By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh, Dec 8 (IANS) A high-level parliamentary committee in Canada has asked the government to take action against extremists within its borders who are posing a threat to India’s security.
The committee’s report, however, is a double-edged weapon as it concurs with the allegation of a top intelligence official of the country on the “orchestrated attempt by India to embarrass the Canadian government”.
“Canada must investigate, prosecute or disrupt extremists who, from within our borders, pose a threat to the security of a foreign state — in this case India, a democratic country with which Canada has strong relations,” the special report of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) has stated.
The committee recently submitted the report while looking into allegations associated with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s official visit to India in February 2018.
The report, a major part of which is redacted, saying that “disclosure of which would be injurious to national security or international relations…”, has come out with observations which are contrary to what the Canadian National Security and Intelligence Adviser (NSIA) Daniel Jean, in a sensational and unprecedented “off the record” background briefing to media on February 22, 2018, had blamed “rogue Indian operatives” for the controversy around the presence of convicted criminal Jaspal Atwal (a Canadian national) at the the Canadian Prime Minister’s official events during the India visit.
Clearly casting aspersions on the lax functioning of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service), who were aware of Atwal’s visit to India a week ahead of Trudeau’s but chose to “ignore the information despite his past criminal record and conviction”. The report stated that even the possibility of Atwal being a threat to Trudeau’s security was grossly overlooked.
“On February 20, Atwal attended a reception in Mumbai hosted by the Prime Minister as an invited guest of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). There he was photographed with the Prime Minister’s spouse, a Minister and a Member of Parliament. Those photographs surfaced in Indian and Canadian media and raised questions of how Mr Atwal, convicted of the attempted murder of a Punjab Minister and with a past association with Sikh extremism in Canada, could have been invited to the event in Mumbai and to a reception planned in Delhi on February 22. Acting on information provided after the Mumbai event, the Prime Minister’s Office directed Global Affairs Canada to rescind Mr Atwal’s invitation for the Delhi reception, which it did on February 21,” the report said.
Prime Minister Trudeau travelled from February 17 to 24 to India. His delegation included six ministers, four of them of Indian origin, and was accompanied by 16 parliamentarians (mostly Indian origin), who travelled independently to India to participate in portions of the itinerary. The trip included numerous meetings with local, state and national officials, business contacts and community groups at multiple locations in five cities.
While pointing out that India had raised its concerns regarding extremist elements based in Canada carrying out anti-India activities from Canadian soil, the NSICOP recommended: “In the interest of national security, members of the House of Commons and the Senate should be briefed upon being sworn-in and regularly thereafter on the risks of foreign interference and extremism in Canada.”
“This request is a key part of joint Canadian-Indian efforts to address more effectively India’s growing concerns regarding the rise of extremism. The NSIA discussions with Indian National Security Advisor (Ajit) Doval focused on developing a joint statement with language on a strong and united India and cooperation against terrorism,” the report said.
The committee, in reference to social media activities of certain Canadian ministers (of Indian-origin), stated: “Cabinet Ministers should be reminded of the expectations described in the government’s ‘Open and Accountable Government’, including that Ministers exercise discretion with whom they meet or associate, and clearly distinguish between official and private media messaging…….and be reminded that, consistent with the Conflict of Interest Act, public office holders must always place the public interest before private interests.”
One of the most intriguing chapters is on “Findings with respect to allegations of foreign interference” (meaning India). The heavily redacted chapter, which indicates that the committee had evidence of alleged foreign interference by India which, if released, would have caused disruption of relations between the two countries.
Sources in Ottawa revealed that, in recent months, Canadian agencies have been monitoring activities of the Indian High Commission and its staff there. Officials of Canadian security agencies have been routinely calling on members of Indian diaspora who frequent the Indian High Commission, or are invited to High Commission functions.
“The Committee conducted a special review which considered the various allegations raised in the context of the Prime Minister’s visit to India. These allegations related to foreign interference in Canadian political affairs, risks to the security of the Prime Minister, and inappropriate use of intelligence. In that respect, the Committee made a total of 18 findings and five recommendations to the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness,” the report said.
The report said that “the RCMP also admitted that mistakes were made”.
“The RCMP stated that the errors were a result of not following existing procedures and were addressed in meetings with relevant RCMP officials,” it added.
Atwal was convicted in 1986 of the attempted murder of an Indian minister (from Punjab). Following his release from prison, he was charged three times, including for violence-related sections of the (Canadian) Criminal Code, such as uttering threats and assault.
“Atwal’s repeated involvement with the criminal justice system over a long period of time should have raised security concerns about his participation at events during the Prime Minister’s official trip to India in February 2018,” the report added.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected] )