When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood up in Parliament and stated India may have been complicit in the killing of a Canadian citizen, the muted international response provided a lesson in current geopolitics. However, India appears to be too powerful to alienate.
None of Canada’s most key allies — the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, which are all intimately woven together in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement — reiterated Trudeau’s charges.
They’ve expressed their concern. They have demanded thorough investigations. None, however, has condemned India for its suspected role in the assassination of a Sikh separatist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, on Canadian soil in June.
There is, of course, China, and the objective among allies is to strengthen ties with India as a counterweight to Beijing’s expanding influence and aggression.
India a Key Player Internationally
But it goes beyond that. Many observers estimate that by 2030, modern India’s economy would have surpassed Japan and Germany to become the world’s third-largest. With a population of over 1.4 billion people and one of the world’s largest militaries, it has emerged as a key player in international affairs.
All of this makes it difficult for Canada’s key allies, who are also some of India’s main partners, to speak out loudly.
“I think Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom did about what we expected,” said Janice Stein, a political scientist at Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.
According to Sushant Singh, a senior scholar at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, “as long as the West needs India to counter China, it is likely to look away.”
On Monday, Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the assassination of 45-year-old Nijjar near Vancouver by masked gunmen. In addition, Canada expelled an Indian diplomat.
A day later, after India escalated the conflict by dismissing a top Canadian envoy, Trudeau softened his approach, telling reporters that Canada was “not looking to provoke or escalate.”
“PM tempers criticism as allies decline to condemn India over slain Sikh leader,” read the main page of Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper on Wednesday.
White House Refutes Trudeau’s Claims
The claims made by the government are especially troubling for the United Kingdom, which is negotiating a free trade agreement with India.
“These are grave allegations.” “It is appropriate for Canadian authorities to investigate them,” said Max Blain, spokesman for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
However, he stated unequivocally that the death will not be discussed during the trade talks, stating that “these are negotiations about a trade deal, and we are not looking to conflate with other issues.”
According to Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, Trudeau discussed the assassination with Sunak and President Joe Biden in recent weeks.
If the allies’ reactions were subdued, Joly’s office and the White House refuted news reports that Canada had lobbied the US and other major allies to denounce the assassination in the days before Trudeau made his claims.
According to White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, any rumours that the United States had rejected Canada were “just flatly false.”
“We were deeply concerned by Prime Minister Trudeau’s allegations and remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners,” Kirby added. “They’re investigating, and that should continue unabated.”
However, he noted that the US-India partnership “remains vitally important, not only for the South Asia region but, of course, for the Indo Pacific.”
Canada has failed to present proof
Nonetheless, the Biden administration appears to be providing more spiritual support than real backing. It may want to keep matters as a bilateral matter between Ottawa and New Delhi.
“It’s embarrassing” for Washington, according to historian and University of Toronto professor Robert Bothwell. However, “the United States has larger interests.”
If Trudeau’s allegations are true, it demonstrates that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is not “restrained by an innate sense of the rule of law or a commitment to democracy.”
“This is the same kind of thing that Putin does,” he said, alluding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s adversaries who have been slain in Russia and abroad, including in the United Kingdom.
Nijjar, who was born in India and had worked as a plumber in Canada for many years, was assassinated in the parking lot of a Sikh temple in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb.
Indian police had long suspected him of having ties to separatist terrorists aiming to establish an independent Sikh republic within India. While advocating for a Sikh nation, Nijjar continually denied any links to terrorism.
Canada has failed to present proof of India’s involvement in the murder. However, a US official said Tuesday that Trudeau’s willingness to come out was interpreted by the White House as an indication of the Canadian leader’s confidence in what had been discovered. The official, who was not authorised to publicly comment, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Canada is one of the few countries in the world that comes out unapologetically in support of human rights and the international rule of law. It also has no qualms about confronting major powers.
Canada is Alone
China-Canada ties, for example, took a hit in 2018 after China imprisoned former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor. These arrests happened shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder and the company’s top financial officer. Canada made the arrest at the request of US officials, who accused Meng of fraud.
Even after a prisoner swap in which China released the Canadians in exchange for Meng in 2021, relations have not improved.
In addition, after Canada’s foreign ministry tweeted support for a jailed Saudi activist, the Saudi government removed Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own envoy. It took five years for Canada and Saudi Arabia to reestablish full diplomatic relations in May of this year.
Trudeau also clashed with former US President Donald Trump, who pledged to make Canada pay after Trudeau declared that he would not be bullied in trade talks with the US. Trump retaliated by criticising Trudeau, calling him “meek and mild,” which surprised Canadians.
The stakes have risen, and it’s uncertain — at least publicly — who Canada can rely on for unwavering support.
“Canada is alone?” Bothwell wondered. “That is obviously a concern because Canada has always relied on the protection of the British and then the Americans.”