time. But until the Canadian government stops giving safe harbour to Khalistani terror groups, the fissures will deepen. The proscribed terror organisation Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) has threatened Hindus in Canada to leave or face attacks. Ottawa has given free rein to the SFJ whose criminal activities would have been banned in any other liberal democracy.

*Minor trade impact

The economic impact of the India-Canada dispute is unlikely to be serious. Canada accounts for just 0.50 per cent of foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into India. India’s annual exports to Canada are a miniscule $4.10 billion, giving India a tiny annual trade surplus of $0.05 billion.

The number of Canadian companies operating in India is, however, substantial. At last count, 600 Canadian firms had operations in India. Several Canadian financial and insurance companies as well as pension funds are active investors in India. The overall impact though is likely to be limited. Canada is not a member of any forum where India has a presence – BRICS, SCO, Quad, I2U2 (India, Israel, UAE and US) and RIC (Russia-India-China trilateral). The exception of course is the G20.

Trudeau’s attempt to persuade the Anglophone countries – Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the US – to make common cause against India has proved unsuccessful. The four Anglophones have far too much invested in their strategic alliance with India as a bulwark against China. They have issued proforma statements on Trudeau’s accusations but refrained from any direct criticism of India.

Britain in particular is alive to the Khalistani threat disrupting peace in the country. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was quick to declare that the Canadian issue will not affect India-UK relations. Australia, which too has a large number of Khalistani supporters, is sitting on the fence.

No evidence has yet emerged to back Trudeau’s allegations against India’s role in Nijjar’s murder. As Canada’s Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre said coldly: "The prime minister hasn't provided any facts. He provided a statement. And I will just emphasise that he didn't tell me any more in private than he told Canadians in public.”

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Justin Trudeau Magazine 21 Oct 2023