Appearance before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU)

Speech

April 16, 2018
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening Statement by Daniel Jean
National Security and Intelligence Advisor to the Prime Minister

(Check against delivery)

Introduction

Mr. Chair, distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for your time. I welcome the opportunity to discuss with you facts surrounding the controversy associated with the invitation of Mr. Atwal to a reception hosted by the Canadian High Commission in Delhi during the recent visit of the Prime Minister to India, as well as the background briefing I offered to representatives of Canadian media on February 22nd and 23rd.

I wish to stress that the information that I am providing you today, like the information I shared with the media during the background briefings, is unclassified. While I have access to classified intelligence that can inform unclassified briefings, I always exercise caution on what I share in an unclassified context.

Sequence of Events

21 February 2018

The first notification I received that Mr. Atwal was on the guest list for the Delhi High Commission Reception planned in the context of the Prime Minister’s visit to India came through the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS). CSIS received this information on February 21, 2018, at around 8:00 AM from a source, suggesting that Mr. Atwal’s presence to the reception would be embarrassing to the Canadian Government.

After the CSIS’ Director informed me of the situation just before 10:00 AM, I immediately asked our Privy Council Office (PCO)/Security and Intelligence (S and I) team to contact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to validate the information. Soon thereafter, we informed relevant officials at PCO,  the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and PCO officials accompanying the Prime Minister in Delhi. The RCMP confirmed that afternoon the past conviction for attempted murder on a visiting Minister of State from India in 1986. As Mr. Atwal is no longer considered a security threat by our security agencies, the issue was the controversy that his presence at the event could have generated given the nature of his past conviction.

Around the same time, pictures of Mr. Atwal with members of the Prime Minister’s delegation taken the day before at a reception in Mumbai and a picture of his invitation to the upcoming Delhi reception started to circulate in the Indian media. At 7:46 PM the CBC published a story with these pictures.

Mr. Atwal’s invitation was rescinded by the High Commission in India later that night.

22 February 2018

By mid-morning on the 22nd, we had assessed what we knew so far about the incident drawing on both the sequence of events, unclassified information available at that stage, and classified information:  

  • Mr. Atwal had attended the Mumbai reception and pictures of him with members of the Prime Minister’s entourage had surfaced in the media.
  • Mr. Atwal was invited to the Canadian High Commission reception.
  • The Prime Minister had publicly declared that the invitation should not have been extended and a Canadian Member of Parliament, Mr. Randeep Sarai had assumed responsibility for the invitation.
  • In parallel, we had seen inaccurate information in the media and a number of false allegations that suggested that federal institutions had been informed before the trip that Mr. Atwal had received an invitation, had informed staff from the PMO and that no action to reconsider the invitation had been taken.

Objective of the background briefing to Canadian Media

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 inaccurate information being circulated.  

In keeping with my usual practice, I discussed beforehand my proposal to offer a background briefing and the key messages I intended to deliver with both PCO colleagues and PMO officials. PMO Communication suggested a list of journalists that I could contact in Ottawa that afternoon/evening in addition to the Canadian media accompanying the Prime Minister in India, who would be briefed early the next day. 

Background Briefing

In the background briefings, I confirmed that I was giving an unclassified briefing on background (i.e. no attribution by name) and covered the following points:

The invitation

  • I indicated that the Prime Minister had acknowledged that this invitation should not have been extended, and that the Member of Parliament, Mr. Sarai, had taken responsibility for the invitation.
  • I said that the Prime Minister and Mr. Sarai were on the record on these facts and that I would not comment further on that aspect.

How and when we were informed and rationale for rescinding

  • I said – based on the information I had at that time – that the first notification we received that Mr. Atwal was on the guest list for the Delhi reception came from a source who informed CSIS in the early morning of February 21st.
  • I confirmed that we rapidly consulted the RCMP – the agency responsible to handle criminal matters – and notified PCO and PMO officials in Ottawa and Delhi.
  • I confirmed that Mr. Atwal is no longer considered by our security agencies as a security threat and that the invitation had been rescinded because of the controversy that could erupt given his past conviction.

Security Screening

  • I answered a number of questions around security screening for guests at receptions attended by the Prime Minister.

Inaccurate information

I then told media representatives that inaccurate information around the invitation of Mr. Atwal was being circulated.

  • I referred them to the title of an Indian Express story published on  February 22nd which suggested that a Canadian citizen entered India after a 38-year ban as part of the Prime Minister’s delegation. I indicated that this was misleading as the individual was not on the official delegation for the visit.
  • I noted that, while the Government of Canada is glad when a Canadian citizen can resolve travel restrictions, the Government had not intervened with the Indian Government to remove any member of the official delegation from an interdiction to travel to India.
  • I said that questions related to interdictions to travel to India should be directed to the Government of India.
  • With regard to Mr. Atwal, I said that we understood that after having difficulties traveling to India for several years, he was removed by the Indian government from the so called “black list“ in 2017 and allowed to travel there last summer as someone who is presumably no longer considered as a threat and no longer espouses the cause of an independent Khalistan.  Mr. Atwal now meets with Indian diplomats in Canada and Indian officials. Articles subsequently published by the India Express (24 February) and the Times of India (9 March) refer to facts that attest to this information. 

I also described two unfounded allegations made to the media suggesting that the PMO had been informed, days before the trip, of Mr. Atwal’s presence on the guest list but that no action had been taken to rescind the invitation. It was indeed reported that CSIS had been alerted days before and had informed PMO.  CSIS has no record or recollection of such an earlier alert. CSIS confirmed that the first notification they got came on February 21st around 8:00 AM.  An allegation was also made that the RCMP Surrey Detachment had been alerted several weeks before the trip that Mr. Atwal was on the guest list and had alerted PMO. Upon hearing this allegation, PCO contacted senior officials at RCMP headquarters, who in turn contacted both RCMP Surrey and the Prime Minister Protective Detail, who then confirmed that no such alert had been received. 

Attribution

As reported by journalists who received the briefing – including Tonda MacCharles and Alex Ballingall in their Toronto Star, February 26 article, and John Ivison in his February 28 National Post story –  I stressed that I was not in any way suggesting that the Government of India was behind the controversial invitation to Mr. Atwal. 

What I said is that we had concerns that there seemed to be coordinated misinformation by actors possibly to exacerbate the faux pas (i.e. the invitation) in order to reinforce the notion that Canada is complacent on the risks of extremism, a perception that has been brought up at times by Indian intelligence services and one that we do not share.

Here are two relevant quotes:

Toronto Star February 26, 2018, article: “When the Star had asked those same questions last week of a senior Canadian official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the answer was: “I want to be very clear: I am not saying that the government of India set us up.” However the official did suggest that there are “people in India” who would benefit from fuelling the controversy over whether the Trudeau government is “complacent on terrorism” — an allegation the Liberal government flatly denies.“

National Post, February 28, 2018 article:  “I received a briefing from a senior security source last week (I agreed at the time to protect his anonymity and so will abide by that agreement). He did not allege the Indian government engineered Atwal’s invitations to the events in Mumbai and New Delhi. In fact, he said Sarai was the source of the invitation and either ignored Atwal’s conviction because it was 30 years old, or was unaware of his nefarious past. But he did suggest Atwal was removed from the blacklist by the Indian government – a fact also reported by the Times of India and other Indian media, which claimed it happened in July 2017. (Reporters from The Canadian Press, to whom Atwal showed his passport, reported seeing stamps from visits to India in January 2017 and August 2017.)”

After I had completed background briefings by phone with the Canadian media in Delhi in the morning of February 23rd, PCO/PMO Communications brought to my attention a story published that morning which suggested that a Surrey Punjabi media outlet had sent an anonymous tip to the Canadian High Commission that Mr. Atwal was going to attend the Mumbai reception and that, if the tip had been immediately acted upon, the whole controversy could have been avoided.  We immediately queried the High Commission in Delhi, which confirmed that one such anonymous email had indeed been received on February 21st at 11:43AM Delhi time (i.e. 1:13 AM Ottawa time) but that it only referred to Mr. Atwal’s possible presence at the Delhi reception. The tip was received in Delhi after the Mumbai reception but before the one in Delhi, and a few hours before officials in Ottawa were notified. 

Relationship with India

I want to stress that we take the relationship with India very seriously.  Beyond sustained efforts to broaden the foreign policy relationship and grow bilateral trade, we also strive to be good security partners. Canada was not spared from violent extremist actions. We remain vigilant to any potential threat and work closely with our Indian partners within the Canadian legislative framework, including the Charter.

Over the last year, our security and intelligence agencies have worked constructively to enhance cooperation with their Indian counterparts. Prior to the Prime Minister’s visit to India, senior officials from the RCMP and CSIS travelled to Delhi to meet with their counterparts in order to enhance cooperation.  I also met with my NSA counterpart in Delhi the week before the Prime Minister’s visit.  It was a very cordial meeting where he acknowledged that the Indian partner agencies had told him how pleased they were with the cooperation from CSIS and the RCMP.

With regard to the invitation to Mr. Atwal, I wish to stress that throughout the incident, I made several attempts to connect with my Indian counterpart by phone and e-mail to thank him for the good exchanges we had the week before, as well as to express our regrets over the controversy resulting from the invitation and explain that it had been rescinded.

Conclusion

I have now had a chance to share with you all relevant unclassified information that I am privy to with regard to this issue. 

As you can see, the background briefing that I offered included both a faithful description of the sequence of events and answered a number of pressing questions from the media. I felt it was important to alert the Canadian media to the misinformation being circulated, notably the unfounded allegations that public institutions (CSIS, the RCMP and the Canadian High Commission in Delhi) had been informed ahead of the Mumbai reception that Mr. Atwal was on the guest list, and that these institutions had relayed the information to PMO early enough to prevent the controversy but that no action had been taken to rescind the invitation.

Finally, I want to thank officials in the international, security and intelligence community who, as you can see from the sequence of events, did not spare any effort during an intense 48 hours.


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