Canada and India: Diplomatic Crossroads or New Horizons?

Sikh Rights or Extremism?

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Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd) served in the Indian Army, Armoured Corps, 65 Armoured Regiment, 27 August 83- 07 April 2007. Operational experience in the Indian Army includes Sri Lanka – OP PAWAN, Nagaland and Manipur – OP HIFAZAT, and Bhalra - Bhaderwah, District Doda Jammu and Kashmir, including setting up of a counter-insurgency school – OP RAKSHAK. He regularly contributes to Defence and Security issues in the Financial Express online, Defence and Strategy, Fauji India Magazine and Salute Magazine. *Views are personal.

Democracy, diversity in culture, ethnicity, religion, and frequent personal interactions have all contributed to developing a close bond between the two nations.

India’s relationship with Canada has seen numerous shifts and changes since India gained independence in August 1947. The relationship has evolved, covering many areas, including trade, education, technology, and political cooperation.

Various factors, including the diaspora, economic interests, and geopolitical considerations, influence the Indo-Canadian relationship. The engagement has been generally positive in recent years, although some historical issues and political differences have affected the relationship negatively. These issues have led to an unprecedented diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

India and Canada have a long history of diplomatic relations dating back to 1947, when India gained independence.

Establishment of Relations (1947)

Diplomatic relations were established in 1947 after India gained independence.

Aid Program (1951)

Canada’s aid program to India began in 1951 and grew substantially under the Colombo Plan. 

Nuclear Cooperation (1974)

Relations deteriorated due to India’s Smiling Buddha nuclear test in 1974. 


Canada is home to one of the largest communities of Indian origin, with approximately 4% of Canadians being of Indian heritage (1.4 million people).

 Five Eyes (FVEY)

Five Eyes is an intelligence organisation widely known to share signal intelligence (SIGINT) between an alliance of five countries – US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. These countries are part of a UK-USA Agreement, a multilateral treaty to share Signal intelligence, but also expanding its network to share defence Intel, Human Intel (HUMINT) and Geospatial intel (GEOINT). In other words, it is a Supra national intel organisation. It bears no visible HQs, no insignia and no visible leader or representatives.

The official charter of the Five Eyes alliance is not publicly disclosed, and much of its work and agreements are shrouded in secrecy, given the sensitive nature of intelligence operations. However, its objectives can be inferred based on historical documents, statements from member countries, and occasional leaks.

But there is much more to what meets the EYE

The history of Five Eye is rooted in the developments of World War II – Where UK PM Churchill and US President Roosevelt agreed upon a treaty due to the informal meetings of US and UK code breakers during the world war. These code breakers turned the tide of war by breaking the German Enigma code (by Alan Turing) and the Japanese Purple Code.

From a Secret Treaty to A Formal Agreement

This practical cooperation between the US and the UK during World War II in the field of SIGINT was then formalised by signing a secret treaty. The British–US Communication Intelligence Agreement, also called the BRUSA Agreement, was signed on May 17, 1943. It was a two-country secret agreement. The same secret treaty was later formalised in March 1946 as the UK-US Agreement, which formed the basis for cooperation in the field of SIGINT between the US NSA & British GCHQ.

Coming of FVEY

The UKUS Agreement or treaty was then extended to Canada in 1948, Norway in 1952, Denmark in 1954, West Germany in 1955, and Australia and New Zealand in 1956. Although Australia and New Zealand joined the treaty a year later, their status as the US and UK’s formal commonwealth allies was elevated in 1955, paving the way for forming this very Supra National Intel organisation, which we now know as Five Eyes.

Atlantic Charter – The New World Order?

But it also finds its roots in the Atlantic Charter, a charter agreed upon by Churchill and Roosevelt to lay down the foundations of a new world in a post-world war scenario – A new world order that we often discuss daily. It was initially an informal agreement between Churchill and Roosevelt in 1941. Later, it was formalised by including more countries and paved the way for organisations like Five Eyes, based on the secret and formalised treaties. In the words of the intelligence community, this Atlantic Charter allowed these countries to form one of the most sophisticated intelligence organisations in human history. Joe Biden and Boris Johnson signed a new Atlantic Charter in 2021.

The same intel organisation in the 1960s worked under the code name ECHELONS and shared intel on China, the Soviet Union and Several eastern European countries, known as the Exotics. This activity was at its peak during the Cold War era, and in 1991, ECHELONS were exposed to the world, attracting criticism and a debate on the surveillance of the public and other countries, disregarding domestic and international laws. This was well before Snowden and Assange. But nothing changed. ECHELONS went into the shadows only for the optics, and the War on Terror came after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

War on Terror – An Amplifier for Five Eyes 

Five Eyes enhanced its capacity to monitor the World Wide Web, and later on, it can monitor almost every app available in the virtual world. It has access to SPIRnet, a classified internet service in the US other than the regular internet we all use. It bugged the communication of Kofi AnnanU and gathered intel on several communications between officials of the UN and UN Weapon Inspector Hanx Blix to use the information to force them to get their favourable vote in the UN to invade Iraq.

It also runs infamous programs like PRISM, XKeyscore, TEMPORA, MUSCULAR, STATEROOM, etc. This all came after September 11 and the start of the War on T​error. The ECHELONS now seemed to be a pilot project in the face of this massive worldwide surveillance by this powerful alliance from the platform of FVEY and beyond.

The Five Eyes of FVEY is not just your everyday SIGINT organisation. It’s a tool for moulding the world’s geopolitics per the aspirations and goals set in the initial Atlantic Charter and, later on, the new Atlantic Charter between the US and the UK. It is a tool of the world’s most powerful economies to have an eye on the happenings, developments and scenarios and project foresight for these countries to formulate their policies and set their trajectories accordingly. In the world of 0s and 1s, it is the absolute master sitting at the top of the food chain, and in the world of geopolitics, it is the sword used for killing shots.

The US Ambassador to Canada, David Cohen, has stated that the claim made by the Trudeau administration of a potential link between Indian agents and the killing of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar was based on shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners. The US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand make up the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.

Key objectives-Five Eyes Alliance

Shared Intelligence

The core principle of the alliance is the sharing of intelligence, particularly signals intelligence, among member nations. This shared intelligence helps inform and support member nations’ national security and foreign policy objectives.

Cooperative Collection and Analysis 

Member countries cooperate in collecting, processing, and analysing intelligence. They also share resources, techniques, and technologies to enhance their collective intelligence capabilities.

Counterterrorism and Cybersecurity

The alliance is crucial in counterterrorism efforts, cyber defence, and countering cyber espionage and cyber-crime. The shared intelligence helps to detect, prevent, and respond to various threats.

Diplomatic and Military Coordination

Through the alliance, member countries coordinate on various diplomatic and military issues, facilitating a shared understanding and approach toward global security challenges.

Technical and Analytical Training

The Five Eyes alliance also facilitates the exchange of expertise, training, and best practices among member countries, helping to improve their individual and collective intelligence capabilities.

The Five Eyes alliance operates under a framework of trust and confidentiality, with member countries agreeing not to spy on each other while sharing empathetic intelligence to protect their interests and security.

The Sikh Populist Card

Sikh Diaspora in Canada

Canada is home to a significant Sikh diaspora, and politicians often engage with various community groups to garner support. Some segments of this diaspora have shown sympathies towards the Khalistan movement, which seeks to create a separate Sikh state in the Punjab region of India.

Political Engagement

Like many politicians, Justin Trudeau has engaged with different communities to seek electoral support. However, his interactions with specific groups or individuals associated with Khalistani sympathies have drawn criticism.

Justin Trudeau 2018 India Visit

During Justin Trudeau’s 2018 visit to India, his perceived soft stance on Khalistani extremism was scrutinised. Inviting a convicted attempted murderer, Jaspal Atwal, to a reception in India caused a diplomatic stir, and Trudeau had to clarify Canada’s stance against extremism.

Political Repercussions

Engaging with various diaspora groups is a part of the political landscape in Canada. However, the perceived association with Khalistani elements has had diplomatic repercussions for Canada-India relations.

Canadian Stand

Canadian officials have often reiterated that Canada values a united India and does not support any form of extremism. However, Canada also values freedom of expression, which sometimes leads to a delicate balancing act in dealing with such issues.

Chinese Intervention in Canadian Politics

China’s alleged interference and influence in foreign political systems, including Canada’s, has been a topic of concern and discussion in recent years. This issue has several facets, and the extent and nature of any intervention are subject to debate. Below are some of the aspects of the concerns regarding Chinese intervention in Canadian politics and Canada-China relations:

Economic Ties

Canada has significant economic and trade ties with China. As one of the largest markets in the world, China is an important trading partner for Canada. The desire to maintain and expand economic ties could influence political decisions or stances.

Huawei Case

The arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada at the United States’s request was a significant tension in Canada-China relations. China’s subsequent arrest of two Canadian citizens was seen by many as a retaliatory move, highlighting the potential political and diplomatic ramifications of Canada’s actions regarding China.

Alleged Political Interference

Chinese attempts to influence Canadian politicians, political parties, or the public have been accused of involvement in the country’s affairs. The actual scope and effects of any such purported meddling, however, are impossible to verify.

United Front Work Department

Concerns have been raised about the activities of the United Front Work Department, a Chinese Communist Party organisation that promotes China’s interests abroad. It is suspected of engaging in influence operations in various countries, including Canada.

Confucius Institutes

The presence of Confucius Institutes in Canada and other countries has also raised concerns about potential Chinese government influence in educational institutions.

Canada’s Stance

While there are economic incentives for maintaining good relations with China, Canada also has its concerns regarding human rights, the rule of law, and other issues in China. Canada’s stance towards China is influenced by various factors, including its economic interests, its alliance with the United States, and its domestic political considerations.

The relationship between Canada and China is complex and multifaceted. It’s subject to a wide range of global and bilateral factors, and the degree to which China might be intervening in Canadian politics, or the degree to which Canada is “leaning” on China for political aims, can be interpreted differently based on one’s perspective and the specific issues at hand.

There have been concerns and reports about foreign interference and influence activities in various countries, including Canada. Regarding China, these concerns often revolve around attempts to monitor or influence Chinese diaspora communities abroad.

Like many other countries, Canada is navigating its relationship with China amidst economic, political, and security concerns. Canadian authorities are likely aware of the challenges posed by foreign interference and have mechanisms in place to address potential threats to Canada’s sovereignty and the rights of its citizens.

Government of India’s Dominance on Indian Origin Citizens Abroad

Intelligence agencies’ activities and interactions with diaspora communities can be shrouded in secrecy and are sensitive topics. However, as of my last training cut-off in 2021, no widely acknowledged reports or official statements suggest that Indian intelligence agencies threaten the Indian diaspora like the reported actions of Chinese agencies.

India is a democratic country with a vibrant civil society and a tradition of political debate and discourse. However, like many countries, it has concerns about foreign interference, extremism, and other security issues.

People from diaspora communities worldwide often get involved in politics in their home countries, which can get them in trouble with their home governments or other political players.

The nature and extent of interactions between Indian intelligence agencies and the diaspora are likely complex. They could be influenced by various factors, including the political climate in India, the activities of diaspora groups, and the policies of the countries where these individuals reside.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Acceptance as a Leader

Justin Trudeau’s leadership has invoked a range of opinions among Canadians, and like with many political leaders, views on him can be polarised.

Positive Views

Some Canadians appreciate Trudeau’s progressive stance on social issues such as LGBTQ rights, gender equality, and racial justice. His commitment to climate change mitigation and environmental policies has garnered support among Canadians concerned about these issues. His government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including support for individuals and businesses affected, was initially well-received by some portions of the public.

Trudeau’s international persona and his youthful, energetic demeanour have also been points of attraction for some Canadians.

Negative Views

Others criticise Trudeau for a perceived lack of experience or substance in handling some of the country’s economic and policy challenges. Some Canadians have been upset by ethical controversies, including the SNC-Lavalin and WE Charity scandals, which they see as indicative of a lack of transparency or ethical rigour. There are also critics of his fiscal policies, especially concerns about the rising national debt and deficit.

His handling of relations with China, especially after the detention of two Canadians (Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor) following the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada, has also been a point of contention.

Mixed Views

Some commend the efforts made on matters like Indigenous relations and reconciliation, while others believe there needs to be more tangible progress. His stance on various pipeline projects has also seen mixed reactions, with some believing it’s a necessary compromise between economic and environmental considerations and others seeing it as either a betrayal of climate commitments or detrimental to economic growth.

Some issues for the readers to mull over and make their judgements

Does the Five Eye agreement have a charter to determine the world geopolitics as per a pre-determined agenda?

The stand of the Western governments on the war on terror remains exposed as they have failed to chastise an important ally harbouring terrorists who have violated Canadian laws, entered their country, and were granted citizenship.

The extra-judicial killing of Osama Bin Laden for his role in the 9/11 terror strikes at Abbottabad, Pakistan, witnessed by POTUS and his key staff members, indicates a short memory of the Secretary of State who has encouraged India to participate in the joint investigations.

In a recent press report, it has been revealed that two of the terror suspects of 9/11 were probably CIA agents.

The majority of Canadian opposition leaders believe that the evidence claimed by their PM Justin Trudeau, is from open sources.

If the US, under their agreement with Five Eyes, provided hard evidence against India to the Canadians, can the US Government be trusted as a strategic partner of India?

Will the Indian government, during the State Visit of President Joe Biden for the Republic Day Parade 2024, engage and question this duplicity?

While many journalists and diplomats observe that Justin Trudeau could have handled this better by engaging through different diplomatic forums and channels, his political rankings have dived. This was an attempt to play to the domestic vote banks.

India should remain aggressive in its diplomacy and provide evidence of the connivance of the Canadian government in its tacit support to the anti-India Canadian citizens. This aggressiveness should be followed up with the UK, Australia and the US, where Khalistan elements have threatened violence against Indians/ Indian origin citizens following different faiths.

At home, the government has been acting on these anti-national elements who have fled the country and are now citizens abroad. Care needs to be taken not to use a broad brush and call all peace-loving Sikhs as Khalistan’s.

​The days ahead will be interesting as the diplomacy of both the countries will be put through its acid test.


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