Don Martin: Canada on world stage for wrong reasons

On the bright side, Justin Trudeau got one promise right: Canada is back on the world stage.

Sadly, it’s for all the wrong reasons after the prime minister accused the government of the world’s fifth largest economy of dispatching assassins to kill a Sikh separatist leader in broad daylight outside a Surrey, B.C. temple.

The world took notice, but didn’t exactly rush to Canada’s side despite having advance warning the bombshell would soon be dropped into the public domain.

The Americans allowed they are “deeply concerned” and urged India to co-operate while the stoic Brits vowed to remain in “close touch” about the “serious allegations.” Australia opted to say nothing at all.

In other words, nobody’s jumping aboard Canada’s boat-rocking lest it put their interests in conflict with India’s growing importance democratically, militarily and economically.

The strongest reaction came from India, not surprisingly, which dismissed the allegation as “absurd” and ejected a Canadian diplomat to avenge a similar ouster by Canada.

Trudeau, in classic why-did-he-say-that fashion, insisted Tuesday that his accusations were not intended to “provoke or escalate” tensions with India.

Pray tell what could possibly be more provocative than accusing a government of premeditated murder on foreign soil while it’s hosting their biggest political bash of the decade?

With about $5 billion in trade flowing almost equally in each direction between Canada and India now disconnected from a trade pact within months of its scheduled signing, going public with such an incendiary allegation is a massive gamble.

But let us pause to give Trudeau credit where due.

His government followed a carefully ramped-up process before, during and after he raised the allegation with India’s prime minister. That can’t have been an easy conversation.

And through it all, Trudeau had to appear friendly enough to pass as a grateful guest of the G20 host while ensuring the optics wouldn’t look too cozy in hindsight after the allegations went public.

Trudeau faced plenty of criticism of dropping the ball (again) on India relations after failing to secure a bilateral meeting with the prime minister and shaking loose from Narendra Modi’s prolonged grip. But it all makes sense now, particularly when his brief chat with Modi was summarized as being about “rule of law, democratic principles and national sovereignty.” For once, the official PMO summation accurately reflected the conversation.

Still, with the unknowns far outnumbering the known facts in connecting a Canadian’s violent death to a government directive issued 11,000 kilometres away, nagging doubts linger.

After all, the prime minister’s allegation is based on “credible intelligence” about “a potential link” between the Modi government and the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

What if the intelligence turns out to be less than credible and the link potentially shaky?

The public was cautioned repeatedly during the Chinese interference controversy that our security intelligence-gathering isn’t perfect. Even when it gathers solid intelligence, it has botched communications with the prime minister and appropriate ministers.

To connect a B.C. parking lot murder to a Modi government desk will be a particularly difficult ongoing investigation and, judging by the response, will likely face an unco-operative wall of silent fury from India.

But this cannot stand as an unprovable allegation. The stakes are just too high. Canada needs to produce evidence that’s compelling enough to make rock-solid charges stick or our relations with the world’s fastest-growing economic superpower will enter a new ice age.

Until the evidence comes out, charges are laid and justice is done, Canada is indeed back on the world stage – but mostly alone and facing a very angry tiger.

That’s the bottom line…

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