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Canada’s NSA walks back accusations of ‘rogue elements’ in Indian establishment

Daniel Jean had earlier alleged that the Indian establishment had planted Jaspal Atwal, a man convicted of attempting to assassinate a visiting minister from Punjab, to embarrass Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his trip to India in February.

world Updated: Apr 17, 2018 20:08 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Canada,Daniel Jean,Jaspal Atwal
Jaspal Atwal with federal minister Harjit Sajjan at the Mumbai reception in honour of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his trip to India in February.(Courtesy: Jaspal Atwal)

Canada’s National Security Advisor has walked back the explosive allegation that “rogue elements” in the Indian establishment had planted Jaspal Atwal, a man convicted of attempting to assassinate a visiting minister from Punjab, to embarrass Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his trip to India in February.

In public testimony before the House of Commons’ public safety and national security committee, NSA Daniel Jean said “it was definitely not the government of India”. He claimed to “never” having “raised a conspiracy theory”.

“What I said is that there was coordinated efforts to try to misinform and 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,” he said.

Jean’s appearance before the committee and his remarks, however, may have given fresh legs to the Atwal controversy. The original version of the “rogue elements” theory had been reported in Canadian media - based on a briefing by an unidentified senior government office, later revealed to be Jean - and it had been supported by Trudeau in the House of Commons.

Following Jean’s briefing, opposition leader Andrew Scheer asked Trudeau to withdraw that statement and apologise to the Indian government.

Former British Columbia premiere Ujjal Donsajh was unsparing in his criticism of Jean: “From my perspective Mr Jean should have tendered his resignation,” he said, noting that some of what he said in his testimony “contradicts” what those briefed had reported.

Two Canadian journalists, David Akin of Global News and John Ivison of National Post, pointed out that the India allegation was baked into what Jean had told them anonymously.

“‘He has absolutely no credibility. He tried to do the government’s bidding, which is unacceptable for a NSA. An NSA should speak truth to power and he only spoke for the power,” Dosanjh said.

Among those closely tracking the testimony was Atwal, the person at the centre of the controversy. Soon after it concluded, he called Hindustan Times and said his position, that he was not an agent of India and that the Canadian government had been lying in the matter, had been vindicated.

“I’ve been saying from day one, India has nothing to do with this, I have nothing to do with this,” he said. Atwal reiterated he was willing to appear before the committee to give his version of events. “I’ll reveal everything,” he asserted.

Jean spoke of the “faux pas” that was committed when a Liberal Party MP from British Columbia, Randeep Sarai, invited Atwal to two official receptions in honour of Trudeau in Mumbai and New Delhi. After the controversy erupted, the second invitation was rescinded.

Jean said there was “coordinated misinformation” to make the matter “a lot bigger by fabricating false stories” and his effort was to “debunk” that exercise.

“What I said is that we had concerns that this seems to be coordinated misinformation by actors possibly to exacerbate the faux pas — the fact that an invitation that shouldn’t have been made had been made — in order to reinforce the 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 do not share,” he said.

Jean said he had called and emailed his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval as the controversy erupted and Canada takes “the relationship with India very seriously” and strives “to be good security partners”.

The “rogue element” charge was strongly refuted by the external affairs ministry, and Trudeau subsequently affirming it to be “true” has led to a fresh low in India-Canada relations in recent weeks.

First Published: Apr 17, 2018 20:08 IST