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Yukon 'trying to understand the path forward' following India trade mission

Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai pauses while speaking during a news conference after a meeting of western premiers in Whistler, B.C., on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. Yukon's premier says meetings in India aimed at attracting more workers to the territory went very well, but the path forward is murky after the prime minister suggested India was involved in the death of a B.C. activist. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Yukon's premier says meetings in India aimed at attracting more workers to the territory went very well, but the path forward is murky after Canada's prime minister suggested India could be connected to the killing of a B.C. activist.

Ranj Pillai said he was preparing for a last day of meetings in India, as part of a weeklong trade mission to Asia, when Justin Trudeau announced Monday that there were "credible" allegations of a potential link between India's government and the killing of Sikh independence activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, B.C.

The allegation has opened a vast rift between Canada and India, with both sides expelling diplomats and India halting visa processing for Canadian citizens.

Pillai said the meetings, which included talks about health care and tourism, as well as the mining and film industries, went ahead as planned. 

“They were all very positive. You know, they were concerned about the comments that were coming out of Ottawa, but at the same time they were really focused on business-to-business opportunities,” Pillai said.

The premier said after the meetings his focus shifted to how to get the delegation home. It included both public servants and business representatives.

“We were working with the (Canadian) High Commission's office to ensure that we had transportation organized and that everybody was ready to move because we could tell that things were becoming much, much more tense,” he said.

Pillai said the India portion of the trip included talks around bringing more doctors and nurses to the territory and possible agreements related to training opportunities.

Now he says his government, like many Canadians, will be watching to see how the tensions unfold.

“I think that we're all trying to understand what the path forward is going to look like,” he said.

“There's so much investment from Canada … I think inevitably there's going to have to be a continued path when it comes to commerce and academia. I just cannot see our countries completely severing those relationships.”

Pillai said he's particularly concerned about the future of the visa and immigration process between the two countries.

On Thursday, India's visa-processing centre in Canada suspended services and the country has warned its citizens to exercise the “utmost caution” when travelling in Canada.

India is the second largest source of employees for the Yukon Nominee Program, which helps local businesses attract foreign workers.

Pillai said he met with federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller in Ottawa Thursday to discuss what the disruption could look like and also to push the federal government to allow more immigrants into the territory. 

He said Yukon has been using its entire allotment from Canada within the first half of the year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023

Ashley Joannou, The Canadian Press

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