From foreign interference to war in Ukraine, Trudeau pushes rule-of-law agenda at G20

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he wanted stronger condemnation of Russia from world leaders at the G20. Caryn Ceolin with Trudeau’s thoughts on the watered-down agreement.

By Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed a rule-of-law agenda at the G20 summit, whether it was wagging a finger at India’s prime minister about foreign interference attempts or pushing for stronger language to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

As the two-day summit in New Delhi wrapped up, Trudeau openly condemned Moscow for its “illegal invasion of Ukraine.”

It was wording left out of the final declaration from the world’s most powerful leaders, with their communique focusing on the economic effects of Vladimir Putin’s war — such as food and energy insecurity — not the thousands of casualties.

Trudeau, one of the longest-serving leaders in the G20, said if it were up to him the language would have been much stronger.

“People like Putin mistake being reasonable for being weak. He is dead wrong and Canada will continue to support Ukraine with whatever it takes, as long as it takes,” Trudeau said Sunday.

The G20 urged the resumption of grain, foodstuffs and fertilizer shipments from Russia and Ukraine, saying it was necessary to feed people in Africa and other parts of the developing world.

The leaders’ communique also focused on gender equality, countering terrorism and money laundering, and building digital technology and green infrastructure.

The G20 meeting was the final order of business on Trudeau’s six-day trip to the Indo-Pacific, where he promoted Canadian businesses and products while becoming a strategic partner with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The prime minister had been slated to leave India on Sunday, returning Monday to Ottawa. However, a sudden mechanical problem with his plane delayed the departure indefinitely.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the focus of this year’s G20 summit the Global South, with the African Union becoming a permanent member.

Trudeau met with union chairperson Azali Assoumani in a friendly exchange Sunday, promising support to Morocco following the recent devastating earthquake.

Trudeau said he’s committed to helping the Global South, and announced over $137 million in funding to assist developing nations.

The money will go toward climate change projects, including in sub-Sahara Africa, developing agricultural value chains in Bolivia, and growing women-led agriculture enterprises in Nigeria. Money was also committed to increase food security in Congo and to bolster nutrition in Burkina Faso.

Throughout the G20, Modi identified himself as president of “Bharat,” an ancient Sanskrit name championed by his Hindu nationalist supporters that shot to prominence as the summit approached.

Despite Canada having a large Indian diaspora population, a cloud lingers over the two countries’ diplomatic relations amid the long-standing presence of a movement in Canada intent on forging a separate Sikh homeland in the Punjab region.

In addition, Trudeau’s national security adviser has cited India as being among the top sources of foreign interference in Canada, a public designation Ottawa has largely limited to authoritarian states.

Trudeau said Sunday that both subjects came up during a 15-minute meeting with Modi.

On foreign interference, Trudeau said he stressed to Modi the importance of respect for the rule of law, the integrity and sovereignty of democratic institutions and processes, and the ability of citizens of a country to choose their future.

“Diaspora Canadians make up a huge proportion of our country, and they should be able to express themselves and make their choices without interference from any of the many countries that we know are involved in interference challenges.”

India’s external affairs ministry issued a summary saying Modi expressed strong concerns to Trudeau about “continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada. They are promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship.”

At his news conference, Trudeau said Canada would always defend freedom of expression and peaceful protest, while preventing violence and pushing back against hatred, adding: “It’s important to remember that the actions of the few do not represent the entire community, or Canada.”

Modi tried to grasp Trudeau’s hand during a wreath laying ceremony, but Trudeau pulled away.

Leaders of the most powerful countries were greeted by Modi at Mahatma Gandhi’s cremation site, with Modi embracing several politicians with a handhold.

That included Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Trudeau, who shook Modi’s hand, was the only leader to pull away from the longer handhold.

Asked about the exchange, Trudeau suggested people could read into it what they wish.

Trudeau skipped Modi’s leaders’ dinner the night before, with the Prime Minister’s Office refusing to say why.

He also missed the launch the Global Biofuels Alliance, a partnership to make progress on rolling out cleaner, greener fuels.

Trudeau said he had other work.

G20 leaders — whose countries emit 80 per cent of all planet-warming gases — agreed Saturday to triple renewable energy and try to increase money for climate change-related disasters. But they maintained the status quo on phasing out carbon-spewing coal.

Canada pushed for inclusion of language on gender and Indigenous reflections in the final communique.

“All throughout we made sure that countries are focused on growing the economy in inclusive ways, creating opportunity and prosperity for everyone in a more peaceful, more secure world,” Trudeau said.

“This is what Canada pushes for at every summit, and we’ll continue to.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 10, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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