Amid diplomatic standoff, Canada PM Trudeau extends wishes for Navratri

Ottawa, Canada, October 15: Softening his tone while asserting that his government was committed to building closer ties with India, after claiming that Indian agents were behind the killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday extended his wishes to the Hindu community on the occasion of the Navratras.
PM Trudeau posted from his official handle, “Happy Navratri! I’m sending my warmest wishes to members of the Hindu community and all those who are celebrating this festival.”

An official press statement released by the Canadian PM said that over the next nine nights and 10 days, members of the Hindu community in Canada and around the world will gather to celebrate Navratri.

“Navratri is one of the most important and sacred festivals in the Hindu faith, commemorating the victory of the goddess Durga over the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura and the triumph of good over evil. Often seen as a celebration of feminine energy, it is a time for friends and family to come together and honor century-old traditions with prayers, joyous performances, special meals, and fireworks,” the statement quoted the Canadian PM as saying further.

He also termed the festival as a chance to grab knowledge about the culture of Hindu communities and an occasion to recognise their contributions to Canada.

“For all Canadians, Navratri also offers an opportunity to learn more about the rich history and culture of Hindu communities and to recognize their invaluable contributions to Canada’s social, cultural, and economic fabric. Today’s celebrations remind us that diversity is one of Canada’s greatest strengths,” he said.

“On behalf of my family and the Government of Canada, I extend my best wishes to everyone celebrating Navratri this year,” the statement quoted him as saying further.

Earlier, expressing deep concerns over recent statements of designated terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun allegedly endorsing Hamas and issuing threats against Indian Consulates in G7 nations, including Canada, the Hindu community “implored” the Trudeau government to take immediate action against the Khalistani leader.

In an urgent email addressed to Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc, the Hindu Forum of Canada (HFC) called for immediate action against Pannun.

“On October 21st, from G7 Nations, from Canada to Australia, Sikhs for Justice is going to shut down terror houses of India in Vancouver, Washington DC, London, Frankfurt, and Milan.

The People of Palestine shut down the Indian terror house in Ramallah and removed Renu Yadav (India’s first woman envoy to Palestine),” Pannun said.

“Such statements must not be tolerated. We implore the government of Canada to take immediate action, as we are deeply concerned about the safety of our community. This kind of hateful video and speech is exacerbating hatred and violence,” the HFC said in a statement.

Earlier, addressing the Canadian Parliament, PM Trudeau claimed that his government had reasons to believe that Indian agents were involved in the killing of the Khalistani leader Nijjar.

India has outrightly rejected the claims, calling it ‘absurd’ and ‘motivated’.

“We have seen and reject the statement of the Canadian Prime Minister in their Parliament, as also the statement by their Foreign Minister. Allegations of Government of India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated…We are a democratic polity with a strong commitment to rule of law,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

“Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The inaction of the Canadian Government on this matter has been a long-standing and continuing concern. That Canadian political figures have openly expressed sympathy for such elements remains a matter of deep concern. The space given in Canada to a range of illegal activities including murders, human trafficking and organised crime is not new. We reject any attempts to connect Government of India to such developments. We urge the Government of Canada to take prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating from their soil,” it added.

Nijjar, a designated terrorist in India, was killed outside a gurdwara in Canada’s Surrey on June 18.

Significantly, Canada is yet to provide any evidence to support its claim of an Indian hand in the killing of Hardeep Nijjar.

Signalling a further souring of bilateral ties, Ottawa and New Delhi announced tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats in the wake of Trudeau’s allegation of Indian involvement in Nijjar’s killing.

India also suspended visa services for Canadian citizens amid the festering diplomatic fallout of Trudeau’s charge.

Weighing in on the diplomatic fallout of Trudeau’s claim, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said the Canadian attitude towards terrorists, extremist people who openly advocate violence is “very permissive”.

“This has been an issue of great friction for many years with Canada. But in the last few years, it has come back very much into play because of what we consider to be a very permissive Canadian attitude towards terrorists, and extremist people who openly advocate violence. And they have been given operating space in Canada because of the compulsions of Canadian politics,” Jaishankar said.

At an event in Washington, DC, Jaishankar said, “Today, I’m actually in a situation where my diplomats are unsafe going to the embassy, or to the consulate in Canada. They are publicly intimidated. And that has actually compelled me to temporarily suspend even visa operations in Canada.”

“The Canadian PM made some allegations initially privately, and then publicly. And our response to him, both in private and public — what he was alleging was not consistent with our policy. And that if he had, if his government had anything relevant and specific they would like us to look into, we were open to looking at it. Now, that’s where that conversation is at this point of time,” Jaishankar said.

Amid strained ties with Canada, India also issued an advisory for its citizens and those who are travelling to Canada to exercise “utmost caution in view of growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate crimes and criminal violence” in the country.

Later, responding to reports that India had asked Canada to withdraw 41 of its 62 diplomats in the country over alleged interference in the country’s internal matters, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, Arindam Bagchi, said earlier this month that the Canadian diplomatic presence was much higher.

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