Canada doesn’t back separatism, says outgoing envoy Patel

Canada doesn’t back separatism, says outgoing envoy Patel

Nadir Patel

Sandeep Dikshit & KV Prasad

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 24

Canada has made it clear that it respects the territorial integrity and unity of India. “We do not support separatism (in India),” Canada’s long-serving High Commissioner to India Nadir Patel said in an interview to The Tribune. Patel said if there was any violation of Canadian law or if someone crossed the line, “we will act on any evidence given to us”.

At the same time, Patel indicated that India should not be minatory over low-level activity that did not breach any law. “We very much respect the constitutional charter of rights which provides for freedom of expression,’’ he said.

According to popular perception, India-Canada ties took a nosedive over Ottawa’s empathy with Sikh separatists that culminated with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s weeklong trip to India in early 2018 being termed a “diplomatic disaster”. Patel, who is now packing bags to return after an unusually long five-year tenure, said Ottawa would like to see more opportunities for Indians relocating to Canada, whether in the short or long-term. “We have a special place for India... Canada has a long-standing, very positive and deep-rooted relationship with Punjab which goes back many, many years to the late 1800s,’’ he observed. Patel dispelled the impression that bilateral ties had gone into a deep freeze after New Delhi felt Ottawa was indulgent towards Khalistani separatists.

“The relationship has not seen any slowdown or loss of momentum,’’ he asserted while pointing to frequent high-level conversations, such as the one between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and the new Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne in December during which both decided to explore new areas of cooperation.

The perception on a deceleration in bilateral ties may be because of election cycles in both countries last year. While India went to the polls in the first half of 2019, Canada held elections in the latter part of the year, thus leading to fewer high-profile exchanges. “Probably there is more happening under the radar. Believe me, there is no slowdown,’’Patel said while referring to the counsellor-level dialogue, a meeting of the joint working group on counter-terrorism and numerous engagements at the official level.

On Kashmir, Patel referred to a statement by Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland that Canada was very concerned over the potential risk of escalation and wished to see measures to reduce the chances of a conflagration. “Like any friend, we would like to see the risks managed and maintained,’’ he said, adding that Ottawa preferred not to talk about such issues publicly.

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