'Landmines' In Punjab, 'Khalistani Referendum' In Brampton: Why Canada-India Ties Are Under Duress

A new travel advisory on the Canadian government's website has advised its citizens in India to be careful of the 'threat of terrorist attacks throughout the country', days after a 'Khalistan Referendum' was held in Brampton.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

In what appears to be a rather bizarre travel advisory, authorities in Canada have advised its citizens in India to practice caution and avoid traveling to states in the India-Pakistan border such as Punjab, Gujarat, and Rajasthan as there may be "presence of landmines" in these areas. The advisory further added that there may be an "unpredictable security situation" in these areas which travelers must avoid. 

The advisory was shared on the Canadian government's website updated last on September 27. It said, "Avoid all travel to areas within 10 km of the border with Pakistan in the following states due to the unpredictable security situation and presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance: Gujarat, Punjab Rajasthan.

It also asked its citizens to exercise a high degree of caution in India due to the "threat of terrorist attacks throughout the country." NDTV reported. Canadian authorities have also advised its citizens to not travel to the northeastern states of India.

Stressed India-Canda ties

The advisory comes a day after warned its citizens in Canada to remain cautious against the  "sharp increase in hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities", as per a report in The Economic Times. In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs also stated that it had taken the matter of increasing anti-India sentiment and crimes against Indians with the Canadian authorities and sought investigation. 

"The perpetrators of these crimes have not been brought to justice so far in Canada," the statement read.

The statements came following several incidents like the defacing ofthe BAPS Swaminarayan temple in Canada which was sprayed with anti-India graffiti by 'Canadian Khalistani' extremists'.

The Indian High Commission, in a tweet, condemned the incident. "We strongly condemn defacing of BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir Toronto with anti-India graffiti. Have requested Canadian authorities to investigate the incident and take prompt action on perpetrators.

What is the Khalistani Referendum?

On September 19, over a lakh Canadian Sikhs took part in voting for the Khalistan Referendum in Brampton, Ontario. The referendum was organised by the pro-Khalistani group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), which is banned in India. Visuals that have since gone viral on social media depic men and women queueing up in large numbers to vote for the Referendum. 

The Justin Trudeau government in Canada, however, has said that it respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India and that no so-called Khalistan Referendum taking place in Canada shall be recognised by it.

Resurgence of Khalistan issue

While the Khalistani movement in India has long been a sore thorn in Indo-Canada relations, relations between the two nations have largely been focused on peaceful and cooperative bilateral ties. 

These ties. however, have suffered recently, especially under the Justin Trudeau-Narendra Modi-led governments in Canada and India respectively, due to the resurgence of the Khalistani movement in India as well as in Canada where a sizable population is Sikh and Punjabi. Trudeau's presence at the Khalsa Day Parade in 2015 in which India was accused of genocide in 1984 was not well-received by the Indian government. His 2018 visit was to India  was also a diplomatic disaster as his delegation included a former Khalistan activist. India responded by could shouldering the Canadian Prime Minister during his two-day India visit. 

The advisory is likely to cause a further chill in strained India-Canada relations in wake of the rising threat of pro-Khalistani movements. Statements by India as well as the advisory come days after the Khalistani Referendum held in Canada.

Farmers' protests

Tensions regarding the resurgence of the Khalistan issue in the current context can be traced to the farmers' protests in India in 2020 and 2021. Addressing sikhs on the occasion of Guru Nanak’s Birthday in 2020, Trudeau expressed concern for what was happening in India. 

“I would be remiss if I didn’t start by recognising the news coming from India about protests by farmers. The situation is concerning. We are all very worried about family and friends. We know that’s a reality for many of you. Let me remind you, Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protesters. We believe in the process of dialogue. We’ve reached out through multiple means to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns. This is a moment for all of us to pull together," Trudeau had said, causing outrage in several sections of the Indian population. He had also expressed support for the farmers protests later in February in 2021.