It may be months, if ever, before Ottawa gets to the bottom of who was responsible for the gangland-style murder of Canadian Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
Given that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said there is “credible” intelligence that India played a role in the slaying, it’s hard to imagine any thorough investigation taking place that doesn’t include the full co-operation of the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
At this point, that seems preposterous. Relations between the two countries are as bad as they’ve been in recent memory. Mr. Modi has called the allegations against his country “absurd.”
Still, there are surely people in the PMO imagining a scenario in which it is determined agents of the Indian government sanctioned the hit on Mr. Nijjar. What would happen in that case? What price would India pay for the extrajudicial killing of a Canadian citizen?
For those expecting a severe, stiff response from the Trudeau government to such a development – as appropriate as it might be – I have some bad news: that is unlikely to be the case.
The world today doesn’t operate that way, especially when you’re a middle power dependent on countries like India to maintain the high standard of living to which you are accustomed.
Look no further than the case of the Two Michaels, Spavor and Kovrig, Canadians who were arrested and thrown in prison by China in retaliation for Canada’s role in detaining Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in response to a U.S. request for her extradition on fraud charges.
Mr. Trudeau and his then-foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, expressed outrage over China’s actions. There were promises to challenge this type of “coercive diplomacy.” The federal government solicited the support of other nations in expressing outrage over China’s action – which many countries did. But so what? Talk is cheap.
What payback did China suffer for what it did? Absolutely nothing. There have been zero consequences for the nearly three-year detainment of two innocent Canadians. If anything, the case allowed China to send a message to the world that if you cross them, it will kidnap your innocent civilians and hold them until it gets what it wants.
Canada was never going to jeopardize trade relations over the matter. It didn’t even send any Chinese diplomats home because of it.
And it’s not just this country that must accept geopolitical realities in the face of heinous actions by others, either.
Remember the world outrage over the horrendous 2018 murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, apparently on orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler?
During his 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia a global “pariah” because of the killing. Two years later, Mr. Biden was fist-bumping the Crown Prince known as MBS ahead of a meeting about energy security.
Indeed, that became more of a priority for President Biden than making the Saudi regime a worldwide outcast.
Does anyone imagine that other countries are going to rally around Canada in the Nijjar affair, or make any kind of sacrifice to help us make India pay a price for its involvement if that were to be determined?
Not a chance.
Look, this is a world in which the Islamic Republic of Iran was named the 2023 chair of the UN Human Rights Council Social Forum. Let that sink in for a moment. Iran, heading a human rights council. A country known for state-endorsed violence against women and children. For summary executions of peaceful protesters.
What a disgrace. But sadly, these are our times.
This is why I remain deeply skeptical that India will pay any real cost if it’s determined it was involved in Mr. Nijjar’s death. Economically, we need India more than it needs us. We would never jeopardize trade over this matter. Nor would any country join us in applying sanctions, economic or otherwise, in support of any actions we might take.
We could cut off diplomatic ties with India. Again, doubtful. Perhaps the best we could do is forge ahead, more quickly, in establishing a Foreign Agent Registry. That might help send the message that Canada is getting serious, finally, about the activities of foreign agents in this country.
Other than that, however, don’t expect India to suffer any fallout if it is determined it played a role in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil earlier this year. The world doesn’t work like that any more.