After Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's disastrous visit to India in February this year, the bipartisan Canadian National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians has now released a heavily redacted report into the incident that put the nail in trip’s coffin – the invitation and presence of Jaspal Atwal, a man tied to Sikh extremism and previously convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian minister, as part of Trudeau’s entourage at an event with the Indian film industry in Mumbai during the trip.
The debacle was only compounded when Canadian media began reporting that Indian intelligence had orchestrated Atwal’s presence in an attempt to embarrass the Trudeau government.
The committee set out to examine “allegations relating to i) foreign interference in Canadian political affairs, ii) risks to your (Trudeau’s) security, and iii) inappropriate use of intelligence.”
The section relating to ‘foreign interference’ (presumably by India) is the most heavily redacted, but here’s what can be gleaned from the rest of the report:
How Did Atwal Make It to the Guest List?
In its findings, the committee has found that it was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP, Canada’s federal police) that dropped the ball on the Atwal issue. It said that the RCMP received information about Atwal's presence on the trip, and it even searched criminal databases for his name and found information that should have raised a red flag – but no further action was taken.
"“The RCMP was provided information on Mr. Atwal’s possible presence in India during the Prime Minister’s trip on February 13, 2018. That information caused RCMP personnel to search criminal databases, revealing information that should have triggered the notification of the Prime Minister’s Protective Detail and the briefing of senior officials: neither the Protective Detail nor officials were notified.”" - The Special Report
The report also found that there was no system in place for vetting the guest lists at these kinds of events, and neither the RCMP nor the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had done any vetting of the guest list.
"“The Committee has substantiated what the NSIA briefed at the time: there is no systematic vetting of any guest list for foreign events for security purposes by either the RCMP or CSIS.”" - The Special Report
Interestingly, the report notes that the RCMP had said that even if they had sent on the information on Atwal to the PMO (as they admit they should have), it would only have been for 'situational awareness', with no change in security posture – the RCMP and CSIS had separately stated to the committee that Atwal, after the Mumbai event, posed no physical threat. However, the committee's report expressed confusion at this line of argument, saying it “struggled to reconcile” the fact of Atwal’s violent criminal history with the agencies’ “categorical denial” that he was a threat.
"“The RCMP had information that suggested that Mr. Atwal was going with the Prime Minister on the official trip to India, but did not validate that information. The RCMP had information that Mr. Atwal had a serious criminal record and a history of involvement in violent acts, issues which should have been identified as security risks to the Prime Minister and his delegation. The RCMP recognizes that it erred in not providing that information to the Prime Minister’s Protective Detail. The RCMP assertion that the Prime Minister’s Protective Detail would not have changed its security posture even if it had known of Mr. Atwal’s presence at the event and his history of violence was questionable, at best. The conclusion of officials from the security and intelligence community that Mr. Atwal was not a threat was based on a narrow interpretation of risk that did not reflect his known criminal record or [redacted].”" - The Special Report
What About Canadian NSIA Blaming India for Atwal Debacle?
After the presence of Atwal at the function in Mumbai became public, complete with a photo of Atwal with Sophie Gregoire, Trudeau’s wife, the Canadian National Security and Intelligence Advisor (NSIA) Daniel Jean held an off-the-record meeting with Canadian journalists in which, according to the report, he insinuated that Indian intelligence was behind the media leak, and had orchestrated the removal of Atwal from its blacklist in order to embarrass the Trudeau government.
Though the committee in its report states it was understandable that the NSIA would brief journalists to try and counter the activities of ‘foreign actors’ trying to ‘undermine Canadian institutions’, it pokes holes in virtually all of the NSIA’s reasons for giving that off-the-record brief to Canadian journalists. To Jean’s concern that Canada’s institutions were suffering a hit to their reputation due to these foreign actors, the report notes that none of the heads of the institutions mentioned thought they were suffering damage to their credibility as a result of the Atwal row.
It suggests that the NSIA was more influenced by the recent history of Indian media reports of Canada being soft on Sikh separatism when he made the claim that Indian intelligence was behind the Atwal furore. The report even questioned whether the Atwal ‘crisis’ as the NSIA had characterised it, was really a crisis that required his unprecedented off-the-record briefing to Canadian media.
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