India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar attends a news conference following a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 28, 2019. The top Indian diplomat will be meeting with his Canadian counterpart François-Philippe Champagne in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Evgenia Novozhenina/REUTERS)

Canadian foreign affairs minister to host his Indian counterpart

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne will meet today with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in an effort to repair Ottawa’s uneasy relationship with New Delhi.

Jaishankar’s two-day visit to Canada provides “an opportunity to discuss shared priorities, including the rules-based international order, peace and security, human rights, climate change and trade and investment,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement.

“Canada and India enjoy a close relationship anchored in a shared commitment to democracy as well as close people-to-people ties,” Champagne said in a statement, adding that he looks forward to meeting with Jaishankar to “further strengthen the friendship between our two countries.”

The visit will also be an opportunity to press the reset button in relations between Canada and India following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to India last year.

Jocelyn Coulon, a foreign policy expert and author of the recently published book entitled Canada Is Not Back: How Justin Trudeau Is In Over His Head On Foreign Policy, says Trudeau’s “disastrous” trip to India in February 2018 was a setback for the relationship between the two countries.

New Delhi is still suspicious of the Liberals’ involvement with some elements of the Sikh independence movement in Canada, Coulon told Radio Canada International in a recent interview.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Jaspal Atwal pictured at what appears to be a film industry influencers event with Indian film stars in Mumbai on Feb. 20. (Submitted)

Trudeau’s trip made headlines when it was revealed that Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted of the attempted murder of an Indian cabinet minister in 1986, posed with the prime minister’s wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, for a photo at an event in Mumbai and was invited to a reception with the prime minister.

Then in a background briefing with reporters, Trudeau’s then national security adviser Daniel Jean, suggested that rogue factions in India arranged for Atwal’s presence in a bid to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from becoming too cosy with a foreign government they believe is sympathetic to extremist Sikh separatists.

The Indian government dismissed as “baseless and unacceptable” any speculation that it played a role in arranging Atwal’s visit to India as part of an alleged plot to embarrass Trudeau and make him appear soft on Sikh extremism.

Two months later, Jean announced his retirement.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with his wife Sophie Gregoire, daughter Ella Grace and son Xavier, greet the people during their visit to the holy Sikh shrine of Golden temple in Amritsar, India Feb. 21, 2018. (Adnan Abidi /REUTERS)

Photos of the Trudeau family in a variety of traditional Indian outfits on the trip also proved controversial, with some observers pointing out that they were wearing traditional outfits more often than some of the Indians they met during their stay.

As a former international trade minister Champagne understands the importance of building economic relations with India to diversify Canada’s international trade, Coulon told RCI.

According to Global Affairs Canada, merchandise exports to India were valued at $4.3 billion in 2018, making India Canada’s seventh-largest destination for merchandise exports. Merchandise imports were valued at $5.13 billion in that same year.

Canada is also home to one of the largest Indian diaspora communities per capita, with approximately 4 per cent of Canadians (1.4 million people) tracing their roots to India, which is Canada’s largest source of permanent residents.

With files from CBC News and The Canadian Press

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