A University Grants Commission Approved Journal
(under UGC-CARE, Arts & Humanities Citation Index)
ISSN 2582-2241




India-Canada relations are marked by both convergent and divergent issues. They share a unique blend of history, common values of liberal democracy, the commonwealth connection, their economic complementarity, the diaspora factor, and close trade partnership that led to the setting up of strategic partnership. Their special relationship and shared experience soured in 1974 following India’s detonation of a nuclear device believed to have been conducted with Canadian materials. Canada reacted harshly to India’s May 1998 nuclear tests and maintained sanctions against it.  The Foreign Minister of Canada, John Manley tried to normalise relations through a re-engagement initiative by removing most sanctions in April 2001. Canadian prime ministers visited India in 2003, 2005, 2009, and 2012, and the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh had a bilateral dialogue included during his visit to  the Toronto G-20 summit in 2010. During his visit in April 2015, the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi built an extensive engagement with Canada. Prime minister Justin Trudeau’s week-long visit to India in February 2018 further expanded bilateral ties. But controversy over convicted Sikh separatist leader Jaspal Atwal marred Trudeau’s visit. The Canadian government’s perceived support for the Khalistan cause weighed heavily and adversely on Trudeau’s tour. The best that the two sides can do is to sideline the Khalistan issue and build their relationship on convergent issues that are in abundance.


INDIA IS THE SECOND LARGEST SOURCE COUNTRY OF IMMIGRANTS TO Canada, with a rapidly growing Indo-Canadian community estimated to be over 1.2 million people.[1] Bilateral relations, based on their Commonwealth and United Nations’ connections, were enhanced in the 1940s and 1960s because of the personal ties between the Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the two Canadian prime ministers who served during those years: Louis St. Laurent and Lester B. Pearson.[2] Two prime ministers of India were given the honour of addressing a joint session of the Canadian Parliament: Jawaharlal Nehru on October 24, 1949, and Indira Gandhi on June 19, 1973.[3]

Canada’s aid programme to India began in 1951 and grew substantially under the Colombo Plan, with Ottawa providing food aid, project financing and technical assistance. In the past five decades India has been one of the largest recipients of Canadian bilateral aid, worth over Canadian $ 3.8 billion. In the 1960s, Canada supported the Kundah hydro-electric power house project through Colombo Plan. After fifty-five years of bilateral programming in India totalling C$ 2.39 billion, Canada’s bilateral development assistance programme came to an end in 2006 following a change in Indian government policy regarding aid. The Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD), however, continues to provide assistance through partnerships between Indian and Canadian non-governmental organisations and multilateral programmes. In addition, the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi manages the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, to support local projects in India focusing on gender equality, human rights, and good governance.[4]

Relations deteriorated in the wake of India's nuclear test of May 1974, with the Canadian government severing bilateral nuclear cooperation with both India and Pakistan in 1976 after claiming that the fissionable material used to construct India’s first nuclear device had been obtained from the Canadian-supplied CIRUS nuclear research reactor. Canada, then, resolved to engage in nuclear cooperation only with countries thatsigned the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the  (CTBT), and which instituted full-scope safeguards on their nuclear energy programmes under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Further, Canada reacted harshly to India’s May 1998 Nuclear tests and maintained sanctions against it. There was, however, an initiative by the Foreign Minister of Canada, John Manley, whose re-engagement initiatives included the removal of most sanctions in April 2001.

The launch of economic reforms in India in the 1990s attracted the attention of the Canadian government and the business community. Several Canadian prime ministers made official visits to the country: In 1996, prime minister Jean Chretien visited with a contingent of about 300 businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats to explore business opportunities.[5] Chretien revisited India in 2003, Paul Martin in 2005, and Stephen Harper in November 2009 and again in 2012.During this 2009 visit, several agreements were signed: the Canada-India Social Security Agreement, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cooperation in Information and Communication Technologies and Electronics, and the MOU between York University and the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation. Announcements were also made on the Appropriate (Administrative) Arrangements of the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement; institutionalisation of annual Strategic Dialogues between respective foreign, trade, and energy ministers and between the offices of national security advisors; upgrading of the trade office in Bengaluru to a consulate general; updates to the air transport agreement; and on the winners of a competition for the Canada-India Research Centre of Excellence. Prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Toronto in June 2010 to attend a G-20 Summit, and a bilateral component was added on.

Both sides held the second round of the Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi on October 14, 2014, co-chaired by the minister of external affairs (EAM), Salman Khurshid, and the foreign minister of Canada, John Baird. (The first round was held in Toronto on September 23, 2013). Governor General David Johnston paid a state visit to India from February 22 to March 2, 2014, covering New Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai. Prime minister Narendra Modi made a historic bilateral visit to Canada in April 2015. Modi extensively engaged with Canada’s political, business and academic leadership and had robust interactions with the Indian diaspora.

India’s liberalisation policy of the 1990s led to a broadening of India-Canada economic and commercial relations as India offers significant opportunities for Canadian trade and investment. As a result of the new economic policy, the volume of the two-way trade increased from C$ 4.2 billion (US$ 3.21 billion approximately) in 2010 to C$ 8.02 billion in 2016, but it does not reflect the true potential as India accounts for only 1.95 per cent of Canada’s global trade. Major items of Indian exports to Canada include gems, jewellery and precious stones, pharmaceutical products, ready-made garments, textiles, organic chemicals, light engineering goods, iron and steel articles, etc. India’s import from Canada include pulses, newsprint, wood pulp, asbestos, potash, iron scrap, copper, minerals and industrial chemicals, etc.. According to Statistics Canada, the cumulative Indian foreign direct investment in Canada was C$ 2.81 billion in 2016, as against Canadian investment of C$ 1.21 billion in India. Indian companies have invested in the Canadian IT, software, steel and natural resources sectors, seen in substantial operations of Aditya Birla Group, Essar Steel, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Steel Minerals Canada, Tech Mahindra, WIPRO, Infosys Technology, Jubilant Life Sciences, Abellon Energy Inc, IFFCO and Gujarat State Fertilizers and Chemicals Limited (GSFC), and two banks, State Bank of India and ICICI, etc.[6]

Relations in recent years have been marked by regular high level interactions. Over the years arrays of institutional mechanisms have been put in place to promote bilateral cooperation. High level visits maintained the momentum. The two prime ministers Narendra Modi and Stephen Harper agreed, under their India-Canada Joint Statement of 2015, to take concrete measures to expand bilateral cooperation in areas such as economy, trade and investment, civil nuclear cooperation, energy, education and skills development, agriculture, defence and security, science, technology, innovation and space, culture, people-to-people ties, and regional and global issues. According to official figures released by the Harper government, during Modi’s visit sixteen commercial agreements and announcements were made by Canadian and Indian companies and organisations with a combined value of over C$ 1.6 billion.[7]

Harper and Modi participated in several cultural events where they met members of Canada’s vibrant Indo-Canadian community numbering more than 1.2 million. During these events, Harper paid a tribute to the contributions that the Indian-origin community continues to make to Canada’s social, cultural and economic landscape. “With its expanding population and impressive economic growth, India represents tremendous opportunities for Canadian companies. But we have only begun to scratch the surface of our true commercial potential. That is why Prime Minister Modi and I were pleased by the scope and volume of bilateral initiatives and commercial agreements that took place during his visit,” Harper said. During the visit, Harper and Modi committed to elevate the bilateral ties to a strategic partnership and further broadened its scope through a number of important initiatives.[8] The two leaders also saw the completion of memoranda of understanding in civil aviation, rail regulation, education and skills development, space cooperation, and projects focused on maternity, newborns and child health. Harper also welcomed Modi’s announcement that India would issue visas upon arrival, making it easier for Canadians to travel to India.

The civil nuclear co-operation between the two countries is significant because Canada, among the world’s largest producers of uranium, played a key role in India’s nuclear evolution, having supplied the first Indian reactor CIRUS in 1954. The exports of uranium and nuclear hardware to India were, however, stopped after New Delhi used Canadian technology to carry out a peaceful nuclear test in 1974.[9] India has twenty-one operational nuclear reactors and six under construction ones, which use uranium as fuel, and the nuclear component of its energy production is currently under three percent at 6,000 MW. By 2032, India expects to have 45,000 MW of nuclear capacity, provided it has assured uranium fuel supplies. At a press conference, Modi described uranium as “not just a mineral but an article of faith [for India], and an effort to save the world from climate change”.[10]

To ensure its rapid economic growth, India’s energy supply challenges are both acute and urgent as it is currently the fourth largest energy consumer in the world. As the second largest producer of uranium globally, with exports valued at more than  C$ 1 billion per year, Canada’s resources and know-how in the energy sector are an ideal fit for India’s needs. To this end, on April 15, 2015, Harper welcomed the announcement by Cameco, a Saskatoon-based Canadian company, of a contract to supply over seven million pounds of uranium to India over five years for the generation of electricity. The contract between Cameco and India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was signed during Modi’s the official visit to Canada. The export contract, valued at approximately C$ 350 million by today’s uranium price standards, is specifically for Canadian uranium, which will be sourced from the company’s operations in northern Saskatchewan. The sale will permit the Cameco group of companies to establish itself in one of the world’s fastest growing uranium markets.

The supply contract was made possible by the Canada-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (NCA) which came into force in September 2013. The NCA and a supporting Administrative Arrangement allows Canadian firms to export and import controlled nuclear materials, and equipment and technology to and from India to facilities subject to safeguards applied by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Individual exports and imports are also subject to licensing under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Export and Import Permits Act of Government of Canada. The signing of the contract signals Canada’s increased energy cooperation with India and is a testament to the government’s effort to promote greater trade and investment with India.[11]

Besides, Harper and Modi took particular note of the partnership between the India-Canada Centre for Innovative Multidisciplinary Partnerships to Accelerate Community Transformation and Sustainability (IC-IMPACTS) and the National Mission for Clean Ganga to find innovative technological solutions in order to clean the river Ganga; as well as the ‘Water for Health’ collaboration between Indian Department of Biotechnology and IC-IMPACTS; and the ‘Safe and Sustainable Infrastructure’ and ‘Integrated Water-Management’ initiatives with the Indian Department of Science and Technology. Recognising India’s satellite launch capabilities and Canada’s expertise in satellites and astronomy, the prime ministers expressed satisfaction at the rapid expansion and intensification of India-Canada space cooperation, including the launch of Canadian satellites. They welcomed the renewal of the MoU on Space Cooperation between the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Canadian Space Agency.[12] 

During prime minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India, joint initiatives and agreements were announced on February 23, 2018 in New Delhi. Canada unveiled a wide range of new initiatives and agreements with India that span education, security, sustainable development, trade and investment, and women’s health and empowerment and promotion of the participation of women in science. Canada and India committed to further engagement and collaboration to encourage partnerships in film, television, and video projects under the Audio-visual Co-production Agreement. Both sides renewed a Memorandum of Understanding on Higher Education and announced that Canada would host the biannual Joint Working Group on Higher Education in 2018, although it has not taken place yet. Canada and India finalised a Memorandum of Understanding between the Global Affairs Canada’s Investment and Innovation Bureau and Invest India with the aim of enhancing two-way investments. They committed to continued cooperation in the information and communications technologies and electronics sector, including collaboration on Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan and the Digital India programme. The two goverments agreed to engage policy makers, associations, business leaders, and academics in efforts to support the growth of the innovation ecosystems in both countries. Besides, there were statements on issues such as civil nuclear science, counter-terrorism, peacekeeping collaboration and bilateral relationship covering consular cooperation, National Security Advisors’ Dialogue and research collaboration.[13] Further, both countries recognised the central and dynamic role of people-to-people ties in the India-Canada partnership, noting and appreciating in particular the growing community of Canadians of Indian origin and their contribution to both societies.

The first Indians to visit Canada were members of Sikh army regiments that were passing through Canada in 1897 en route to home from Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebration in England. In 1902, a small contingent of eighty-three officers and men, both Chinese and Punjabis, mainly from the crown colonies of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai went to join the coronation ceremony of Edward VII, and passed through Victoria on board the ship, Empress of Japan. On their way back, they once again passed through Canada, but shortly after their return to Hong Kong, their regiment was disbanded. This event initiated the first Indian migration to Canada, as Indians who had transited through the country , had already perceived it to be a land of economic opportunity. In the early years of the twentieth century most countries had either greatly restricted or completely excluded Asians in general and Indians in particular. The first recorded Indian immigrants landed in Canada in 1903-04, and by 1907, over 5,000 persons immigrated from India, mainly from Punjab, and were employed as lumber workers and labourers to construct the Canadian Pacific Railway. The domestic problems of Sikhs in Punjab, oppressive British politics and famine encouraged their immigration from India. For many Indians the journey to Canada was a risky adventure, and for a few it proved to be a total disappointment. But even those who clenched their teeth in the face of an inhospitable winter and dug in their heels to face the uncertainties soon learned that most of their energies would be spent in just settling down.[14]

Besides, on their arrival immigrants from India were met with hostility from some of the White residents of Canada. Canadians felt that the growing number of immigrants from India would take away from them their jobs in factories, mills and lumber yards. It was such insecurities that led to anti-Asian riots in British Columbia, in which Indians were targeted along with Chinese and Japanese immigrants. In 1908, British Columbia effectively ended all new Asian immigration.[15]

One of the earliest experiences of Indian immigration to Canada was the Komagata Maru incident. In 1914, 376 East Indians arrived in Vancouver on the Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamer that an enterprising Sikh, Gurditt Singh, had hired to test the Canadian requirement for a continuous journey. They were refused entry and eventually returned to India after the supreme court had ruled against their admission.[16]Canadian immigration was tightly controlled during the inter-War period, which witnessed a dire depression in Canada.

It was only after the Second World War that the state of the Canadian economy forced the country to liberalise its immigration policy and the number of Indian immigrants went up. The second major wave of immigration to Canada started in the early 1970s.  The 1967 point system played a decisive role in the evolution of the profile of the Indian diaspora. Due to point system, immigrants were selected by profession, which drew doctors, engineers and academicians to Canada. Today almost 90 percent of the community lives in metropolises such as Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and other major cities like Ottawa, Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Waterloo and Halifax. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has the largest Indian community estimated at around 600,000 people followed by Vancouver with around 300,000 Indian inhabitants. It is estimated that two-thirds of Indo-Canadians are Punjabi speaking, followed by those who speak Gujarati.[17] The Indian community is culturally active and has organised itself in various associations and groups. Many Indo-Canadians hold key positions in business enterprises, public service and other professions. Highlighting the important role of increasing connectivity to grow commercial and people-to-people links, Harper and Modi welcomed the resumption of non-stop air links between Canada and India, commencing in November 2015.[18]

The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s week-long visit to India with his family and delegation ended on February 23, 2018. But the controversy over Jaspal Atwal marred prime minister Trudeau’s visit. Atwal was convicted of attempted murder in Canada in 1987 after he tried to assassinate a visiting Punjabi cabinet minister, Malkiat Singh Sidhu, on Vancouver Island. At the time, Atwal was a member of the International Sikh Youth Federation, a terrorist group now banned in Canada. He was photographed with top Liberal Party officials and Trudeau’s wife at an event in Mumbai. He also got an invitation to attend a dinner reception hosted by the High Commission of Canada in New Delhi. When his official invitation came to light and was circulating on social media, questions were raised over how Atwal received a visa and why the Canadian Prime Minister’s Office failed to vet the official invitation list. It was an embarrassment for Trudeau who tried to convince people that he was not a radical Sikh sympathiser, saying it was all a “mistake,” and blaming a backbench MP for the incident. It is the matter of concern for India that the Liberals have a long history of using the Sikh constituency for vote-bank politics. Trudeau had aligned his party with the influential World Sikh Organisation, and appointed several of its supporters to high-ranking government positions. Trudeau attended a Khalsa Day parade in Toronto in 2017, where he gave a speech and was photographed in front of the yellow-and-blue Khalistan separatist flag. Such events usually feature militant Khalistani parade floats, posters and shrines dedicated to terrorists, and speakers calling for a violent upheaval in India. Trudeau’s poor judgement in attending the event caught up with him in India. However, Trudeau announced a wide range of new initiatives and agreements with India that span areas such as education, civil nuclear science, counter-terrorism, peacekeeping collaboration, security, sustainable development, trade and investment, women’s health and empowerment, and research collaboration.

It is clear that the India-Canada relationship is not based on a single issue, and that it is multidimensional. The reality, however, is that their bilateral trade is not substantial; neither country figures in the list of top fifteen export destinations. A sensitive, creative and forward-looking vision is required to strengthen relations.

To sum up, India and Canada have long-standing bilateral relations built upon shared traditions of democracy and pluralism, and strong people-to-people ties. For Canada, India is an important source country for immigration and foreign students. India is Canada’s largest trading partner in South Asia and is a priority market under the Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan. With a buoyant bilateral trade, India represents exciting opportunities for Canadians.

 Kamaran M.K. Mondal is an Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He holds an MPhil and a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His articles have appeared in the International Studies Quarterly, The Calcutta Journal of Global Affairs, The IUP Journal of International Relations,  Inquest: A Journal of Social Science and Humanities, Ajanta and The Milli Gazette Online, and his book chapters have been published in Terrorism and Human Rights in the Globalizing World: Experience in Indian Context; Antarjatik Samparko; Politics of Location and Identity in North East India; Thoughts on Liberal Arts and Popular Culture; Globalisation, Environment and Sustainable Development: Indian Perspective; Development and Politics in India; and State, Nation and Multiculturalism: Problems in Perspectives.


[1] Statistics Canada, Census of Population, 2016. https://www12.statca n.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016.

[2] Ministry of External Affairs (2017), India-Canada Relations. www.mea.gov.in/Portal/Foreign Relation/Canada_October_2017.pdf; and Anil Dutta Mishra and Govind Prasad, India and Canada: Past, Present and Future (New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 2003), 2.

[3] Parliament of Canada (2014). Heads of States and of Governments who have addressed Joint Sessions of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada. http://www.parl.gc.ca /Parlinfo/compilations/parliament/ HeadsOfStatesAddress.aspx.

[4] Government of Canada (2013), Canada-India Relations. http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/indiainde/bilateral_relations_bilaterales/canada_india-inde.aspx?lang=eng.

[5] Mishra, India and Canada, 2.

[6] Ministry of External Affairs (2017), India-Canada Relations. www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/Canada_October_2017.pdf.

[7] “Narendra Modi’s visit to Canada generated business worth C$ 1.6 billion”, Indian Express, Press Trust of India, Toronto, April 18, 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Sushant Singh, Indian Express, April 17, 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-a-deal-in-canada.

[10] Ibid.

[11] PMO News, Ottawa, April 15, 2015. http://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2015/04/15/cameco-uranium-contract-india#sthash.PtsC2MgI.dpuf.

[12] India Canada Joint Statement, Ottawa, April 15, 2015. http://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2015/04/15/india-canada-joint-statement#sthash.

[13] PMO News, “Canada-India Joint Initiatives and Agreements,” New Delhi, February 23, 2018. http://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2018/02/23/canada-india- joint-initiatives- and-agreements.

[14] M.H.K. Qureshi, “The South Asian Community,” Polyphony, Spring/Summer (1984): 1. http://collections/ic.ge.ca/magic/mt65.html.

[15] Formative Stages in Gadar Party. http://www.Punjabonline.com/immigration/gadarsyndsrome.html.

[16] Jean R. Burnet and Howard Palmer, Coming Canadians: An Introduction to a History of Canada’s Peoples (Ontario: Mcclelland & Stewart Ltd1989), 31.

[17] Ministry of External Affairs, 2015, India-Canada Relations. https://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/Canadadec 2015.pdf.

[18] India Canada Joint Statement, Ottawa, April 15, 2015. http://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2015/04/15/india-canada-joint-statement#sthash.