NEW DELHI – Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh announced Tuesday they have finally sealed a nuclear deal that will see Canadian companies ship uranium to the energy-hungry South Asian nation.
A nuclear co-operation agreement had been signed two years ago between between the two nations, but its actual implementation had been stalled over the details.
Canada had wanted more oversight over where the products wound up, something India had resisted. Now a joint committee will ensure that Canada gets the kind of follow-up it had required.
The two prime ministers announced the finalization of the administrative agreement at an event at Hyderabad House, a former royal building now used by the Indian government. They also signed a social security agreement that would shield businesses in the two countries from double paying for pensions and benefits.
Harper told reporters Tuesday that Canada was satisfied with the checks and balances it gets under the deal.
The prime minister touched on other issues beyond trade Tuesday, including some that go directly to the Indo-Canadian community.
The Indian government once again pressed Canada to be on guard for Sikh extremism, a warning that comes at the same time as some Indo-Canadians call for justice for a 1984 Sikh massacre.
India’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Preneet Kaur, raised the issue of extremism during a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and officials from the two nations on Tuesday.
Harper is on a six-day visit to India, primarily focused on trade and investment.
“Prime minister, there was another area of great concern for us, which was the revival of anti-India rhetoric in Canada, and I am from the state of Punjab, which we are very happy you will be visiting…,” Kaur said, referring to his upcoming stop in Chandigarh.
“We have after very hard times got a good situation of peace and progress back in Punjab and in India and we would like that to continue, so it does concern us I think, and we do appreciate very much that you have very been forthright and open about your stand on this.”
This was not the first time India has raised the issue with Canada. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also heard the Indian government’s concerns during a visit earlier this year, and the Indian Overseas Congress has gone so far as to accuse Canadian politicians of Indian origin of ignoring the issue.
Kaur was likely referring to the appearance, particularly in British Columbia of flags and seals bearing the Khalistan flag at parades and on temples. Khalistan is the name of proposed separate Sikh state, and pockets of the Indo-Canadian community support the idea.
The 1985 bombing of an Air India flight that killed 331 was believed by the police to have been orchestrated by Sikh extremists based in Canada.
Hundreds of Sikhs protested on Parliament Hill in March against the death row sentence of an acknowledged Sikh terrorist, Balwant Singh Rajoana.
Harper responded to Kaur by saying that Canada is a supporter of a united India, painting the pro-Khalistan movement as marginal.
“This is a view that is shared not just widely in Canada but very widely and very mainstream among our Indo-Canadian community,” said Harper.
“We have over a million people who trace their origins to the Indian subcontinent and among my very large delegation on this trip are a considerable number of prominent Indo-Canadians, and certainly the support for the great progress India has made over the past generation is virtually universal in this community.”
But the Indian government’s pressure on the issue has been poorly received in Canada by some in the Indo-Canadian community and even the federal opposition, particularly when taken in the context of the November 1984 massacre of more than 3,000 Sikhs.
The remains of murdered Sikhs in razed villages were uncovered as recently as last year, and many believe the Indian government has not done enough to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The massacre occurred in the aftermath of the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The bodyguards were believed to have been retaliating for a bloody military operation in June of that same year aimed at extricating Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Groups such as the World Sikh Organization and the Canadian Sikh Congress argues that the community has a right to engage in a peaceful dialogue about a sovereign homeland, and the Indian government is meddling in the affairs of Indo-Canadians.
Another group, Sikhs for Justice, recently called on Harper to advocate for human rights for Sikhs while in India.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair referred to the events of 1984 as “pogroms” in a recent release.
“The victims and survivors of 1984 have waited too long for recognition of their plight and frustration,” Mulcair said. “Rehabilitation and support for the broken families, especially the widows, must be prioritized.”
Harper also met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday during an official ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the former seat of the British viceroy in India. The enormous building, fringed by fountains, acres of groomed lawns and monument-sized stone stairways, is now the home of Indian president Pranab Mukherjee, who Harper met midday.
Harper and Singh were expected to meet again late Tuesday afternoon to sign a series of bilateral agreements.