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Ottawa didn't inform Saskatchewan of claims against key trade partner India: minister

REGINA, SASK -

Saskatchewan says it has not been contacted by Ottawa about security concerns with a key trade partner since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made allegations that India's government played a role in the killing of a Canadian citizen.

Trudeau revealed in the House of Commons on Monday that Canadian intelligence services are investigating credible information about a potential link between India's government and the death of British Columbia Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Saskatchewan Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison says the claims against the Indian government are very serious and, if proven, must be taken seriously.

But Harrison says provinces and territories should have been notified if that was the reason trade negotiations with India were suspended.

Harrison criticized Trudeau's handling of the G20 summit in India earlier this month, where Canada paused negotiations for a new trade deal following frosty relations with counterparts in New Delhi.

In a letter to Ottawa released last week, Harrison accused the federal government of picking a fight with an important trade market for domestic political gain.

He added that Saskatchewan deserves regular updates on negotiations.

Saskatchewan makes up roughly a third of Canada's exports to India, which are worth over $1 billion to the provincial economy. Saskatchewan also has a trade and investment office in New Delhi.

"Does Trudeau even understand the damage he is doing to our trade relationship with India -- one of our most important trading partners?" Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe posted on social media last week.

Harrison said Tuesday that the federal government repeatedly said the pause was to make sure Canadians get the best deal in the trade agreement.

"If (the investigation) was the reason trade negotiations were suspended, the federal government should have made that information available to provinces and territories and had numerous opportunities to do so," Harrison said.

Trudeau said Tuesday that he waited until he was able to raise the issue with allies and with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit before telling the public about the possible link.

"We wanted to make sure we were taking the time to talk with our allies, to share what we knew. We wanted to make sure that we fully shared with the government of India, the seriousness and the depths of our preoccupations and indeed conclusions," Trudeau said.

The United States, United Kingdom and Australia have all issued statements calling for the allegations to be investigated.

India's Ministry of External Affairs said Tuesday that it rejects the accusations, arguing they are meant to distract from Sikh separatists in Canada who New Delhi argues pose a security risk.

Nijjar was shot outside his gurdwara in Surrey, B.C., on June 18. In the wake of his death, members of the Sikh community accused the Indian government of being involved in the killing and attempting to silence voices advocating for an independent Sikh country.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre also criticized Trudeau on Tuesday for not sharing more details with him than what was said in the House of Commons.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan said he hopes Canada can maintain normal relations with India.

Harrison said Saskatchewan, as well as other provinces and territories, should be kept informed about the situation and how it could affect trade relationships.

"I am hopeful that the federal government will have had rock-solid facts and evidence to back allegations of such a serious and far-reaching nature," he said.

"If they have such information, they have not shared it with the government of Saskatchewan."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2023.

By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon.

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