Trudeau, Modi meet for first time since Canada publicly accused India of Sikh leader's assassination

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi have met for the first time since Trudeau publicly accused Modi's government of involvement in the assassination of a Canadian Sikh activist.

Modi posted a photo to his 98 million followers on X, formerly Twitter, of the two leaders shaking hands on Friday on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Italy.

"Met Canadian PM @JustinTrudeau at the G7 Summit," he wrote.

No formal bilateral meeting between the two leaders was scheduled.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office said the two leaders had an "interaction on the margins of the G7."

"The Prime Minister congratulated Prime Minister Modi on his re-election and the leaders had a brief discussion on the bilateral relationship," Ann-Clara Vaillancourt said in a media statement. "Of course there are important issues between our two countries right now. You can appreciate that we won't be making any further statements at this time."

Earlier on Friday, Trudeau and Modi were both around the same G7 table during an outreach session. They were positioned about six seats away from one another, according to video footage.

India was one of the countries invited to observe this year's annual summit of the leading advanced democratic economies. It is not a member of the G7.

Modi held a series of bilateral meetings with world leaders at the summit, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but does not have a meeting scheduled with Trudeau on Friday, according to Trudeau's public itinerary.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, is welcomed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the G7 in Borgo Egnazia, near Bari in southern Italy, Friday, June 14, 2024.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, is welcomed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the G7 in Borgo Egnazia, near Bari, in southern Italy, on Friday. (Luca Bruno/The Associated Press)

The last time Trudeau met with Modi in person was during the fraught G20 summit in India in September 2023. That same month, after returning from the trip, Trudeau rose in the House of Commons and accused India's government of involvement in the brazen shooting of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Earlier this month, Trudeau congratulated Modi on his re-election win.

"Canada stands ready to work with his government to advance the relationship between our nations' peoples — anchored to human rights, diversity and the rule of law," he said at the time.

A few days later, Modi responded on X, thanking Trudeau for the congratulatory message.

"India looks forward to working with Canada based on mutual understanding and respect for each others concerns," he wrote.

Modi government has denied allegations

Nijjar was brazenly shot and killed by masked gunmen in his pickup truck in June 2023 in the parking lot of a Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C.

Nijjar was a supporter of a Sikh homeland in the form of an independent Khalistani state. He had been deemed a "terrorist" by India's government and accused of leading a militant separatist group — a claim his supporters denied.

"Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India" and Nijjar's killing, Trudeau said.

Four Indian nationals — Karan Brar, Kamalpreet Singh, Karanpreet Singh and Amandeep Singh — were arrested last month and charged in connection with Nijjar's killing.

Modi's government has denied ordering killings in Canada. Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar initially called Canada's allegation "absurd" and accused Canada of harbouring violent extremists.

Report warned of India's political meddling in Canada

The allegations hurt an already shaky bilateral relationship between India and Canada that got even rockier last week.

A bombshell report written by an all-party committee of Canadian parliamentarians about foreign interference said India is the second biggest foreign threat to Canadian democracy after China.

The report contained the starkest warnings yet about India's attempts to meddle in Canadian politics.

"India seeks to cultivate relationships with a variety of witting and unwitting individuals across Canadian society with the intent of inappropriately exerting India's influence across all orders of government, particularly to stifle or discredit criticism of the Government of India," the report said.

The heavily redacted report also said there's intelligence that suggests "India has an active proxy, who has proactively looked for ways to further India's interests by monitoring and attempting to influence politicians."

One note says the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has information indicating an Indian proxy claimed to have "repeatedly transferred funds from India to politicians at all levels of government in return for political favours, including raising issues in Parliament."

In a media briefing on Wednesday ahead of the G7, India's Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra did not say whether Modi and Trudeau would have a bilateral meeting at the summit.

"I think the main issue with regard to Canada continues to be the political space that Canada provides to anti-India elements, which advocate extremism and violence, and we have repeatedly conveyed our deep concerns to them, and we expect them to take strong action," he told reporters.

One expert said Friday that the leaders' meeting may be a sign that relations between India and Canada are improving.

"That they spoke given what has happened over the past year suggests that there is progress in repairing the relationship," said Tristen Naylor, an assistant professor of history and politics at Cambridge University.

Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and an international affairs professor at the University of Ottawa, said relations between the two countries are "strained for obvious reasons."

"It's also important for Canada to keep the channels of communication open with India because India remains an important partner in other areas," he told CBC News in an interview before the summit.