It was July 24, 1967. French President Charles de Gaulle had travelled to Quebec, ostensibly to visit Canada’s Expo 67. But the old rascal had something entirely different in mind. He had come to Canada for one reason, and one reason only – to stir up trouble. And he waited for the perfect opportunity to do so. Leaning over the balcony before a large Montreal crowd, he uttered that carefully rehearsed phrase that he knew would cause a diplomatic crisis: “Vive Le Quebec Libre” he boomed.
De Gaulle knew full well that the phrase he had just uttered – drawing out the “i” in “libre” as only a French speaker can do – was the exact slogan that the separatists used daily in their rabble rousing speeches. It was calculated to stir up passions – and to make trouble with Canada (de Gaulle apparently believed that he was redressing wounds to Gallic honour that went all the way back to The Plains of Abraham).
Canadian officials were flabbergasted. Then Prime Minister Lester Pearson got as mad as his mild-mannered nature allowed, and a diplomatic row ensued. Canada could have retaliated in kind (by stirring up Norman or Corsican separatist passions in France, for example), but fortunately cooler heads prevailed. The incident was slowly forgotten, and after the troublesome old soldier was finally put out to pasture, the relationship between Canada and France again became a normal one.
However, the incident has not been forgotten. It is remembered as an example of what one country should not do – interfere in the internal affairs of another country. It should be borne in mind that 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 as it was. The last thing Canada needed was interference from another country. It is only lucky that de Gaulle’s recklessness did not result in deadly confrontations.
Because his interference in Canada’s affairs was a major breach of international protocol. It has long been recognized internationally that a friendly country should not meddle in the internal affairs of another country. It is also recognized that a country should prevent its own citizens from meddling with the sovereign matters of another country as well.
But that is exactly what India is alleging that the Liberal government is doing. Sikh separatists in India’s Punjab region have long been agitating for their own state – Khalistan. This agitation has included terrorist acts and deaths. This is exactly comparable to what the Quebec separatists were doing in 1967 – violently agitating for a sovereign Quebec that would separate from Canada. And India firmly believes that Canada’s current government is interfering with their internal matters in a destructive way. They point to the fact that the Prime Minister and some of his Ministers have attended Sikh events that celebrate Sikh independence and honour the Sikh terrorists. Even more worrisome, they allege that four of the Prime Minister’s Sikh ministers have participated in events that have been seen as honouring Sikh terrorism. However, the Prime Minister isn’t the only one soft on Sikh nationalism, other federal party leaders are as well.
And in fact two Sikh organizations, Babbar Khalsa International and the International Sikh Youth Federation are listed as terrorist entities under The Criminal Code. Even more worrisome, a very recent federal government terrorism assessment lists Sikh extremism as one of the five top terrorist threats to the country. Monies collected by such groups make their way to Khalistani groups in India. The Indian government believes that Canadian Sikh groups are a major threat from abroad, and they have 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 the Prime Minister and the Canadian Sikh leaders know it. They are both complicit in interference of the worst kind in India’s internal affairs.
Canada’s perceived friendliness with Sikh terrorists is much discussed in the newspapers of India, and the Indian public certainly believes that the current Canadian government is doing exactly what Canada found so offensive when de Gaulle made his “Vive Quebec Libre” speech. That is, India believes that our current federal government supports elements within India that seek to break up their country. It is believed in India that some of Canada’s Sikh Ministers are Khalistan sympathizers – our Defence Minister in particular – and the federal government must address those concerns.
Potential trade between Canada and India is in the billions. The rift between the two countries is now very real, and threatens to cost Canada a lot of money. But the rift also has the potential to damage Canada’s good name in the world community – labelling Canada as an interfering nation that supports terrorist elements. The Prime Minister must distance himself from anything that smacks of Sikh terrorism and Sikh independence- namely the Khalistan movement.
And if anyone is of the mind that Sikh terrorism is not very real, one only has to remember that the worst terrorist incident in Canada’s history came about as a result of Sikh terrorism. That was the 1985 Air India bombing carried out by Sikh terrorists to avenge the Golden Temple incident and promote their imagined Khalistan in response.
So the Prime Minister must disassociate himself from anything even remotely connected with the Khalistan movement. And if properly distancing Canada from its perceived friendliness to Sikh terrorism and support for the Khalistan movement means getting rid of ministers who refuse to completely disavow the Khalistan movement – he should do that too. Necessary decisive action of this kind will alienate some of the more extreme among his large Sikh following, but it is in the interests of the country as a whole that he take this corrective action. It is simply wrong to interfere in the internal affairs of a trusted neighbor country for the sake of votes.
The Prime Minister must not repeat de Gaulle’s 1967 impertinence. He must disavow terrorism in all its forms, and show the world that Canada will not let itself be manipulated into looking like a meddler and mischief maker.