Freedom of expression being misused in Canada by anti-India elements: MEA

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi underlines concerns ahead of pro-Khalistan rallies planned in major western cities

Updated - July 07, 2023 10:06 am IST

Published - July 06, 2023 11:35 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Pro-Khalistan protestors demonstrate outside the Indian High Commission in London on March 22, 2023. Growing presence of pro-Khalistan elements in Canada, U.K., U.S. and Australia have been a nagging problem for India’s relation with these countries.

Pro-Khalistan protestors demonstrate outside the Indian High Commission in London on March 22, 2023. Growing presence of pro-Khalistan elements in Canada, U.K., U.S. and Australia have been a nagging problem for India’s relation with these countries. | Photo Credit: AP

Freedom of expression is being “misused” by extremists in Canada to “legitimise terrorism”, said Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi in New Delhi on July 6. He reiterated India’s call for Canada to rein in pro-Khalistan elements who have circulated posters inciting violence against Indian diplomats in Canada, U.S., and Australia ahead of an expected pro-Khalistan demonstration on July 8. Mr. Bagchi’s remarks came soon after Canadian PM Justin Trudeau argued that Canada is taking steps to fight extremism without compromising freedom of expression.

“These posters inciting violence against our diplomats and our diplomatic premises abroad are unacceptable and we condemn them in the strongest terms. With respect to Canada, the matter has been strongly taken up with the Canadian authorities both in New Delhi and in Ottawa. We have called on the Government of Canada to ensure safety of our diplomats and our diplomatic missions in Canada,” said Mr. Bagchi.

Growing presence of pro-Khalistan elements in Canada, U.K., U.S. and Australia have been a nagging problem for India’s relation with these countries. The matter acquired a new dimension in June 2023 when a float in Canada that was taken out to mark the 1984 Operation Blue Star, depicted the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar earlier remarked that Canada has not been proactive in containing the Khalistan problem because of “vote bank politics” as the Government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau relies on votes from the Sikh community.

Mr. Trudeau has strongly refuted Mr. Jaishankar’s remarks saying, “they are wrong” and added, “We have an extremely diverse country and freedom of expression is something that we value, but we will always make sure that we are pushing back against violence and extremism in all its forms,” while addressing a press conference.

Mr. Bagchi however argued without naming the Canadian leader and said, “It is a matter of concern that freedom of expression and speech is once again being misused by anti-India elements based in Canada and elsewhere and we continue to press the Canadian side that our diplomats can carry out their normal functions without fear or intimidation.” He also said that India has taken note of attacks and threats of violence against Indian diplomatic premises and Indian diplomats in the U.S., and the UK.

“The issue is not about freedom of expression but its misuse for advocating violence, for propagating separatism and for legitimising terrorism. That is what we would like to emphasise,” said Mr. Bagchi naming U.S., U.K., and Australia as well. Earlier on Thursday, Foreign Secretary of the U.K. James Cleverly addressed India’s concerns about safety of diplomats in the context of the pro-Khalistan rallies on Saturday in major western cities, saying, “Any direct attacks on the Indian High Commission in London are completely unacceptable. We have made clear to [High Commissioner] Vikram Doraiswamy and the Government of India that the safety of staff at the High Commission is paramount.”

Pro-Khalistan protestors had vandalised the front of the property on March 19, taking down the Tricolour from the facade of the building. The glass door was also broken during this incident and remains cracked as of July 2023.

The government had, at the time, alleged that the U.K. government was not taking its long-standing concerns about the security of the Indian High Commission seriously enough and had responded by lowering security for British High Commissioner Alex Ellis in New Delhi.

Days later, at another pro-Khalistan protest outside India House, the security situation appeared to be quite different, with large numbers of Metropolitan Police forming a cordon on either side of the street.

Also read | Canada is ‘giving space to extremists’, says Jaishankar

Mr. Bagchi also said India “strongly condemns” the July 2 arson attack on the Indian consulate in San Francisco and noted that the fire incident was “quickly brought under control by local authorities.” “We have taken up the matter with the U.S. side and the U.S. administration has responded very promptly at very senior levels,” said Mr. Bagchi stating that the security of Indian diplomats and diplomatic premises are of “utmost priority” to the Indian government.

(With inputs from Sriram Lakshman)

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