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Jaishankar to skip Canada-led Covid meeting days after Trudeau’s remarks on farmers protest

India is learnt to have informed Canada that External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar won't attend the 7 December meeting due to scheduling issues. India had said Trudeau’s comments were 'ill informed'.

File photo of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar | ANI
File photo of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar | ANI

New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will not participate in the next meeting of the Canada-led group of foreign ministers, which is aimed at forging a common strategy to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, because India is upset with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments on the ongoing farmers protests at Delhi-Haryana border, ThePrint has learnt.

Government sources said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) told the Canadian government that Jaishankar is not available to attend the 7 December meeting organised by Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne because of “scheduling” issues. 

Sources told ThePrint Jaishankar is extremely upset with Trudeau’s comments and has decided to show his displeasure by refusing to attend the meeting.

The MEA Friday summoned the Canadian High Commissioner to India to chastise him and his government on Trudeau’s comments.

Speaking at a Sikh congregation on the 551st birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, Trudeau had described the lathicharge, tear gas and water cannons used against the protesting farmers as “concerning”.

The MEA responded with a demarche to the Canadian envoy, saying Trudeau’s remarks, those by some of his cabinet ministers and members of Parliament, were “ill-informed”, “unwarranted” and “constitute an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs”.

The reference to Trudeau’s cabinet was about India-origin Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who had earlier described the Punjab farmers as “peaceful protesters being brutalised in India”.

When ThePrint called MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava for his response on the matter, he declined to comment.

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Jaishankar took part in meeting for first time last month

The Ministerial Coordination Group of Covid-19 (MCGC), as the Champagne-led group is called, has been meeting about once a month ever since the pandemic broke out in March, and Jaishankar participated in it for the first time last month.

At the time, he had seemed happy to participate and Indian officials had noted it was a recognition of India’s expanding influence worldwide. Notably, China is not invited to this meeting.


The participants in the MCGC group include the UK, Italy, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, South Africa, Morocco, Brazil, Peru and Australia.

A diplomatic observer, on the condition of anonymity, told ThePrint he hoped India and Jaishankar would return to the monthly Covid call next month, especially as the objectives of the multilateral call include the “importance of multilateral vaccine research and development and ensuring equitable vaccine access to developing countries and vulnerable health systems…”

After the meeting of the group in April, Champagne had said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is a global challenge. Maintaining strong coordination with our international partners is critical to mitigate the repercussions of the ongoing challenges we face.”

“Keeping people, goods and services moving is key in both addressing these issues and ensuring the transition to a strong recovery,” he had added.

Meanwhile, the Sikh community in Canada, about 7,00,000-strong and influential in Trudeau’s cabinet, seems unfazed.

Hundreds have been protesting outside the Indian High Commission in Ottawa as well as outside the Indian consulate in Toronto over the issue of the farmers’ agitation in Delhi.

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