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Canada is walking a tightrope between trade relations with India and human rights

In a world where international summits can serve as powerful stages for diplomacy and policy, the G20′s trade and investment ministerial meeting in Jaipur, in India, will paint a contrasting tableau next week.

As recently as July, in the same country, a mob perpetrated a shocking assault on Kuki-Christian women in the state of Manipur; in the state of Haryana, not far from the capital of New Delhi, a Hindu far-right group torched mosques and Muslim-owned properties, killing a young Muslim deputy imam. These are grim reminders of the daily reality for many of India’s minorities.

Meanwhile, federal Trade Minister Mary Ng is spearheading Canada’s representation in Jaipur, with the aim of signing a trade and economic pact with India; two months ago, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem visited India for meetings of international finance ministers and central bank leaders.

But concerns about Canada’s commitment to global human rights are rising to the fore, while a pro-active stance on Indian minority protections remains absent. On Aug. 20, protesters convened in Ottawa, urging the Canadian government to take tangible steps against the rising tide of hate in India, and a joint letter signed by more than 80 civil liberties organizations called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to act decisively on India’s human-rights infringements. Is Canada compromising its moral compass in the face of economic opportunities?

The G20 is not merely an economic platform; it’s an opportunity for countries to leverage their influence and to stand for values that transcend borders. Yet Canada appears reluctant to address the human-rights concerns in India, a seeming deviation from its historical global image as a defender of the oppressed. According to a 2018 Senate report, Canada “too often appears willing to compromise its values in order to advance economic and other foreign policy interests.”

India’s escalating human-rights abuses can’t be swept under the rug. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, a laissez-faire approach toward violent incidents targeting Muslims, Christians, Dalits and other minorities has grown. The government’s apparent indifference emboldens ultranationalist factions, resulting in an alarming frequency of violence, especially against vulnerable communities like minority women. Elected BJP politicians’ involvement in hate speeches and rallies in support of exclusionary politics serves as a catalyst.

This isn’t mere speculation or the occasional isolated incident: it’s a trend. India’s 2019 occupation of Kashmir, and its lockdown of the Kashmiri people, is another stark example of its willingness to breach international law.

While international trade agreements such as Canada’s Indo-Pacific Agreement hint at human-rights commitments, they often lack tangible enforcement mechanisms. The government’s claim that the agreement is aimed at supporting “inclusivity” and “regional prosperity and stability” loses its credibility when countless minorities in India are living in fear of reprisal and persecution.

From a broader foreign policy perspective, Canada appears inconsistent in its engagement approaches with India and with China. Both countries have troubling records when it comes to religious minorities; in China, the Uyghur Muslim community has faced severe persecution, which Canada’s Parliament has recognized as a genocide, a label that underscores the severity and systematic nature of the abuse, and Mr. Trudeau has called attention to the “systemic abuse and human-rights violations against the Uyghurs.” But while Genocide Watch has warned that India is approaching the threshold of a genocide against Muslims, and while an Indian court recently raised questions about whether the BJP government’s demolition of homes in Nuh, Haryana’s only Muslim-majority district, qualified as potential exercises in ethnic cleansing, Canada is much quieter when it comes to incidents in India.

Human Rights Watch has called on world leaders, including those from Canada, to confront Mr. Modi about the rise of apparent human-rights violations in India, and press him to publicly condemn violence against Muslim, Christian and other religious minorities and pledge to implement reforms.

The G20 summit thus provides more than just a diplomatic opportunity; it offers a moment of introspection. As the world watches, will Canada heed the call from human-rights groups and address these concerns with Mr. Modi? Will it emerge as a stalwart defender of human rights on the global stage? Or will it sidestep these pressing issues in the name of economic gains? The ball is in Canada’s court.

Source: The Globe and Mail