The government is having to inform U.S. officials’ perceptions of Canada’s relationship to separatism, based on External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s description of his meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
The minister had characterised Canada as having a “permissiveness” with regard to terrorism and violence, a view that “ astonished” many in the States, he said. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had alleged on September 18 that the government was involved in the June killing of a Canadian Khalistani leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia. New Delhi has denied any involvement.
“ In a way, a lot of what I said at the meetings, I think was new to the Americans,” Mr. Jaishankar told journalists at a press conference on Friday afternoon at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC.
It was important for the government to talk things through with the U.S. government because they were “ good friends” and also “close” to Canada, and it was important for them to have an “ accurate picture” , Mr. Jaishankar said. Beyond the government, in general, “ a lot of Americans” were astonished to hear the government’s perception of Canada, he said.
More generally, Mr Jaishankar linked the row over the death of Mr Nijjar to the larger issue of Canada permitting expressions of separatist sentiment on freedom of expression grounds, including in the context of a potential resolution of the current discord.
Mr Jaishankar drew attention to the larger context.
“No incident is isolated,” he said, adding, however, that he did not want to prejudge issues and was not taking absolutist positions.
The minister said India’s missions in Canada had been attacked and its diplomats threatened.
“We are a democracy, we don’t need to learn from other people what freedom of speech is about,” Mr Jaishankar said. “But we can tell people this: we don’t think freedom of speech extends to incitement to violence.”
If this had happened to any other country, how would they react? he said, pointing to the fact that this was happening in a G7 and Commonwealth country.
“Let’s not normalize what’s happening in Canada,” he added.
While time was spent talking to his American interlocutors about Canada, Mr. Jaishankar said it was just one part of a larger discussion as the U.S.-India relationship was multidimensional. His meetings on Friday included bilateral discussions with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo as well as a roundtable with defence companies at the US India Business Council, an industry body.
On Friday evening, Mr. Jaishankar attended a cultural event on the National mall, the World Culture Festival , organized by the Art of Living and its leader, Sri Sri Ravishankar. Significantly, the MCs used “India, Bharat” when introducing Mr. Jaishankar.