June 18, 2024

(Bloomberg) — India’s foreign minister accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government of not taking action against extremists living in Canada because it was politically inconvenient, as the two countries continue engaging in a worsening diplomatic row over the killing of a Sikh leader that Ottawa has blamed on New Delhi.

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“Canada actually has seen a lot of organized crime relating to the secessionist forces, organized crime, violent extremism,” India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said at a Council on Foreign Relations event in New York on Tuesday.

“Our concern,” he added, “is that it’s really been very permissive because of political reasons. So we have a situation where, actually, our diplomats are threatened.”

The comments are the latest rhetorical salvo in a worsening dispute that began when Trudeau first accused the Indian government of backing the murder of the Sikh activist in a suburb of Vancouver — an allegation that India has called “absurd.”

Jaishankar, who was asked repeatedly about the growing diplomatic rift in a question and answer session at the event on Tuesday, declined to say whether Canada had handed over any intelligence linking Indian officials to the shooting death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

“I’ll share with you very kindly what we told the Canadians,” Jaishankar said. “We told the Canadians, one, this is not the government of India’s policy. Two, we told the Canadians, look, if you have something specific, if you have something relevant, let us know. We are open to looking at.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Jaishankar urged the United Nations to reform and listen to more countries, while also warning nations that “political convenience” must not determine responses to terrorism or violence.

“Respect for territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs cannot be exercises in cherry-picking,” Jaishankar told the UN General Assembly in New York.

“When reality departs from the rhetoric, we must have the courage to call it out. Without genuine solidarity, there can never be real trust. This is very much the sentiment of the Global South.”

While it’s not clear whether Jaishankar was referring to Canada in his remarks, the Indian government has repeatedly accused Canada of ignoring evidence of extremism among its large and politically powerful Sikh diaspora. Trudeau has said his government doesn’t condone violence but that it must defend Canadians’ right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest.

In separate remarks before the General Assembly on Tuesday, Canada’s ambassador to the UN Bob Rae made similarly veiled and ambiguous remarks, saying that nations must “uphold the values of free and democratic societies” despite the consequences.

“We cannot bend the rules of state-to-state relations for political expediency, because we’ve seen and continue to see the extent to which democracies are under threat through various means of foreign interference,” he said. “The truth is, if we don’t adhere to the rules that we’ve agreed to, the very fabric of our open, and of our free, societies may start to tear.”

The growing animosity between Canada and India is awkward for Washington. World leaders including President Joe Biden have actively courted New Delhi as an economic and geopolitical counterbalance to China.

On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was “deeply concerned” about the allegations and urged India to cooperate with Canada’s investigation, adding that Washington was engaging with New Delhi on the issue.

“We are extremely vigilant about any instances of alleged transnational repression, something we take very, very seriously,” Blinken said in New York, where he was attending UN meetings. “And I think it’s important more broadly for the international system that any country that might consider engaging in such acts not do so.”

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