New Delhi, Sep 18 (EFE).- Canada has postponed a trade mission to India after negotiations for an important free trade agreement stalled and bilateral tensions rose following an awkward encounter between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi.
“At this time, we are postponing the previously scheduled Team Canada Trade Mission to India” Canada’s global affairs spokesperson Marilyne Guèvremont told EFE without specifying the reasons behind the decision.
The trade mission was part of Ottawa’s strategy to reestablish its presence in the Indo-Pacific region from next year.
The rift in bilateral ties comes after a tense meeting between Modi and Trudeau on Sep. 10 after the end of the G20 summit in New Delhi.
At the time, Modi had expressed “strong concerns” about “anti-India activities by “extremist elements in Canada.”
Although no direct reference was made, India has for years protested about the presence and activities of Sikh separatist groups in Canada.
Meanwhile Trudeau told reporters that Canada would always respect freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest.
Earlier this month, Ottawa had already announced that talks for a free trade agreement – which would end tariffs on many sectors of interest – were being suspended due to policy differences between the two sides.
Sikhs form a large chunk of the 1.6 million-strong Indian diaspora in Canada.
In July, tensions between India and Canada spiked after a march supporting the demand for Khalistan – a separate nation for Sikhs mainly corresponding to the Indian state of Punjab – was held in Toronto.
At the time, the Indian government had summoned the Canadian ambassador in New Delhi, Cameron MacKayove, to demand explanations and express its concern.
Sikh separatist groups have been demanding Khalistan nationhood for decades, and the movement resulted in a separatist insurgency in the 1980s that left thousands dead in its wake.
Between 1981 and 1995, the violent Sikh armed uprising killed an estimated 25,000 people in Punjab.
The crisis in Punjab reached its peak in June 1984, when the Indian Army clashed with hundreds of armed pro-independence fighters at the sacred Golden Temple, leaving more than 500 dead.
A few months later, two Sikh bodyguards assassinated India’s then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, unleashing a wave of violence against the minority group in New Delhi in which nearly 2,800 people were killed. EFE