America’s top diplomat is again urging India and Canada to work together on bringing Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killers to justice — and hopefully forestall a deepening of a serious geopolitical rift between two important allies.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he delivered that message Thursday during his meeting in Washington, D.C., with Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s external affairs minister.
Relations between Canada and India have plumbed new depths since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited “credible allegations” of links between the Indian government and the shooting death of Nijjar, a prominent Sikh separatist and Canadian citizen.
“We’re very concerned about the allegations that have been raised by Canada, by Prime Minister Trudeau,” Blinken told a news conference Friday.
“Those responsible need to be held accountable, and we hope that our friends in both Canada and India will work together to resolve this matter.”
Blinken said the U.S. has been in close contact with both countries about the allegations ever since Trudeau made them public earlier this month in the House of Commons.
“At the same time, we have engaged with the Indian government and urged them to work with Canada on an investigation, and I had the opportunity to do so again in my meeting yesterday with Foreign Minister Jaishankar.”
A State Department readout of that meeting made no mention of the controversy, but experts in international diplomacy say that’s hardly surprising.
The allegations have put the U.S. in an awkward spot, with the Biden administration courting India as it works to develop a geopolitical bulwark against the mounting influence of China.
Trudeau, who expressly asked Blinken to reiterate Canada’s concerns with Jaishankar, paid a visit Friday to a community centre in Brampton, Ont., a Toronto suburb that’s home to Canada’s largest Sikh population.
He moved through an outdoor picnic area, where he encountered a number of people worried about the tensions and the safety of members of the Indo-Canadian community.
“It’s very, very complicated times right now,” Trudeau said. “It’s a time where we have to pull together, we have to be there for each other.”
At another table, he acknowledged the challenge of navigating such serious allegations with a country that is widely seen around the world as a vital economic and geopolitical ally with the West.
“Every Canadian, regardless of where they come from, needs to be safe in this country,” Trudeau said.
“That’s something that even as we look to work and grow our trade ties around the world, including with India, we have to be unequivocal about the rules being the rules.”
Diplomacy under such circumstances can be a tricky and nuanced endeavour. But the U.S. has already taken steps to ensure Trudeau had at least some support from inside the so-called Five Eyes security alliance.
That came last week from David Cohen, the U.S. envoy to Canada, who confirmed that Canada’s allegations were supported in part by intelligence from inside that alliance, which includes the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.
“I think the Americans feel they have backed up the head of the government, the prime minister, with the comments of the ambassador,” said Gary Doer, who spent more than six years as Canada’s envoy to D.C.
“I think if they hadn’t been public through their ambassador, you could look for a tilt, but they did get somebody out there to back up the prime minister.”
A strong economic and diplomatic relationship with India is as important for Canada as it is for the U.S., he added.
“It’s not one versus the other. I think we benefit both ways. And so do they.”
— With files from Jordan Omstead in Brampton, Ont.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press