This wasn’t an Indian intelligence conspiracy. It was a Made In Canada farce.
Read the report on the security hubbub surrounding Justin Trudeau’s ill-fated trip to India and you will no longer worry that the Indian government might be out to embarrass the Prime Minister. The Canadian government is already doing a bang-up job.
The report is a tale of an embarrassment created by the Prime Minister’s Office, missed by CSIS because they didn’t get the RCMP’s message and by the RCMP because a voice mail was left for an officer on holiday, and blown up into an international incident by a senior official jumping to conclusions.
The whole thing was a gaffe on top of a series of cringe-worthy photo ops of the PM dressed like a Bollywood leading man.
Jaspal Atwal, a Canadian man convicted of the 1986 attempted murder of an Indian cabinet minister, turned up at Mr. Trudeau’s reception in Mumbai, had his picture taken with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, and was invited – until the invitation was rescinded – to another event in Delhi.
Inviting a man with a history of Sikh-nationalist violence to the PM’s reception in India was a particularly sensitive misstep since India’s government already views Canada as soft on such extremism.
The Liberals quickly pointed a finger at their Surrey Centre MP, Randeep Sarai, as the culprit for inviting Mr. Atwal in the first place.
But the report of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians found that it was the Prime Minister’s Office that added 423 names to the guest lists for the two events, including Mr. Atwal and two others whose invitations were rescinded when the Atwal affair became public. Nice of Mr. Sarai to take the fall.
The report also notes that no one bothers to vet invitees to such events, not the PMO, not the RCMP, not CSIS – and someone might want to get on that.
But the real goofy twists in the tale come from the way this little mistake was made bigger.
That happened when the Prime Minister’s national security adviser at the time, Daniel Jean, gave briefings to several journalists, insisting his name not be used, that led to stories that the whole thing might have been pumped up by Indian intelligence.
The National Post carried a piece that cited an official saying it was “not an accident” that Mr. Atwal was no longer on an Indian blacklist and suggesting a group who might be motivated to embarrass Mr. Trudeau could be the “intelligence service.”
It was always weird to blame India for letting in a man the Canadian PMO put on the guest list. But the report, though redacted, leaves the impression that Mr. Jean was getting worked up with conspiracy theories.
He’d seen some news reports in India before Mr. Trudeau’s trip that suggested Canada was soft on Sikh terrorists. When he saw the reports on Mr. Atwal, he seemed to think the media was being fed by someone in India. His counterpart in India wasn’t returning his calls. He saw reporters asking whether CSIS had warned the PMO, or reporting that the RCMP had been given a heads-up about Mr. Atwal. The report suggests Mr. Jean suspected that was all a plot.
Mr. Jean apparently never considered the possibility that it was a Canadian spreading the word about Mr. Atwal – perhaps someone who didn’t like him, or a political opponent doing what political opponents do. He wanted to correct false information that Canadian authorities had been warned about Mr. Atwal – but they had been.
The RCMP got a tip about Mr. Atwal on Feb. 13, a week before the reception, and reported it to CSIS. The spy agency said it has no record of that. The next day, a senior RCMP officer directed a national-security officer to check if Mr. Atwal was in Canada, but he left a voice mail and the officer was on vacation. There’s more in that vein.
The committee didn’t really answer the key question about whether the PMO pushed Mr. Jean to brief reporters and to suggest an Indian conspiracy to deflect embarrassment from the PMO. It said there was no evidence, and left it at that. But the rest of the report was about an embarrassing farce.