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Trudeau suggests he would raise issue of foreign interference with India’s PM Modi

SINGAPORE — Hours before he was set to board a flight to New Delhi on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had not yet secured a meeting with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But he suggested that if he does end up meeting Modi during his visit to India for the G20 leaders’ summit this weekend, he would bring up the issue of foreign interference in Canada.

“As always, we will emphasize how important the rule of law is,” Trudeau said Friday at a news conference in Singapore when asked what he would say to Modi about allegations that India has engaged in foreign meddling, including in relation to the large Sikh population in Canada.

Trudeau, whose Liberal government announced a public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference on Thursday, went on to say that China is not the only country deserving of scrutiny.

“It is incredibly important that that we continue to protect Canadians from any and all types of interference,” Trudeau said Friday morning.

“One of the things we’re focused on in this inquiry is recognizing, yes, China and Russia are responsible for interference, but other countries engage in it as well,” he said, adding the commission “will go where the facts bring them.”

Trudeau’s national security adviser Jody Thomas said earlier this year that India, a democratic country the Liberals highlighted in their Indo-Pacific strategy as a priority for establishing closer ties, was among the top sources of foreign interference in Canada.

New Delhi has previously argued that elements in Canada have been behind interference in domestic affairs in India, including in relation to the Khalistani separatist movement, which advocates for part of the Indian state of Punjab to become an independent country.

The Indian government perceives this as an extremist movement that endangers national security and has long accused Canada of harbouring extremists. Ottawa has maintained that freedom of speech means groups can voice political opinions so long as they are not violent.

Tensions increased in June after the fatal shooting of a gurdwara leader in Surrey, B.C., which some in the Sikh community say was a politically motivated attack.

Police said they have no evidence of any links to foreign interference and had no reason to believe the Sikh community in Canada is at risk.

This will be Trudeau’s first trip to India since his controversial visit in 2018. At the time, Modi appeared to ignore Trudeau’s presence entirely until the final days of the 10-day visit.

This short trip to India is for the G20 leaders’ meetings in New Delhi, where Trudeau is set to focus on climate change, food, energy security and gender equality.

It also comes as Canada has paused ongoing negotiations for a trade agreement with India.

Earlier this week, federal Trade Minister Mary Ng said the pause is only “a reflection to take stock of where we are.”

On Friday, Trudeau said he had nothing to add.

“We know the negotiations around free trades are long and complex and I won’t say anymore at this time,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2023.

— With files from Dylan Robertson in Ottawa.

The Canadian Press