The Canadian government made it clear for the first time that it would not recognize the results of the Punjab 2020 referendum being organized by the pro-Khalistan group Sikh for Justice (SFJ).
With the aim of forming a separate state of Punjab in India, a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry said in an email: “Canada respects sovereignty, India’s unity and territorial integrity and the Government of Canada will not recognize the referendum . “
The spokesperson also said that the bilateral relationship between Canada and India “is a priority for the Government of Canada.”
Indian officials did not want to comment on this development on record, though one described it as “significant” that this was put in writing and a change from the earlier stance that the referendum was protected by freedom of speech and expression rights in Canada. An official also pointed out that a recent message in this respect from Ottawa, stating its opposition to the referendum, was also communicated to New Delhi, via the High Commission in Canada.
India’s High Commissioner in Ottawa Ajay Bisaria also refused to address this particular matter, but said, “We continue to engage closely with Canadian partners, including security agencies on a range of bilateral security issues. Canada has been requested to check anti-India activities and to proscribe individuals and entities declared illegal in India.”
Following the return of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister in October, New Delhi made it clear in official interactions that the issue of support for Khalistan in Canada had hindered relations between the two nations and expected more from the Canadian side. India, an official said, has noticed a perceptible difference in the attitude with which Canada has approached this contentious matter in recent months, a development described as “positive”.
Coordination between security and intelligence agencies has also improved, with a delegation of the Royal Canadian Mounter Police (RCMP) holding discussions with counterparts in the National Investigative Agency (NIA) late last year. “There is active diplomacy and conversations going on,” an official said.
In January this year, SFJ had written to Trudeau seeking his support for the non-binding referendum. The separatist organization plans to hold it in November, with in-person voting at various venues across the world including the Canadian cities of Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton.
Reacting to the statement, SFJ’s legal advisor Gurpatwant Pannun said they were “not seeking recognition” of the right to freedom of expression from the Trudeau Government since it was guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. He went on to say that such “political statements hold no water.”