Trudeau Goes To India
The biggest thing to happen in Canadian political news lately that doesn't have anything to do with Patrick Brown or the Ontario PC leadership race is something that a lot of people, I think regardless of their political beliefs, can shake their head at. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accompanied by his entire family, went to India to talk trade. What Sophie Grégoire Trudeau or their three children bring to a trade discussion is beyond me, but at least they took nice photos everywhere they went in the country. Especially when one of their sons was caught just laying on the ground in a number of them. It isn't surprising, because I really don't see Justin Trudeau telling his child to behave himself while representing an entire nation on the world stage, because he did a terrible job at it himself. From meeting with convicted murderers, blaming everyone under the sun but himself for having that murderer there, forgetting how old Canada is, or not meeting the Indian Prime Minister until his sixth day overseas, it's clear that Mr. Trudeau has no idea what it means to be a leader of a country. This trip perfectly represented the Trudeau Liberal government up until this point in seven days.
The biggest issue that a lot of Canadians (mainly Conservatives because Liberal supporters don't really have the ability to be open minded when it comes to criticizing Trudeau) had with the trip to India is how Justin and his entire family dressed for most of the photo opportunities. When they boarded their plane in Ottawa en route to the subcontinent, they were dressed in what you would assume a diplomat from Canada would be dressed in. The Prime Minister was wearing black pants and shoes, with a black coat. Sophie Grègoire Trudeau was wearing a similar outfit but with a red coat. Their three children were all in what a typical child would wear in Canada. But besides those and a couple other photos, the Trudeau family wore “traditional” Indian attire for the majority of the other photo opportunities. When meeting with famous Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, who thought it completely appropriate to wear a slick black shirt and jacket, Canada’s foremost representative thought it was best to wear an outfit fit for a groom at a very formal wedding. The designer of that particular outfit knew that it would be way too formal, but decided that because Trudeau of comfortable in it, it would be added to his wardrobe. Kim Smiley, a GTA fashion designer, was given the task to create the Trudeau’s over the top attire for the trip. Her idea for her company is a mix between fashion and social change. She has hired six Syrian refugees and pays them $18 an hour. Some of the outfits that Trudeau and Grégoire Trudeau wore required more than one hundred hours of work in order to complete. I don’t know much about fashion, but I do understand that in order for Kim Smiley to make any profit off of those items just in the wage paid and not including the cost of the crystals and fine silks, they would have to be at least $1,800 a piece, and the Prime Minister’s entire family was seen in a number of outfits throughout the trip. And that is just a start; some of Grégoire Trudeau’s outfits were embroidered with Swarovski crystals and same with her earrings and other jewelry. In comparison, when the last Prime Minister Stephen Harper went to India in 2012, the pictures looked very different. First of all, Harper’s only personal guest was his lovely wife Laureen. Both of their children were not with them during their trip, meanwhile the young Trudeau’s were in every photo, including some where their youngest son was sitting or laying on the ground in front of important officials. If that doesn’t scream inappropriate, I don’t know what does. Another difference in the Harper’s 2012 trip to India and the 2018 Trudeau vacation was the attire. Stephen and Laureen Harper wore simple business suits and dresses respectfully, and even dawned a Team Canada Hudson’s Bay Company sweaters to play cricket and road hockey with locals. I really feel like that those outfits didn’t cost the taxpayers in Canada nearly as much as the Trudeau outfits did. As much as the Prime Minister went too far with how he dressed on this trip, besides the cost that it most definitely cost us, I really don’t think this was the biggest controversy. There are far more serious issues that need to be focused on before the outfits that were worn, with some potential repercussions the Canadian government will be dealing with for a while.
The Canadian first family was also criticized on the purpose of the trip as well. The trip from the get-go seemed a bit relaxed for a business trip. The Trudeau family and the Prime Minister’s staff was scheduled to be in India for six days, but with only one day of actual business meetings at the end of the trip. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, when asked on CTV’s Power Play, denied that the week long trip on the other side of the world was a family vacation, and said that it was all business and serious work was done the entire time. While she could very well be right - we didn’t get a live feed of what the Prime Minister was doing every second of every day - I highly doubt he was worried about business the entire time. Justin Trudeau has made it very clear that when it comes to making deals with foreign leaders, the priority is his gender political stance over making an actual good deal that benefits Canadians (just look at NAFTA). The trip gave the feel of a vacation right as the Trudeau family exited their plan in New Delhi, where the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not greet them. This is very different than how Modi has met other foreign leaders to his country, where he is known for hugging them as they arrive in his country. I will acknowledge the fact that Modi, while giving off a loving vibe, has some marks on his reputation that he would rather not be brought to light. He has watched his country go through a number of religious-based beatings, killings, burnings, and other human right crimes. He is not for same-sex marriages, and wants to potentially expel the Rohingya refugees out of India. Nevertheless, he was absent at the airport that Trudeau arrived at. In 2014, when Stephen Harper visited Modi in India, he was also not met at the airport. These two leaders getting the cold-shoulder is more likely to be the result of Canada not being a top priority for the Indian government. While Canadian economists and government officials say India is one of our more important allies in Asia, the same can’t really be said in reverse. Both Presidents Obama and Trump were received by Modi right away when they arrived, which gives the unsurprising assumption that India values its relationship with the United States more than it does for Canada. However, unlike Mr. Trudeau it did not take Mr. Harper five days to meet with Modi. The “business” incentive of the trip is also very different than when Harper was there in 2012 and 2014. Harper, a free-trade advocate, was interested in increasing the two-way trade between our countries from $5 billion to $15 billion annually. What we got out of Trudeau’s 2018 trip pales in comparison; Trudeau struck a $1 billion investment deal, but the number is misleading. In reality, the deal is a $500 million dollar trade deficit (Trudeau loves deficits), in which Canadian businesses are doing the bulk of investment. Indian companies are only investing $250 million into our economy, and Canadian businesses will invest $750 million back into India. This is not surprising as Canada’s economy is more lucrative and can afford to invest more in the developing country’s economy, but the Prime Minister shouldn’t make it seem like we’re walking away with a great deal. Sure, Canada will see around 6,000 new jobs added to our economy, but Trudeau has advertised it as much more. And that’s a potential 6,000 new jobs. With minimum wage going up across the country and carbon taxes being implemented soon, we’ll see if we actually gain those 6,000 new jobs or if companies can’t afford it. Regardless, when it takes five days to meet with any Indian government officials during a six day trip filled with sightseeing and photo ops, it really doesn’t seem like business was the highest priority of our Prime Minister. Especially when we remember that the Prime Minister invited a celebrity chef, Vikram Vij, on the trip. Although claims that he was being paid to cater for the Trudeau’s turned out to be false, and he was actually working for free, Canadian taxpayers still footed the bill for Vij’s airfare and hotel costs. Having a celebrity chef attend the trip, regardless of whether or not he was getting paid or not, adds fuel to the fire of accusations of going on a holiday with a sprinkle of business.
The list of controversies continues to grow. Next on the list of issues Canadians and Indians share in regards to Trudeau’s tourism is his apparent lack of memory. The controversial memory slip was when Trudeau told an Indian audience that Canada was 100 years old. Considering that the Government of Canada, through the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, spent half a billion dollars commemorating Canada’s 150th birthday. That included the $8.1 million dollar ice rink on the front lawn of Trudeau’s office at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. So if anyone should know the age of the country, it should be the Prime MInister just in principle. But when he signed off on the ridiculous cost to celebrate that milestone in our country’s history, that makes him even more responsible for remembering that Canada is actually 150 years old.
The the most controversial and potentially offending mistake that Trudeau is guilty of, and which could hold repercussions that make the entire trip a waste of time, was his potential wink to Sikh nationalists. Before the trip even began, speculations of Canada’s Liberal government supporting the Sikh nationalist movement had been making their rounds. The Indian media outlet, Outlook India, had Justin Trudeau on the cover with the headline “Khalistan II - Made in Canada”. In the article, Indian writers alleged that there are a number of MPs in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet that are sympathetic to the Khalistan separatist movement in India’s Punjab region. Before I explain why this is quite possibly the biggest mistake made during Trudeau’s time in India, you should understand why the Sikh separatist movement divides the country the way it does.
Imagine in the late 20th century during Canada’s separatist movement in Quebec, the FLQ was not only connected to 200 minor bombings and violence peaking in 1970 when members kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross and Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte, but instead began attacking villages and killing everyone the FLQ deemed enemies. And then imagine that in response to these attacks, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau chased the FLQ into a Catholic church that held a special place in Quebecois culture, and used the Canadian military to attack them inside, damaging the church and killing local Quebecois. Now imagine that in response to the attack on that church Francophone Canadians across the nation rose up in anger, and some of the Original Trudeau’s bodyguards assassinated him. Finally, for the year to follow, leading to the present, that the sympathetic attitude towards the movement were solidified in Canada and had people in Parliament pushing to keep the movement alive and hold the government accountable for the brutality committed by the army. That is how people in India feel about the Khalistan movement. It started by a radical Sikh preacher taking control of a peaceful people, guiding them down a dangerous and violent path attacking villagers and killing “enemies”. The Indian government chased down the separatists to the Golden Temple (a very important religious site for Sikhs around the world), and attacked it with the army killing civilians in the area. Out of retaliation of the attack, Sikh bodyguards of the Prime Minister assassinated her, dividing the country up even more. And to this day, there are still people in India and around the world who want a separate Sikh nation and for the actions taken by the Indian government to be condemned as a genocide. If you want to take a deeper look into the Sikh movement in India, the article by Jetly that I've referenced gives a good chronological explanation of the events as well as the different arguments for and against separating.
How does this long and deadly separatist movement have to do with Justin Trudeau and his trip to India? Like I said earlier, Trudeau has four Cabinet Ministers who identify as Sikh, although they all have stated that they are not sympathetic to the Khalistan movement, not now or ever. However, Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh said that he believed that there are Khalistan supporters in Trudeau’s government, referencing back to a statement he made a year prior where he said he would avoid Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan during his India trip. India has accused Canada of harbouring Sikh extremists, and also note that during his 2015 election campaign, Trudeau was supported by a radical Sikh temple in Toronto. Our Prime Minister also made sure to stop at the Golden Temple while on his tour of India, although I don’t think that’s a massive issue seeing as Stephen Harper was sure to stop there as well. While that may all be baseless accusations made by the Indian government, who is worried that the Khalistan movement could rise again, that is not the only thing involving Sikh nationalists.
At the end of his India trip, Trudeau was at a wine-and-dine event with a number of important Indian figures. However, one person that should not have been there is a man by the name of Jaspal Atwal. Atwal used to be a member of a Sikh extremist group called the International Sikh Youth Federation that’s goal was to form an independent Khalistan. The same group was banned in Canada and labeled a terrorist organization in 2003. Atwal was also arrested and convicted for attempted murder for being one of four people involved with a shooting of an Indian cabinet minister during his trip to British Columbia in 1986, as well as being charged in 1985 for attacking a Liberal Member of Parliament for their opinion against Khalistan. He also was charged more recently for fraud charges in 2010, but besides proving that Jaspal Atwal is a criminal, those more recent charges don’t have anything to do with the scandal he’s found himself in. But imagine you’re India’s Prime Minister or another important government official, and you look over and see a visiting foreign leader’s wife standing next to a convicted terrorist against your own government and taking a picture with him. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau later said that she didn’t realize who he was, and got caught up in the moment, but based on the events the unfolded afterwards I have a hard time believing she was unaware of who Atwal was and what his criminal record is filled with.
When news got back to Canada that our Prime Minister had wined-and-dined a convicted terrorist and invited him on a trip to the country that he for all intents and purposes attacked, people began asking how could this happen. Originally invited to the reception in Mumbai (where the photo with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau was taken), Atwal was also invited to a reception in New Delhi, but it was canceled once outrage over his presence began. We all wanted to know who invited Atwal, seeing as it is highly unlikely that the Indian government reached out to an extremist that wanted to see an Indian cabinet minister dead. But as far fetched as that sounds, that is exactly what Trudeau’s hand picked senior advisor on intelligence and national security Daniel Jean claimed, and that Justin Trudeau backed. So at this point, Trudeau is blaming the Indian government for inviting someone who is blacklisted in the country for a pretty intolerable crime. Classic Trudeau being unable to take the fall for something that his government did.
And that is exactly who to blame - Trudeau’s government. Trudeau has since recanted his blame on the Indian government, but denied knowing Jaspal Atwal personally. Another claim that seems to be untrue. Atwal is a major Liberal vote-farmer, and has made a statement saying that he knows Justin Trudeau, and would consider them friends. He says that Trudeau sat with him in his Hummer in 2008 or 2009. So, if Atwal is speaking the truth, Trudeau clearly is not. The Liberal MP for Surrey Centre in B.C., Randeep Sarai, has since resigned from his position of chair in the Liberal Party’s Pacific Caucus. Atwal has since said he asked Sarai if he could attend, and Sarai said that it was his judgement alone that saw Atwal attend the Mumbai event. But Sarai has also said that when they got requests to attend an event, he forwarded Atwal’s name to the trip’s advisors. So either he was lying when he said it was his judgement alone, or he’s lying about letting others know that a terrorist was going to be apart of their trip. Either way, it doesn’t excuse the Canadian government for allowing a convicted extremist to attend the Mumbai event.
It is the flip-flopping that I really believe is the most controversial and potentially relationship-ending thing that happened during Trudeau’s time in India. Not only was Atwal in attendance, which in itself should have never been allowed, but our government blamed the Indian government because they seemed to be caught red handed. And honestly, after watching how Trudeau handled the Omar Khadr case as well as how he was buddy-buddy with Joshua Boyle (who is facing a couple dozen charges since being returned to Canada from Afghanistan for kidnapping, forced confinement and sexual abuse), I don’t blame the Indian government if they were to take offence to our government playing the blame game. Hopefully with all of the news circulating these events, and the outrage both in India as well as in Canada, the Indian government won’t pull out of the “$1 billion” trade deal that was the purpose of the entire trip to begin with.
Links and Articles Used
Jetly, R. (2008). THE KHALISTAN MOVEMENT IN INDIA: The Interplay of Politics and State Power. International Review of Modern Sociology, 34(1), 61-75. Retrieved March 12, 2018, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41421658