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Police officers attend the scene of a shooting outside of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib temple, in Surrey, B.C., on June 19.Jennifer Gauthier/The Canadian Press

In January, I received an invitation to lunch from the High Commissioner of India, Sanjay Kumar Verma. Interesting, I thought. Must be something big cooking in the India-Canada relationship.

But no. Nothing. The High Commissioner gave no signal of trouble on the horizon. He was optimistic about a new trade agreement with Canada. He talked of good relations between Justin Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

No big deal was made about the activities of the Sikh community in Canada. And though there has been recent suggestions that Indian diplomats have been intimidated or threatened here, during the January meeting, Mr. Verma gave no indications of those tensions. He said he was being treated warmly and felt very welcome in Canada.

How misleading it all has turned out to be. Following the revelation that the Indian government may have been behind the killing on Canadian soil of a Sikh separatist leader, relations have cascaded to an unparalleled low point – this at a time when India is taking on the stature of a global economic giant.

What to do now is the question. What is Ottawa’s second act? But first, as Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre stated, we need to see more facts. Hard facts. An allegation this serious, one which India vehemently denies, needs greater substantiation than the Prime Minister has provided.

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One school of thought is that the government should let the crisis fade, given India’s importance to Canada. Some observers – including former cabinet ministers I spoke to – say Canada needlessly alienated New Delhi by being soft on radical behaviour in the Sikh community, giving “a friendly wink” as it went on. It was ignored, as it wasn’t politically savvy to anger the Sikh community, and this played into the Indian government’s belief that Canada has been harbouring Sikh terrorists bent on creating a separate state called Khalistan.

I put this to Herb Dhaliwal, a Sikh who served in the cabinet of Jean Chrétien and is still very active in the Sikh community in British Columbia. He disputed it. Unlike in India, he said, freedom of speech in Canada allows for talk of separation. “Some people went too far, but it wasn’t the case that we ignored them.”

The murder charge against India must be pursued to the fullest and damn the torpedoes, Mr. Dhaliwal added. “If India is serious about being a major player, what they will do is fully co-operate with Canada on this investigation.” If they don’t, “there will be blood on their hands.”

Principles of justice must prevail, Mr. Dhaliwal said. “I remember there were some in our cabinet who said we must join with the Americans in the war in Iraq. They were afraid if we didn’t, it would jeopardize our economic relations. It wasn’t the case.”

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With allies like the United States and Britain seeking to woo India, Canada’s staking out the moral high ground comes at a most untimely juncture.

The moral high ground fades in the rear-view mirror when realpolitik intervenes. It was just three years ago, during his 2020 presidential campaign, that Joe Biden pledged, given the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and other acts of terror, to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah.” This week, the same Joe Biden was pushing to forge a deal giving formal security guarantees to the Saudis in order to have them establish diplomatic ties with Israel.

Allies are hardly rushing to Canada’s side to pursue the case against India. Ottawa has to weigh the potential economic cost in pursuing the issue. It was only a couple of decades ago that we were co-operating with Russia, that relations with China were in good shape, that there was no split with India. Look where relations stand with the three giants now.

Bringing forward the India case was politically useful for Mr. Trudeau because his being seen to act forthrightly deflected criticism for his dithering on the Chinese interference file. But until more facts and evidence are available, we don’t know whether it was the right thing for him to do or whether he acted prematurely.

In the meantime, relations with the Modi government are in the sewer, Canada is more isolated economically, and allies are annoyed because we’ve put them in a more difficult position with India. The consequences are brutal, and unless Mr. Trudeau finds a way to lower the temperature, they could get worse.

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