This episode shows how even developed countries externalise domestic issues by transforming a bilateral partner into an adversary for domestic electoral gains.
In a recent development in India-Canada relations, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statements have sparked diplomatic controversy that breached diplomatic decorum and indicated his immature leadership. Just to keep himself in power, he is ready to go to any lengths to appease terror and people involved in hate speech, human and drug trafficking. His choice of language and actions have jeopardised bilateral ties and the safety of Indians (especially Indian Hindus) currently residing in Canada. To gain insights into how Canada, traditionally a favoured foreign destination for Indians, became a source of anger and frustration, four key observations warrant attention.
First, Trudeau’s hubris and romanticised commitment to woke values of hate speech and Hinduphobia injure relations with India and expose his divisive politics—not only of domestic politics but also as a disruptive instrument of foreign policy. One can better understand Trudeau’s actions in the context of his political career, which embraces identity politics and divisive policies. Trudeau has sought to promote what appears to be disingenuous empathy stemming from his ideological commitments towards woke politics. His approach has frequently worsened divisions in Canada rather than solving them.
Whether one looks at his vaccine mandate or his handling of the trucker protests (earlier this year), he leaves no room for doubt regarding the potential dangers and authoritarian tendencies accompanying far-Left politics. Furthermore, it is essential to recognise that Trudeau and his supporters mistakenly yet regularly conflate his persona as synonymous with Canada.
Second, Trudeau’s approach illustrates how not to handle a diplomatic situation. The episode seemingly emerged following Trudeau’s visit to India after the G20 Summit. His decision to present information regarding a still-investigated killing, where crucial facts remain elusive, within the Parliament was both deplorable and irresponsible. The utilisation of terms like “credible allegations” and “potential link” to implicate the Indian government without providing evidence or engaging in discussions with Indian representatives demonstrated not only an immature approach to this sensitive matter but also endangered the substantial Indian diaspora in Canada.
Canada is no longer a safe and prosperous nation with low crime rates. Instead, akin to many Western countries like France and Germany, Canada faces growing concerns related to organised crime networks, hate crimes and anti-immigration sentiments against which Trudeau is not only ignorant but also ideologically blinded. For instance, the significant number of individuals involved in criminal activities who seek refuge in Canada under the guise of political asylum should have garnered the attention of the self-proclaimed proactive Prime Minister of Canada. However, his actions and policies remain misguided due to ideological bias, reflecting significant irresponsibility and a lack of diplomatic finesse.
Third, the episode shows how even developed countries externalise domestic issues by transforming a bilateral partner into an adversary for electoral gains. Trudeau’s handling of the situation strongly suggests a primarily political motive driven by domestic concerns and a blunt pursuit of self-interest, illustrated vividly by his coddling of pro-Khalistan groups, notably Jagmeet Singh and his New Democratic Party. This must also consider his waning popularity in his re-election campaign, poor handling of the economy and disparaged vaccination policy.
At this juncture, let’s also analyse the allegations against India. Senior researcher and former Pentagon official Michael Rubin eloquently articulated two scenarios. First, if India was not involved, Trudeau acted without much foresight and damaged diplomatic relations that could take years to mend. Second, if substantial evidence points to Indian involvement, it would signify a grave lapse within Canada’s security apparatus that harboured a known terrorist, a matter that India repeatedly urged it to address. Both of which demonstrate poor leadership by PM Trudeau.
Moreover, this also implies that the Trudeau government is not a reliable ally in the fight against organised crime and terrorism. Instead, it seems inclined to protect these elements under the guise of free speech. It is worth recalling that this is the same Trudeau government that introduced bill C-16, which aimed to penalise certain forms of speech as legal offences without substantial evidence, potentially undermining the concept of free speech it professed to uphold.
Many observers of this incident have also speculated that Trudeau’s sentiments may be linked to his perception of treatment during his visit to India. In all fairness, he was accorded respect and protocol due to a Head of State. When his plane encountered technical issues, India even extended the gracious offer to use the Air India One aircraft for his travel. However, any perceived snub that Trudeau and his supporters may have felt was largely of his own making. It’s crucial to harken back to his previous visit to India in 2018, during which a dinner hosted by the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi extended an invitation to Sikh extremist Jaspal Atwal, who had been convicted of attempted murder. Extending such an invitation to a Sikh extremist for an embassy event in a foreign nation implies a calculated mischief designed to elicit sympathy and publicity from a particular voter base back home.
Fourthly, the incident illustrated India’s mastery of diplomacy. India’s response to Trudeau’s politically motivated actions showcased a diplomatic masterclass. India effectively defended its position and presented its narrative in the face of Trudeau’s assertive behaviour, demonstrating diplomacy at its best. This was further emphasised by the support from the United States and the United Kingdom, as reports indicated that Canada had sought their help against India but was denied. The amicable interactions between India and other Western nations during the 78th UNGA session underscore this point.
Furthermore, India’s response made it clear that it will not tolerate finger-wagging or condescending attitudes reminiscent of the Cold War era. It sends a strong message that the world order is evolving. Trudeau should consider this reality and rise beyond the notion of a “White Man’s Burden” to educate the Global South. Above all, Trudeau should understand that promoting supporters of terrorism, organised crime, and secessionist movements is something no government appreciates and is detrimental for an inclusive democracy. Any phobia cannot be legitimized, whether Islamic, Jewish or for that matter Hindu.
Ultimately, such irresponsible actions by the Canadian Prime Minister have yielded negative consequences for everyone. It has undermined the years of collaborative efforts and diplomacy and adversely impacted ordinary citizens, particularly India’s sizable diaspora residing in Canada. This situation starkly revealed the hypocrisy and pretence inherent in Trudeau’s professed inclusivity and social justice values. Essentially, it serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting how ideology and hubris can sorely damage the amicable relations between K-anada and the largest democracy and emerging power in a highly polarised world.
Prof Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit is the Vice Chancellor of JNU.