In 2018, Canada’s then newly set up National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians carried out a review into “the allegations associated with” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s to India. But many portions of the review were redacted as it was deemed “injurious to national security and international relations”.
The heavily redacted review, available , also indicates that the Canadian Security and Intelligence Services, which has a history of bad blood and mistrust with Indian intelligence agencies going back to the 1980s, had conveyed to Canada PM Trudeau suspicions about alleged Indian interference in Canadian politics right before his February 2018 India visit.
The review went into three aspects of the visit: allegations of foreign interference; the presence of Jaspal Atwal – a man convicted of attempting to assassinate a Punjab minister – at an event hosted by Trudeau; and the “use of intelligence”.
While Trudeau’s allegations last week about an Indian government link to the killing of Canada-based Khalistani activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar reverberated across the world, the 2018 review suggests that the Canadian Intelligence and Security Service has been investigating India’s for far longer than the Nijjar case.
India has denied Trudeau’s allegations. But the Canadian leader has stuck to his guns, claiming that evidence in this regard has been shared by the intelligence alliance – the US envoy to Ottawa has confirmed this.
Documents, testimonies and emails
For its 2018 review, NSICOP went through 2,400 pages of documents, including intelligence assessment documents and emails between government departments. They also heard testimonies from officials. Under the head “findings”, all six entries are redacted, as is much else in the report.
Meanwhile, some of the redacted portions from the 2018 review that was apparently included in another secret NSICOP report on foreign interference submitted to the government in 2019, have begun surfacing. Earlier this week, The Bureau, a news site run by a Canadian investigative reporter, had planned a major intervention in 2017 “to shut down rapidly growing Indian intelligence networks in Vancouver that were monitoring and targeting the Sikh community”.
But, the report stated, “Ottawa blocked CSIS’s operation due to ‘political sensitivity’ and fears it would impact Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s upcoming trip to India. And so, the Indian diplomat in Vancouver targeted by CSIS continued to run his networks ‘unabated’.”
According to the Bureau report, CSIS “discovered ‘an increase in the volume’ of Indian intelligence activity in Canada, targeting the Indo-Canadian diaspora and government institutions” and “alleged two specific Indian diplomats were responsible” in Ottawa and Vancouver.
On the question of foreign interference, the 2018 review recommended that members of the Canadian parliament “should be briefed upon being sworn-in and regularly thereafter” on the risks of foreign interference and extremism in Canada. It also recommended that the Cabinet Minister “be reminded” to “exercise discretion with whom they meet or associate and clearly distinguish between 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.***” (The three asterisk signs indicate redactions.)
The 2022 annual report by NSICOP, tabled in the Canadian Parliament earlier this year, notes that until December 31, 2022, the government had not given a status update on the implementation of these recommendations.
In June, Canada’s NSA Jody Thomas named India as one of “a number of state and non-state proxies” interfering in Canadian politics, but said China was the worst offender. “When I talk about foreign interference and economic security, I’m now talking about a number of state actors and non-state proxies,” Thomas said at a conference at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
“This includes Russia, Iran, India. That said, the actor that comes up most on these issues, and it’s no surprise to anybody, is China.”
The CIA and Mossad argument
In the wake of Trudeau’s allegations, several Indian citizens have expressed outrage – regardless of the official denial – at western “double standards”. When it comes to CIA and Mossad carrying out targeted killings of designated individuals abroad (or MI6 in its heyday), goes their argument, no one points a finger at them; when India does the same, these same countries throw the rule book at Delhi.
But a point this argument ignores is that none of these countries carry out operations in the territorial jurisdiction of friends, partners and allies. They may tolerate a foreign intelligence agency targeting one of its own citizens, but can be expected to draw a line when their own citizens are targeted.
For example, India may seek to eliminate suspected Khalistanis or Jaish or Lashkar terrorists in Pakistan or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir without a ripple in the west. Pakistan has been alleging itself hoarse that India was behind a bomb explosion outside Lashkar head Hafiz Saeed’s home but has found no takers for this. But it is different when the killing of a Canadian citizen in Canada is linked to an Indian intelligence agency because it is accepted that friendly countries do not target each other’s citizens.
CIA hit jobs during the Cold War or in Afghanistan and Pakistan were in enemy territory or in conditions of armed conflict in the country where the operations took place.
Perhaps the only known case of an intelligence operation in the territory of a friendly country is the July 1985 bombing of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand waters. A Portuguese Dutch photographer was killed in the attack.
Docked at the time of the bombing at Auckland, the ship was due to leave for Mururoa atoll to protest a French nuclear test.
The French Polynesian region had become a site for nuclear tests by France, the United States and the United Kingdom in the post war period. One estimate suggests over 300 tests were carried out in the area. And New Zealand was part of a coalition of countries in the region that included Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru and others that wanted a ban on testing in the Pacific.
The Rainbow Warrior was sunk by two explosions. France at first denied responsibility, but after New Zealand arrested two French agents, it acknowledged that its Directorate General of External Security had carried out the sinking, codenamed Operation Satanique. New Zealand accused France of violating international laws of state responsibility, and media reports said President Mitterand had ordered the hit. The French defence minister had to resign. The DGSE head was sacked.
The two French agents pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment each, but neither completed their sentence.
France paid hefty reparations to Greenpeace, the photographer’s wife and two children and made a formal apology to New Zealand. France also paid compensation to New Zealand for enabling the two convicted French secret service agents to duck their sentence. As recently as 2016, French premier Manuel Valls said during a visit to New Zealand that the incident was a “serious error”.
India a key focus of Canada strategy
The Canada-India falling out comes months after Trudeau’s Liberal Party emphasised India as a key focus of its Indo-Pacific Strategy, released last December with unusually strong language against China. The Canadian foreign minister’s visit in February this year, ahead of her participation in the G20 ministers’ meet in March, was viewed as an effort by both sides to using the wider stage of the Indo-Pacific alliance.
The strategy paper projected India as a country with great strategic importance, which could only increase as its economy grows and it becomes the world’s most populous country. It emphasised expansion of trade ties with India, investing in supply chain resilience, and greater people-to-people exchanges. Now all this might have to wait for what seems like a long winter in India-Canada relations to end.
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