We’re usually pretty proud of how Justin Trudeau represents Canada to the rest of the world when he travels abroad. He’s good looking, effortlessly charming, has great socks and he never makes overtly racist statements or yells that his nuclear button is bigger than other world leaders’. Whatever you feel about his politics, most Canadians can agree he looks good on the international stage. This week, however, Trudeau’s international political capital took a bit of a hit with a controversy-heavy trip to India (and it’s not even over yet).
Over the course of a week, everything seemed to go wrong from Trudeau’s choice in clothing to some unwanted convicted criminal party guests. It seemed like Trudeau was generating controversy after controversy. Fortunately, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was very positive in his meeting with Trudeau and in the subsequent press conference Friday. He even gave Trudeau one of his signature bear hugs. That little bit of diplomacy doesn’t exactly make up for all the weirdness before it though.
Over the course of the trip, Trudeau chose to leave his signature slim-cut suits in the closet and opted instead to wear some traditional outfits from his host country. That’s great for a photo-op, but people took notice that in all his meetings with Indian diplomats and lawmakers, the Canadian PM was the only one dressed like that.
Some people thought the clothing choice was a great way to celebrate the culture of the country he was visiting and pay tribute to its history and traditions. Other people called out the PM for his “choreographed cuteness” and sought to inform him that even in Bollywood, Indians do not dress in traditional wear everyday.
Is it just me or is this choreographed cuteness all just a bit much now? Also FYI we Indians don’t dress like this every day sir, not even in Bollywood. pic.twitter.com/xqAqfPnRoZ
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) February 21, 2018
somehow there’s always at least one foreigner at Indian weddings taking pictures with all the guests pic.twitter.com/RHN3OI1N2x
— José Covaco (@HoeZaay) February 21, 2018
Absolutely love it. Shows the respect they have for the country they are visiting. We may not dress like this everyday but no harm in them doing this for a few days 🙂
— Reena 🇮🇳 ❤ 🇮🇳 (@RinksB) February 21, 2018
I’m not sure what’s all the fuss about. Obviously, someone else has created their wardrobe. They have trusted that advice and despite some of it being over the top, I think it’s nice of them to wear it. In any case, I think they’re all looking really good. Get over it.
— Sarika (@idayre) February 21, 2018
How could we make that worse?
You might think seeing that reaction to his wardrobe choices would prompt Trudeau to tone it down a bit. While he did return to his typical suit for some events, he made one more appearance in the dress of his host nation. He showed up to speak at Canada House in New Delhi and made quite an entrance by doing some quick Bhangra dance moves which received mixed reviews.
Again, some people loved it and said that the PM danced better than they ever could. Others criticized Trudeau for trying too hard and bordering on cultural appropriation.
— Rohit Gandhi (@rohitgandhi_) February 22, 2018
Damn, those are pretty awesome bhangra moves. Not easy to do. https://t.co/ic9jbd6EBK
— Krishan Partap Singh (@RaisinaSeries) February 22, 2018
My friggin’ gawd. We may need an extraction team. https://t.co/Q9zWQk8qk7
— Rick Gibbons (@rick_gibbons) February 22, 2018
Can someone tell him Indians don’t live like they are in a Bollywood set 24×7 @vidurkhanna
— Atirav Kapur (@atirav) February 22, 2018
No Trudeau, you have got it all wrong.
We Indians don’t dress like we are going to a wedding all the time or say Namastey to everyone we meet on the road. Neither do we enter a get together doing Bhangra. Most of all, we don’t carry terrorists in our planes to the host country.
— Sonam Mahajan (@AsYouNotWish) February 22, 2018
Those cultural missteps were nothing compared to the political landmine Trudeau had to navigate (and kind of failed at). Before he even left for the trip, there was concern that the affair would be overshadowed by the accusations of an Indian news outlet that Canada is harbouring Sikh extremists. Now, this has a long history dating back to 1947 when India declared independence from the United Kingdom. The main concern from Indian ministers right now is that there might be support within Canada for a Sikh separatist movement that is regaining traction in India to create an independent state called Khalistan.
Trudeau has had to assure various ministers throughout his stay that he and his government support a united India and will not stand for Sikh extremism. He told press that he made it “very, very clear” to the chief minister of Punjab (the region with the most separatist presence) that he does not support the independence movement and that he condemns extremism. However, he did say that peacefully advocating for a separate state is not something he would condemn because the expression of such thoughts are protected under freedom of speech.
This tension underscored every meeting Trudeau had throughout the entire trip. Things seemed to be going as well as possible in this department until Thursday, when a horrible misstep could have derailed diplomatic relations between Canada and India.
A terrible mistake
It was reported Thursday that an extremist who made an assassination attempt on a Sikh politician who was visiting Canada in 1986 was invited to an event hosted by Trudeau in Mumbai. Jaspal Atwal was convicted of attempted murder in 1987 after shooting Malkiat Singh Sidhu on Vancouver Island. He is a former member of an extremist Sikh separatist group that was labeled a terrorist organization by Canada in 2003. Earlier in the week, he was caught on camera posing with none other than Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, wife of the Canadian Prime Minister.
Jaspal Atwal was found guilty of attempted murder in 1986 after shooting a Punjab state minister who was visiting Vancouver Island. Atwal lives in Canada, but travelled to India and attended a government function last night.
Here he is with Sophie Trudeau. pic.twitter.com/4vyJcTlJr1
— Candice Malcolm (@CandiceMalcolm) February 22, 2018
Here is the official invitation sent to Jaspal Atwal, inviting him to join Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in India. Trudeau is denying his sympathies for Sikh extremists, while also wining and dining them. pic.twitter.com/NEhNIQ0PWA
— Candice Malcolm (@CandiceMalcolm) February 22, 2018
Trudeau said afterwards that the invitation had been issued in error, but since the incident, photos of Atwal with other members of the Canadian delegation to India have circulated online along with photos of Atwal with Trudeau previously.
“Obviously, we take this situation extremely seriously,” the PM told reporters, “The individual in question never should have received an invitation and as soon as we found out we rescinded the invitation immediately.”
According to India Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar, the government has accepted the revoked invite as acceptable and the blunder hasn’t harmed relations.
“The fact that an invitation, which was already extended to Mr. Atwal, has been withdrawn, it basically shows [Canada] have taken into account the concerns which we have,” he told Reuters.
So basically, we’re all just glad Trudeau is coming home soon so this trip can be over.