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The ‘Yoga Summit’ that never was: Trudeau and Modi planned to stretch together in India

Documents shed new light on Trudeau’s disastrous India trip
An exclusive Global News investigation has uncovered a key government document containing revealing new information about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's disastrous 2018 trip to India. David Akin reports.

In a trip that was both dominated and damned for its photo ops, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2018 week in India was to have included what almost certainly would have been the mother of them all.

Documents recently released to Global News through a federal Access to Information Act request show that Canadian government officials had arranged for Trudeau, his wife Sophie, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “Bollywood celebrities”, and others to  participate in an hour-long dawn yoga session — in front of television news cameras — at Humayan’s Tomb in Delhi, a 16th century site that is one of India’s most important cultural treasures.

This “Yoga Summit,” however,  never happened. It was cancelled before Trudeau left Canada for his ill-fated trip.

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But in a detailed two-page scenario note prepared for Trudeau, Canadian government officials had described how important yoga was for Trudeau’s host, Nahendra Modi, and how the session could help improve Canada-India ties.

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Modi is an avid yoga enthusiast and, according to Canadian officials, starts his day with a one-hour practice.

“Promoting yoga globally has been a soft power priority for Prime Minister Modi,” bureaucrats wrote in a briefing note for Trudeau, a copy of which was included in the 300-page briefing book given to Freeland as she prepared to accompany Trudeau on what Canadian officials hoped would be a game-changing visit for Canada-India relations.

Canada & India’s icy relationship starting to thaw
Canada & India’s icy relationship starting to thaw

The Freeland briefing book, much of it redacted by government censors, was provided to Global News nearly two years after it was requested.

Modi successfully pushed the United Nations General Assembly to declare June 21 the annual International Day of Yoga, a day which has been celebrated since 2015.

The scenario note prepared for Trudeau indicates that Canada had no diplomatic or official interest in a morning yoga session involving the two prime ministers, but believed it was a useful event to “demonstrate people-to-people ties through sports” and “deepen [the] relationship with Prime Minister Modi through sharing his personal love for yoga and supporting India’s yoga cultural diplomacy.”

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Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper did something similar on his second visit to India — demonstrating “people-to-people ties through sports” — when Harper and his Punjab-born minister of sport, Bal Gosal, played some street hockey and cricket during a 2012 visit to Bangalore.

The undated memo for Trudeau notes that Modi’s participation was “TBC” — to be confirmed.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs yoga during a mass yoga event on International Yoga Day in Ranchi in eastern Jharkhand state June 21, 2019. (Photo by ) (Photo credit should read RAJESH KUMAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs yoga during a mass yoga event on International Yoga Day in Ranchi in eastern Jharkhand state June 21, 2019. (Photo by ) (Photo credit should read RAJESH KUMAR/AFP via Getty Images) Rajesh Kumar / AFP / Getty Images

It’s not clear why this “Yoga Summit” was cancelled. An official with the PMO could not say why or when the event was cancelled or who cancelled it.

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The yoga session was to have started at 7 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, one of the last days Trudeau and his family were in India.

Later that day, Modi and Trudeau did, in fact, hold face-to-face meetings, both in business attire held at official residence of the Indian prime minister.

2019 Teddy Awards: Trudeau wins big for his India trip that cost taxpayers $1.6 million
2019 Teddy Awards: Trudeau wins big for his India trip that cost taxpayers $1.6 million

The abandoned yoga session would have seen about 45 people participating, including then-Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj as well as “Bollywood celebrities and activists, youth leaders, athletes and select members of your delegation.”

It was to have been led by “one of the top yoga teachers in India” though that individual is never identified in the Canadian scenario note.