The House

Shaking ties to Sikh nationalists Trudeau's only hope to move past India trip, expert says

Justin Trudeau must distance himself from the Khalistani extremist movement and focus on trade if he wants to beef up Canada's economic relationship with India, according to a Canada-India expert.

Official trip attracted controversy after convicted attempted murderer invited to formal dinner

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India on a trip that has attracted international attention. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Justin Trudeau must distance himself from the Khalistani extremist movement and focus on trade if he wants to beef up Canada's economic relationship with India, according to a Canada-India expert.

The prime minister's trip this week was supposed to focus on trade, but instead produced a series of controversies.

News sites around the world posted mocking articles about his decision to wear traditional Indian clothing at many of the events he attended.

Those problems escalated when CBC News discovered Jaspal Atwal, a convicted attempted murderer, received an invitation to an official dinner for Justin Trudeau. The invitation was quickly rescinded.

While that incident doesn't have a direct bearing on trade, it could play into the larger conversation.

"It has been damaging because it just reconfirms the fear and the nagging suspicion [of Indians]," Vivek Dehejia, a political economist from Carleton University, told The House.

The Canadian delegation leaves India with no tangible trade accomplishments, he added.

One deal emerged from the visit. On Tuesday, Canadian and Indian companies signed 66 new contracts worth $1 billion in total — a deal expected to create 5,800 jobs in Canada.

In order to move forward from the negative attention generated by this trip, Dehejia said Trudeau must find a way to shake Canada's ties to Sikh extremist controversies.

After that is done, it will be time for the Liberals to go back to trade basics, he said.

India, he said, is a challenging partner to negotiate with, but Trudeau's rhetoric about wrapping gender, human rights and Indigenous issues into potential trade deals is making negotiations more difficult.

Now is Canada's time to "roll up our sleeves and work on the trade deal," he said, though he added he's decidedly more pessimistic now than he was at the outset of the official visit.

Vivek Dehajia, co-author of "Indianomix: Making Sense of Modern India," talks about Justin Trudeau's difficult week in India. 7:27