Premier Ranj Pillai has called it “concerning” that he did not receive any official communications from any federal ministers while on a trip to India this week during escalating tensions between that country and Canada.
“There was a lack of communication from the Canadian government; absolutely,” Pillai told the Star late this morning from Vancouver. “It was very concerning to me.”
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of being involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in B.C. in June.
Pillai said he found out about it at midnight while going over briefing notes for the next day.
“I understand that I’m not going to potentially get a call from the Prime Minister of Canada with I guess what would be top-secret information before they make comments in Parliament,” Pillai said.
“But I would have greatly appreciated a direct communication from the ministers the following day.”
Pillai’s trip was focused on recruiting health care workers and coming up with joint training opportunities for health care workers.
Other priorities related to mining, arts and culture and strengthening economic ties between India and the Yukon.
Once the announcement had been made, Pillai said, he had no more scheduled meetings with any federal Indian government officials.
He was rebutting criticism from Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon that he had met with a top minister in the Indian government on the day of the announcement.
Pillai said he had met with a mines minister at the start of his trip, but this was before the announcement by Trudeau.
“We found out the exact same time as anybody else,” Pillai said. “And we didn’t have any more meetings with any federal (Indian) officials after that.”
When Pillai first arrived in India, he was told the relationship with Canada was strained, but the premier said he didn’t have any idea how bad the issue would become.
“We ended up having a briefing with the High Commissioner, and he focused on the fact that the relationship was frosty because of whatever exchange that happened during the G-20,” Pillai said.
“But nobody was made aware of anything that was going to escalate the way he did.”
The announcement by Trudeau came shortly before Pillai was scheduled to leave India, diverting Pillai’s attention for the rest of the trip.
“My focus went from … talent and investment attraction to making sure that the people that were there with us were, safe and sound, and the business leaders we had with us were secure, and safe as we prepped to leave that day,” he said.
Pillai made a stop in Ottawa on his way back from India. He raised the issue of the lack of communication in a meeting with Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
“I voiced that that should never happen again.”
Pillai said LeBlanc was apologetic during their meeting.
“He understood the seriousness of it, and we had a good exchange and he committed to making sure that was looked into,” Pillai said.
“I was happy to see that response.”
As a representative of a territorial government, Pillai said, he had done his part in pre-planning for the trip.
“Because as a provincial, subnational government,” Pillai said, “we followed all of the proper protocols. We had made sure that Global Affairs knew we’re on the trip.”
He said his team had worked for months to ensure there were no security risks
“We worked with them for months leading up to this,” Pillai said.
“I made sure that all my team had a security briefing going into this.”
Pillai said he also met with the ministers of immigration, law and defence in Ottawa as well as with LeBlanc.
He did not elaborate on the nature of those conversations except to say they were pre-planned.