India is currently garnering attention from the United States and other countries as a potential counterbalance to China. This geopolitical shift leaves Canada, with its relatively small population of just 40 million, at a distinct diplomatic disadvantage.
This week, Canada revealed it possessed intelligence that could potentially link Indian government agents to the assassination of a pro-Khalistan Sikh leader. Typically, such news would provoke strong reactions among democratic allies, but this time, the response has been notably subdued.
Stephanie Carvin, an international relations professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University, explained, “India is crucial in Western strategies for balancing China, whereas Canada does not hold the same level of importance.” She emphasized that this situation places Canada at odds with other Western nations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced that Canada was actively investigating credible allegations of Indian involvement in the murder of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June. Canada had already been discussing this matter with key allies like the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.
However, the response from these allies has been restrained. Britain declined to publicly criticize India and stated that bilateral trade discussions would proceed as planned. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s statement regarding the affair did not mention India by name.
Chietigj Bajpaee, an India expert at the Chatham House think tank in London, pointed out that Britain finds itself in a delicate position, torn between supporting Canada and avoiding antagonizing India—a potential trading partner and ally in countering China. He noted that unless there is concrete evidence of India’s involvement, the UK’s response is likely to remain cautious. Bajpaee suggested that a free trade deal between India and Britain would be a significant political victory for both nations.
White House national security advisor John Kirby expressed deep concern and encouraged Indian officials to cooperate with any investigation, even though India denied any involvement in the murder. The Washington Post reported that Trudeau had sought a joint statement condemning India at the recent Group of 20 summit in New Delhi but was rebuffed by the United States and others.
Kirby clarified that reports suggesting the United States had rebuffed Canada were untrue, asserting that the U.S. would continue to coordinate and consult with Canada on this matter.
The relatively muted response to Trudeau’s allegations stands in stark contrast to the strong reaction following the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in England in 2018. Back then, Britain, the United States, Canada, and other nations expelled over 100 Russian diplomats in retaliation, despite Moscow’s consistent denials of involvement.
Wesley Wark from the Centre for International Governance Innovation think tank in Waterloo, Ontario, explained, “Our Five Eyes partners are understandably hesitant to get deeply involved in this matter due to everyone’s interest in strengthening ties with India, particularly in the context of ongoing tensions with China.” He suggested that if Canada were to provide solid evidence of Indian state involvement in an assassination attempt, there might be more vocal support from allies.
With allies hesitant to jointly condemn India, Canada’s options appear limited for now, at least until incontrovertible evidence emerges. Richard Fadden, former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, stated, “If we don’t get our allies to support this, either publicly or privately, Canada won’t be able to exert significant influence on India in the short or medium term. Our best hope is to prevent a recurrence.”
Canadian government sources indicated that they would have preferred to wait longer before making a statement but felt compelled to act as some domestic media outlets were about to break the story. They hope that more information will become available in due course.
Canada has not disclosed its intelligence findings publicly due to the ongoing murder investigation. A senior source emphasized the importance of India handling this situation responsibly, particularly as India stands on the cusp of global opportunities, which necessitate careful management for its own benefit.