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Sikh separatists raise ire

Less than two weeks before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to land in India, a popular Indian magazine has dedicated an issue to stories accusing Canada of being complicit in a rise in Sikh terrorism.

Trudeau is undertaking a week-long state visit to India later this month, his first trip to the country since becoming prime minister.

The goal is to focus on trade and cultural ties, but a successful trip would surely be a re-election boon for Trudeau, who already enjoys a high degree of popularity among Canada's 1.2 million Indo-Canadians.

Trudeau seems to have a friendly relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — the two have met on the sidelines of almost every international meeting they attended in the last two years, including just last month at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

But some political forces in India are less enthusiastic.

The latest edition of Outlook India features a photo of Trudeau, which appears to be from the Vaisakhi Celebration on Parliament Hill in April 2016. The headline on the cover reads, "Khalistan-II: Made in Canada."

It continues: "Sikh religious successionism threatening the Indian Constitution assumes proportions of official policy status in Ottawa as Punjab Police books four Canadian residents for gun-running and terror-funding."

The magazine has at least three articles about Canada's alleged connections to the Sikh independence movement, including a Q and A segment with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who last April refused to meet with federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, calling him a "Khalistani sympathizer."

The Sikh nationalist movement seeks to create a separate country called Khalistan within India's Punjab region.

In the Outlook interview, Singh said he hadn't been contacted about a meeting, but that he would "be happy to meet Justin Trudeau or welcome him as per the protocol accorded to any state guest of his stature."

The articles accuse Trudeau of having "Khalistani sympathizers" in his cabinet, and of allowing Sikh separatist movements to flourish. Singh claims that at least one case of Sikh extremism included an Uzi submachine gun bought with Canadian money; another article names four Sikh Canadians who are wanted by Indian authorities for allegedly supplying weapons and funding terrorism in India.

An official in the Prime Minister's Office, speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter, played down the impact the issue is going to have on Trudeau's trip, saying it will come up but will not be a focus.

If pressed, the official said, Trudeau — who leaves for India next week — will stand up for free speech and also reiterate Canada's policy in favour of a united India.



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