French President Charles de Gaulle travelled to Quebec, ostensibly to visit Canada’s Expo 67, on July 24, 1967. But the old rascal had something entirely different in mind.
He had come to Canada for one reason: to stir up trouble. Leaning over a balcony before a large Montreal crowd, he uttered a carefully rehearsed phrase he knew would cause a diplomatic crisis. “Vive le Quebec libre,” he boomed.
De Gaulle knew separatists used the slogan daily in their rabble-rousing speeches. It was calculated to stir up passions – and to make trouble with Canada.
Canadian officials were flabbergasted. Prime Minister Lester Pearson got as mad as his mild-mannered nature allowed and a diplomatic row ensued.
Canada could have retaliated in kind but fortunately cooler heads prevailed.
De Gaulle’s inexcusable meddling in Canada’s affairs occurred during the days of the FLQ – letter bombs were the order of the day. Canada was having trouble enough dealing with Quebec separatism. The last thing we needed was interference from another country. It’s just luck that de Gaulle’s recklessness didn’t result in deadly confrontations.
De Gaulle’s interference in Canada’s affairs was a major breach of international protocol. A friendly country should not meddle in the internal affairs of another country. And a country should prevent its citizens from meddling with the sovereign matters of another country.
But that’s exactly what India alleges the Canadian government is doing. Sikh separatists in India’s Punjab region have long agitated for their own state, Khalistan. This agitation has included terrorist acts and deaths.
This is exactly what Quebec separatists were doing in 1967 – violently agitating for a sovereign Quebec.
And India firmly believes that Canada’s Liberal government is interfering with its internal matters in a destructive way. They point to the fact that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and some of his ministers have attended events to celebrate Sikh independence and honour the Sikh terrorists.
And other federal party leaders are also soft on Sikh nationalism.
Two Sikh organizations, Babbar Khalsa International and the International Sikh Youth Federation, are listed as terrorist entities in Canada. A recent federal government assessment lists Sikh extremism as one of the five top terrorist threats to the country. Monies collected by such groups make their way to pro-Khalistan groups in India.
The Indian government believes that Canadian Sikh groups are a major threat from abroad and it has told our government as much.
Pressure from Sikh groups has caused the federal government to remove the word “Sikh” from the report, and substitute the following as the terror threat: “Extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India.”
This change has the prime minister back in the good graces of the Sikh organizations. However, this is pure hypocrisy on the part of both the federal government and the Sikh groups. They both know that many Sikhs are participating in what is being called “Referendum 2020” – a vote by Sikhs on whether their Khalistan dream should become real.
This vote is a direct threat to the Indian government, and Trudeau and the Canadian Sikh leaders know it. They’re both complicit in interference of the worst kind in India’s internal affairs.
Canada’s perceived friendliness with Sikh terrorists is much discussed in Indian newspapers. The Indian public certainly believes the Canadian government supports elements that seek to break up their country. It’s believed in India that some of Canada’s Sikh ministers are Khalistan sympathizer.
Trade between Canada and India represents billions of dollars. The rift could cost Canada a lot of money.
It could also damage Canada’s good international name, labelling us as an interfering nation that supports terrorist elements.
Anyone who thinks Sikh terrorism is not real need only remember the worst terrorist incident in Canada’s history. The 1985 Air India bombing was carried out by Sikh terrorists.
So Trudeau must distance himself and his government from anything even remotely connected with the Khalistan movement. And if that means getting rid of ministers who refuse to completely disavow the movement, he should do that, too.
The prime minister can’t repeat de Gaulle’s 1967 impertinence. He must disavow terrorism in all its forms and show the world that Canada won’t be manipulated.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.