By Sneha Yadav
The diplomatic ties between India and Canada were forged shortly after India’s attainment of independence from British colonial rule. This diplomatic recognition by Canada marked the inception of a bilateral relationship that has since evolved into a robust partnership characterized by mutual cooperation. This collaborative bond has been fortified by the shared principles of democracy, multiculturalism, and a steadfast dedication to upholding human rights.
Over the years, both nations have demonstrated a keen interest in various domains, encompassing agriculture, education, technology, and energy of particular significance is Canada’s abundant reservoir of natural resources, including oil and uranium, which have played a pivotal role in bolstering India’s burgeoning economy. underscoring the commitment to further augmenting their economic interdependence. A number of agreements have been signed to encourage investment and trade, with ongoing negotiations for the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) reflecting the commitment to further strengthen economic ties.
Between India and Canada, collaborative endeavours in science and technology have flourished in the past. These collaborations have taken the form of joint research initiatives, academic exchanges, and institutional collaborations, which have facilitated the exchange of knowledge and expertise. Notable initiatives, such as the Canada-India Research Centre of Excellence (CIRCE), have emerged to promote innovation and technology transfer, particularly in sectors such as clean energy and healthcare.
The presence of a vibrant Indian diaspora in Canada has played an important role in strengthening ties between the two countries. Festivals, cultural events, and educational exchanges have given both Canadians and Indians the opportunity to immerse themselves in India’s rich heritage while also experiencing Canada’s multicultural milieu. This exchange has not only enriched both countries’ societies, but it has also promoted mutual understanding and tolerance.
Despite efforts and initiatives in India-Canada relations, challenges remain. One notable issue has been Canada’s stance on Sikh extremism, which has strained diplomatic relations at times. Bilateral relations between India and Canada have reached a low point, which has been exacerbated by the G20 Summit, which included a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a bilateral discussion with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During Trudeau’s visit, Prime Minister Modi expressed India’s deep concern about the continued presence and activities of extremist elements in Canada that are harmful to India’s interests.
Following Prime Minister Trudeau’s departure from New Delhi, a significant development occurred when both India and Canada jointly announced the suspension of ongoing bilateral free trade talks. This decision came in response to Trudeau’s allegations against India, in which he implicated the country in the assassination of Khalistani militant Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who died earlier this year. Michael Kugelman, the Director of the Wilson Centre’s South Asia Institute, has provided insightful analysis on this matter. He has emphasized the confluence of factors including an upsurge in Sikh activism within Canada, mounting pressure exerted by India on Ottawa, and Ottawa’s reluctance to address Indian apprehensions. This combination of circumstances, as Kugelman aptly phrases it, has precipitated a profound crisis in the bilateral relationship between India and Canada, warranting the observation that “The knives are out.” Given the intensifying discord between these two nations, it becomes imperative to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the current status of their bilateral relations.
Reacting to Trudeau’s remark Ministry of External Affairs responded with a statement denying the allegations to be “absurd and motivated” which spurred political upheaval in the news and media. India certainly applied ‘tit for tat’ diplomacy to counter Canada’s claim on the ongoing Sikh extremist issue and also suspended Visa services for Canadian citizens. India strongly holds its point that no government should interfere in the sovereign matters of its internal affairs.
Opportunities and Difficulties in India – Canada relations
Sikh Extremism: There are vocal elements within the Canadian Sikh community who support Sikh separatism, including the concept of Khalistan, an independent Sikh state. India has expressed concerns about the impact of these elements on Canadian policy, particularly when it comes to issues concerning India’s internal affairs. The presence of Sikh activists and leaders who have advocated for separatism has raised concerns and caused diplomatic friction between the two countries.
Another contentious issue in India-Canada relations has been the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly since India’s decision to revoke Article 370 in August 2019. Canada has expressed concern about human rights and the consequences of Indian government actions in the region. India, on the other hand, regards this as an internal matter and emphasizes its commitment to dealing with the situation within the framework of its constitutional framework. These opposing viewpoints have resulted in diplomatic tensions and disagreements.
Disagreements over human rights issues and immigration policies have also contributed to the relationship’s turpitude. Canada has expressed concern about India’s human rights situation, particularly religious freedom and minority rights. Furthermore, differences in immigration policies and procedures have occasionally strained relations as both countries seek to balance their national interests with humanitarian values.
Trade talks between India and Canada have been difficult, and neither country has reached a comprehensive trade agreement that could significantly boost economic ties. While trade talks have progressed, issues such as market access, tariffs, and non-tariff barriers have hampered the realization of a more robust economic partnership.
India’s foreign policy, defined by non-alignment and strategic alliances with countries such as Russia and Iran, can sometimes diverge from Canada’s geopolitical preferences. When addressing international issues, these differences in global perspectives can lead to disparities in approach and priorities.
Despite these obstacles, historical ties and shared values such as democracy, multiculturalism, and a commitment to human rights continue to underpin India-Canada relations. Both nations have opportunities for diplomatic dialogue, enhanced economic cooperation, counterterrorism collaboration, and the promotion of people-to-people ties to overcome recent strains and rebuild their ties. The ability of India and Canada to address these challenges and find common ground in a rapidly changing global landscape will determine the future of their relations.
The deterioration of India-Canada relations has serious implications for the Sikh community, particularly in the Sikh-majority state of Punjab in northern India. This is due to the strong economic and familial ties that exist between Sikhs in India and their relatives in Canada. Many Sikh families in Punjab rely on remittances sent by relatives in Canada, and any disruption in these financial flows could have an impact on their economic well-being. Furthermore, the Sikh population in Canada has more than doubled in the last two decades, accounting for 2.1% of the total population according to the 2021 census. Aspirations for higher education and employment opportunities have fuelled the influx of Sikh migrants from India. As a result, the escalating tensions between the two countries have the potential to resonate deeply within the Sikh diaspora, shaping their socioeconomic conditions and highlighting the community’s intricate transnational dimensions.
Observer Research Foundation, 2020, “India-Canada Relations: Exploring New Dimensions” by Harsh V. Pant and Kabir Taneja. Link: https://www.orfonline.org/research/india-canada-relationships-exploring-new-dimensions-67743/
Chintan Girish Modi’s “India-Canada Relations: A Model of Multiculturalism,” The Diplomat, 2019. Link: https://thediplomat.com/2019/04/india-canada-relationships-a-model-of-multiculturalism/
Jivanta Schoettli’s “A History of India-Canada Relations” (Canadian International Council, 2020). Link: https://thecic.org/a-history-of-india-canada-relationships/
The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies published “India-Canada Relations: An Overview” in 2020. Link: https://www.ipcs.org/article/india/india-canada-relations-6081.html
“Canada’s Emerging Security Relationship with India” by David J. Bercuson and Barry Cooper, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, 2019. Link: https://www.cgai.ca/canadas_emerging_security_relationship_with_india
Ashok Kapur, “The Geopolitical Significance of India-Canada Relations,” The Wire, 2019. Link: https://thewire.in/diplomacy/india-canada-relationships-geopolitical-importance
The Globe and Mail, 2019. “Canada and India: Growing Partnership in a Multipolar World” by David Malone and Ramesh Thakur. The link is: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-canada-and-india-growing-partnership-in-a-multipolar-world/
Meera Shankar, 2018 article “India and Canada: Strengthening Bilateral Ties”Observer Research Foundation, 2018. Meera Shankar, “India and Canada: Strengthening Bilateral Ties” Link: https://www.orfonline.org/research/India-and-Canada-Strengthening-Bilateral-Relationships-45398/