Trudeau aide points to At­wal mis­in­for­ma­tion

Na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser says feds to blame for event in­vi­ta­tions, but rogue el­e­ments in In­dia tried to sab­o­tage trip

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - JOAN BRYDEN AND JIM BRONSKILL

TTAWA — Justin Trudeau’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser says it’s the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment’s fault that a con­victed at­tempted as­sas­sin was in­vited to events with the prime min­is­ter dur­ing his trouble-plagued trip to In­dia.

But Daniel Jean pointed Mon­day to a “co-or­di­nated mis­in­for­ma­tion” cam­paign about the gaffe to jus­tify his con­tro­ver­sial as­ser­tion that fac­tions in In­dia tried to sab­o­tage Trudeau’s Fe­bru­ary visit.

Jean was tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore the House of Com­mons pub­lic safety and na­tional se­cu­rity com­mit­tee about a back­ground brief­ing he gave re­porters dur­ing the trip, in which he sug­gested rogue el­e­ments in In­dia were be­hind the em­bar­rass­ing rev­e­la­tion that Jas­pal At­wal had been in­vited to two events with Trudeau.

At­wal, a B.C. Sikh con­victed of at­tempt­ing to as­sas­si­nate an In­dian min­is­ter in 1986 dur­ing a visit to Bri­tish Columbia, was pho­tographed at one event in Mum­bai with the prime min­is­ter’s

Owife, So­phie Gré­goire Trudeau. His in­vi­ta­tion to a sec­ond event was re­scinded af­ter news of his pres­ence broke. Dur­ing the me­dia brief­ing, Jean ad­vanced the the­ory that rogue fac­tions in In­dia may have ar­ranged for At­wal’s at­ten­dance in a bid to pre­vent Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi from be­com­ing too cosy with a for­eign gov­ern­ment they be­lieve is sym­pa­thetic to ex­trem­ist Sikh sep­a­ratists.

On Mon­day, Jean ac­knowl­edged there would not have been a scan­dal had Lib­eral MP Ran­deep Sarai not asked for At­wal to be added to the guest list or if the names on that list had been vet­ted by the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice.

“It was a faux pas. It should not have hap­pened,” he told the com­mit­tee.

But he added: “There were peo­ple who were try­ing... to make that faux pas a lot big­ger by fab­ri­cat­ing false sto­ries and my in­ter­ven­tion was to de­bunk that.”

Once news of At­wal’s pres­ence sur­faced, Jean said there ap­peared to be a co-or­di­nated cam­paign to ped­dle false sto­ries that At­wal was a mem­ber of the Cana­dian del­e­ga­tion and that the RCMP, the Cana­dian Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice (CSIS) and the Cana­dian High Com­mis­sion in In­dia had all been alerted to his pres­ence on the guest list days ear­lier but had done noth­ing. He cited in­cor­rect re­ports by both In­dian and Cana­dian me­dia.

It was those false re­ports, he said, that prompted his de­ci­sion to brief re­porters. “I think that if you have ac­tors who are try­ing to fab­ri­cate a nar­ra­tive that is to­tally un­true and are us­ing three of our most re­spected pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions to do that, I think there has to be some­one who is neu­tral who can come in and alert the me­dia on that. That’s why I did it.”

Dur­ing his com­mit­tee ap­pear­ance, Jean placed his in­ter­ven­tion in the con­text of the broader cam­paign by na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials to pre­vent for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal af­fairs or elec­tions.

He did not sug­gest the In­dian gov­ern­ment ar­ranged for At­wal’s pres­ence dur­ing Trudeau’s trip, but did note it last year took At­wal off the black­list that had banned him from en­ter­ing the coun­try for more than 30 years.

Jean said the first he or any­one in gov­ern­ment knew about At­wal’s pres­ence was the morn­ing of Feb. 21 when a source tipped CSIS.

“Within a mat­ter of hours,” pho­tos of At­wal’s in­vi­ta­tion and of him pos­ing with Trudeau’s wife and cab­i­net min­is­ters had made their way to the me­dia and shortly af­ter that the false sto­ries be­gan to ap­pear.

In his brief­ing, Jean said he went out of his way to stress that he wasn’t ac­cus­ing the In­dian gov­ern­ment of try­ing to sab­o­tage the trip. Rather, he said he wasn’t able to iden­tify the source but told re­porters the dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign could have come from rogue fac­tions in the In­dian gov­ern­ment or from a pri­vate cit­i­zen in that coun­try.

The Con­ser­va­tives have ac­cused the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice of in­struct­ing Jean to con­duct the brief­ing and con­coct a con­spir­acy the­ory in a bid to de­flect blame for Trudeau’s dis­as­trous trip.

Con­ser­va­tive MP Glen Motz asked Jean if he re­grets “rais­ing the rogue In­dian con­spir­acy the­ory.”

“I never raised a con­spir­acy the­ory,” Jean replied. “What I said is that there was co-or­di­nated ef­forts to try to mis­in­form.”

Motz also di­rectly asked Jean if the PMO put him up to the brief­ing “to try and do dam­age con­trol” for Trudeau.

Jean, who is about to re­tire af­ter more than 30 years as a diplo­mat and pub­lic ser­vant, replied: “Sir, at the stage where I am in my ca­reer, I don’t think I would be try­ing to do some­thing like that.

“Do­ing the easy thing would have been to stay away from it and, of course, Cana­di­ans would have had a lot more mis­in­for­ma­tion im­pli­cat­ing pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions that are re­spected. I chose to do the right thing, sir, and through all my ca­reer, I’ve al­ways done the right thing.”

“I be­lieve you,” Motz re­sponded. Con­ser­va­tive for­eign af­fairs critic Erin O’Toole wasn’t so char­i­ta­ble, ar­gu­ing that Jean should have left it to the PMO to counter the dis­in­for­ma­tion on what he dubbed “mi­nor is­sues.”

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