Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is blaming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a diplomatic chill with India, saying Ottawa needs a “professional relationship” with the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Meanwhile, Modi’s government says it is upset with the federal Liberals and not Canada as a whole.
Trudeau announced in the House of Commons last month that Canadian intelligence services are investigating “credible” information about “a potential link” between India’s government and the killing of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia.
“It’s fine to have our disagreements and to hold each other accountable, but we have to have a professional relationship … with the Indian government,” Poilievre told Namaste Radio Toronto in a video posted online Saturday afternoon.
Poilievre also blamed Trudeau for the “aggression shown to Indian diplomats at public events.”
Earlier this year, before Trudeau’s revelation regarding the Nijjar case, India lamented rowdy protests by Sikh separatist groups outside diplomatic missions in Canada, and posters offering cash rewards for the home addresses of India’s diplomats.
New Delhi formally called on Canada to better uphold its duty to protect foreign diplomats and in late August, India’s high commissioner to Canada, Sanjay Kumar Verma, said his country was “very satisfied” that the Liberal government had responded appropriately and that its diplomats were secure.
Poilievre claims in the interview that Trudeau is turning Canadians against each other, citing vandalism at Hindu places of worship.
“I strongly condemn all threats on the attacks on Hindu mandirs, the threats against Hindu leaders,” Poilievre told Namaste Radio Toronto.
“There should be criminal charges laid against anyone who attacks either the property or people at Hindu mandirs, just like anywhere else.”
Poilievre did not cite a specific example, but he mentioned a month ago on X, formerly known as Twitter, “hateful comments targeting Hindus in Canada” that he said needed to be called out.
In the interview, Poilievre did not mention the Nijjar case, nor did the interviewer ask about it. Poilievre has previously said that those responsible for the homicide must be prosecuted, and has urged Trudeau to provide more of its information on the case.
“Justin Trudeau is considered a laughingstock in India, the world’s biggest democracy,” Poilievre said in his interview.
His office declined to comment about the interview Monday.
Poilievre did not directly mention Sikhs in Canada, nor a subset of those communities who advocate for a separate state in India they call Khalistan.
But the World Sikh Organization in Canada argues Poilievre is indirectly pointing the finger at Sikhs.
“We’re talking about the violation of Canadian sovereignty and the assassination of Canadian citizen on Canadian soil, (allegedly) by India,” the group’s lawyer Balpreet Singh said.
“I’m very disappointed to see His Majesty’s loyal opposition leader siding with a hostile foreign government against Canadian intelligence, Five Eyes intelligence and frankly the memory of a dead Canadian citizen.”
Singh said his group condemns calls for violence against Hindu people, but he said Poilievre is siding with New Delhi against Canadian interests.
“We shouldn’t be playing politics with a matter of this gravity,” he said.
“The situation is not a result of Prime Minister Trudeau’s actions or individuals in the Sikh community who have spoken out against Indian diplomats.”
Also this past weekend, India’s foreign affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said his country might end its freeze on Canadian visas if Canada better ensures the safety of Indian diplomats.
“We stopped issuing visas in Canada because it was no longer safe for our diplomats to go to work to issue visas,” Jaishankar claimed on Sunday, despite his own envoy to Ottawa saying otherwise.
“Our diplomats are not safe. If we see progress there, I would like very much to resume the issuing of visas. My hope would be that it would be something which would happen very, very soon.”
Jaishankar also claimed that New Delhi’s decision to reduce Canada’s diplomatic presence in India — leading to the majority being removed from the country — was the result of unspecified meddling by Canada in India.
“We invoked parity because we had concerns about continuous interference in our affairs by Canadian personnel,” he said.
“We haven’t made much of that public. My sense is over a period of time, more stuff will come out and people will understand why we had that discomfort with many of them.”
India’s envoy to Canada said on Aug. 31 that “we feel very satisfied” with Ottawa’s response to a request for better protection. “Our concerns have been taken on board. It has been well understood,” Verma said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly revealed on Sept. 14 that Indian diplomats in Canada “have 24/7 security,” which is a service Ottawa offers to very few diplomatic missions.
Jaishankar also said Sunday he takes issue with the federal Liberals. “The problems we have are with a certain segment of Canadian politics, and the policies which flow from that,” he said.
University of British Columbia professor Vina Nadjibulla said that’s the first time India has ever explicitly indicated its issues with Canada fall along political lines.
“It’s quite surprising, for a foreign secretary like Jaishankar to say that … essentially pointing at the Liberal government and at the prime minister himself,” she said.
Nadjibulla said she’s seen “troubling” posters around Surrey, B.C., that call for violence toward Indian government officials.
“The challenge that … countries that have large diasporas of Sikh communities have is to obviously protect freedoms of expression and freedom of assembly, but also recognize that there is a serious concern for India when it comes to this issue,” she said.
“We have to engage both sides.”