Atwal briefing was about debunking false information: PM's national security adviser
Published Monday, April 16, 2018 10:36AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 16, 2018 6:41PM EDT
OTTAWA –Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's national security adviser Daniel Jean is defending what he characterized as his decision to brief reporters on the Atwal incident in India, saying he did it to counter "co-ordinated misinformation" he worried was damaging to the Canadian government.
- Scroll down or click here to recap the committee meeting through our live blog
During his much-anticipated public testimony at the House Public Safety and National Security Committee Monday, Jean provided MPs with a rundown of what he told reporters on background, and offered a timeline of events. This testimony was something the opposition parties had been calling for since his initial comments to reporters sparked controversy.
Jean briefed reporters after news surfaced that Jaspal Atwal, a convicted attempted murderer, was photographed with officials from Canada’s delegation, including Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, at a Mumbai event in February, and was invited to a second event at the Canadian High Commissioner to India’s residence in Delhi. Atwal’s invitation to the second event was subsequently rescinded.
During that briefing, Jean suggested that rogue elements in the Indian government, related to Sikh separatism, may have tried to damage Trudeau's trip to India.
In elaborating on his comments at Monday’s committee, Jean denied ever suggesting a conspiracy theory or squarely placing blame on the Indian government. He said there was orchestrated information being disseminated, not directly from the Indian government, but by private citizens or possibly members of the government acting without authority.
“I said these were either private people, it was definitely not the government of India, and if it was people from India, they were acting in a rogue way.”
Jean said there were concerns of “co-ordinated misinformation by actors possibly to exacerbate the faux pas” of Atwal’s attendance.
“I never raised a conspiracy theory,” he said.
Jean said false information circulating in media reports included suggestions that CSIS, the RCMP, and the Canadian High Commission in India were aware of Atwal’s presence in advance. He said the misinformation was disseminated “in order to reinforce notion that Canada is complacent on the risk of extremism, a perception that has been brought at times by Indian intelligence services, and one that we did not share.”
He did not offer any clarity on who these “actors” were, but said he felt compelled to speak to the “misleading” information to protect the reputations of these institutions and to make sure Canadians had a fuller picture of the situation.
“At that time I made a decision to offer a background briefing to Canadian media on what we knew in order to clarify facts, answer a number of pressing questions from the media, and alert them to the inaccurate information being circulated,” Jean said.
Jean, who became central to the heated political story, denied being used as human shield by the Prime Minister’s Office and rejected any notion that he had jeopardized his integrity as a public servant by getting involved. But he did confirm the PMO was aware of, and involved in his \ briefing with reporters.
“This was my proposal,” Jean said Monday.
He also confirmed that Atwal was not viewed as a security risk, but rather a potential “controversy that could erupt.”
Responding to questions from Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, Jean stated that the whole matter could have been avoided if either Liberal MP Randeep Sarai had not invited Atwal, or if the PMO had vetted the list of invitees.
“So this is a Liberal scandal, and your insertion into it comes as a result of your concern for inaccurate information,” said O’Toole.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, O’Toole said he would be supportive of Atwal appearing before the committee to offer more information about the incident, which happened nearly two months ago.
Still to come on this file, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is expected to receive a national security briefing on the matter. Scheer says he will invite members of his caucus and the media to the part of the briefing that will cover non-classified information. The date of this briefing has yet to be announced.
The separate, closed-door National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians has also initiated a "special review" of Trudeau’s trip to India. The security-cleared all-party committee is looking at "foreign interference in Canadian political affairs, risks to the security of the Prime Minister, and inappropriate use of intelligence."
Jean said Monday that the committee has already reviewed some documents related to the Atwal incident.
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