Canada is the world’s doormat.
A big, insecure nation that pleads to be taken seriously as an indispensable global “player” is, instead, largely considered an inconsequential afterthought – a perpetual minor-leaguer in the major leagues of international affairs and diplomacy.
That embarrassing fact was made plain yet again when, earlier this week, a stern-looking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose in the House of Commons to say that he wanted to share some pressing news with Canadians.
The moment’s profundity was undercut by the undeniable impression that the dramatic scene – which included a sea of suitably solemn-looking members of parliament sitting in silence behind Trudeau – had been choreographed to burnish a bruised prime minister’s standing as a man of gravitas and action.
Speaking in a deliberate, but determined tone, Trudeau told Canadians that the country’s spies and cops had recently been “pursuing” leads that “agents” of its G20 partner and democratic ally, India, may have murdered a Canadian on Canadian soil.
It was an astonishing accusation that ricocheted instantly across Canada and across continents in stunned newsrooms that, in their shocked state, wrote five-alarm headlines which inferred that India was guilty as charged of the appalling, sovereignty-insulting crime.
But, having listened to Trudeau’s short, damning address carefully, I’m not convinced – at this point, at least – that the allegation is much more than that.
Trudeau didn’t provide any concrete ammunition – otherwise known as evidence – to support his stop-the-press claim.
Rather, he relied on standard, bureaucrat-approved weasel words to point an accusatory finger at New Delhi while giving himself exculpatory space to insist that he never actually intended to incriminate India in a murder plot.
“Over the past number of weeks,” Trudeau said, “Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.”
Can you spot the three glaring “weasel” words the prime minister used not by accident but by careful design?
That’s right: “potential,” “link,” and “pursuing”.
Potential is a long, long way from Canada’s spies and cops having established a connection tying, unequivocally, India’s “agents” to the assassination of Nijjar, a Sikh separatist.
Any journalist with a smidgen of appreciation for the lovely usefulness of “link” knows that the word allows reporters and government officials, including, apparently, prime ministers, to imply that something is true, without proving that it is true.
Finally, by his own admission, Trudeau has acknowledged that Canada’s spies and cops are still “pursuing” the aforementioned proof.
A more serious and judicious prime minister ought, I think, to have waited to make a speech of such import and consequence until he or she was confident enough to employ “proof” and “established”.
Still, assuming that India is, in fact, implicated in the killing of Nijjar, let me address a question that is at the core of this unfolding schism between two supposed strategic and ideological chums.
Why did India believe that it had the licence to do it?
The answer reveals the history of dithering and hypocrisy of a succession of Liberal prime ministers – who now claim to be deeply offended when Canada’s “sacrosanct” sovereignty is treated, as I said, like a doormat – as well as their shameful complicity in the grievous harm visited upon innocent Canadians by other “friendly” foreign powers.
In 1998, my reporting revealed that Israel’s security service, Mossad, continued the practice of obtaining Canadian passports for use in lethal covert operations, despite assurances from its top diplomat to then Liberal Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy – sealed with a hand-shake – that it would stop the blatant affront to Canada’s sovereignty.
Israel double-crossed Canada even after then Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien briefly recalled his ambassador in Tel Aviv when Ottawa learned that Mossad officers, disguised as tourists, had been caught carrying doctored Canadian passports in a botched attempt to poison Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman, Jordan, in 1997.
Axworthy promised to “investigate”. He and his boss did nothing, claiming, absurdly, that the story “could not be corroborated”.
Their sorry negligence confirmed that Liberal governments are ready to sacrifice Canada’s prized sovereignty at the ever-agreeable, friction-free altar of Canadian-Israeli relations.
Trudeau told Parliament that: “Canada is a rule-of-law country. The protection of our citizens in defence of our sovereignty are fundamental. Our top priorities have therefore been … that our law enforcement and security agencies ensure the continued safety of all Canadians.”
Sure, they do.
It appears that Trudeau and his equally amnesiac caucus need reminding that Canada’s spies, cops, diplomats and lawyers have been responsible, in hefty part, for the “rendition” and torture of Maher Arar and the decades-old injustice endured by Hassan Diab – both Canadian citizens.
Not too long ago, a Liberal government was more than eager to dispense with Canada’s sovereignty and the “safety” of Arar, a software engineer, to curry favour with a rule-of-law-shattering United States administration, headed, of course, by that abduction-and-torture-racket thug-turned-president, George W Bush, in the disfiguring “War on Terror”.
Even though the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), knew he was not a terrorist, they happily enabled – at the behest of their American colleagues – Arar’s “rendition” ultimately to Syria.
There, the devoted husband and father was imprisoned in a coffin-like cell, doubled over for hours inside a tire, and subjected to electric shocks.
Indeed, in 2002, the former deputy director of CSIS admitted the agency’s role in facilitating the horror Arar suffered, writing in a memo that: “I think the United States would like to get Arar to Jordan where they can have their way with him.”
A year later, the same unrepentant spook – who was never held to account – “contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to tell them that it was not in Canada’s interests to demand that the United States return Maher Arar”.
For his deplorable part, Trudeau has allowed rabid French authorities – more interested in collecting a scalp than conceding the truth – to persist in their extrajudicial persecution of Diab, a sociology professor and father of two.
Earlier this year, Diab was convicted in absentia of the bombing of a Paris synagogue more than 40 years ago that killed four and injured dozens.
Zealous French prosecutors first trained their crosshairs on Diab in November 2008. That’s when oh-so-accommodating Canadian police arrested Diab pending an extradition hearing. Diab was jailed for four months without charge.
Having exhausted his appeals, Diab was shipped to France in 2015, where he spent another three years in prison – often in solitary confinement.
In 2018, citing a lack of convincing evidence, two French investigative magistrates ordered Diab released.
At the time, Trudeau said: “What happened to [Diab] never should have happened, … and [we need to] make sure that it never happens again.”
Trudeau and Canada’s acquiescent diplomatic corps have abandoned Diab to the wolves, intent on tarring another innocent Canadian as a “terrorist”.
Look, here’s the unspoken rub.
Canadian prime ministers – Conservative and Liberal – are obliged to say that they will protect every citizen “in the defence” of Canada’s sovereignty.
Yet, Maher Arar, Hassan Diab and Hardeep Singh Nijjar are evidence of ingrained, two-tier citizenship that prevails in Canada where “old stock” Canadians – as former Prime Minister Stephen Harper once dubbed them – are more worthy of “protection” than others.
In this stubborn context, Trudeau’s indictment of India oozes opportunism.
With familiar theatrical flair, the prime minister’s splash to the nation has had the salutary effect of dominating a news cycle that, lately, has been – to put it charitably – unforgiving and helped to confirm his “tough guy” credentials in the face of unrelenting criticism that he has been soft on “foreign interference”.
Anyone who dismisses or denies that Trudeau’s halting, curiously timed, and uncorroborated broadside wasn’t motivated in some measure by parochial, political calculations is blind.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.