Conspiracy Theories, From Inside The House
Is India Interfering in Canada's Affairs, or is it the other way around? A Real Story Series. Part 3.
The Wickedest Indian Interference Operation Of All Time
We’ll begin with the most bonkers conspiracy theory about Indian foreign interference that ever found its way into Canada’s maintream media. It’s even crazier than the currently stylish proposition that it was Narendra Modi’s government in Delhi that took out a contract on Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the Khalistani fellow murdered in Surrey last month.
This one was put in play by none other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s own national security adviser, Daniel Jean, in 2018.
It happened during the House of Commons’ hollering that year about how the hell it came to pass that the Canadian triggerman in a 1986 attempted assassination of a Punjabi cabinet minister ended up in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s magical mystery entourage in India.
An anonymous “senior security source” started showing up in the press. The source explained that the diplomatic disaster of convicted terrorist Jaspal Singh Atwal showing up on Trudeau’s gala guest lists in Mumbai and Delhi was an act of subterfuge and propaganda vandalism pulled off by India’s intelligence agencies.
The conspiracy theory was sunk by Surrey Liberal MP Randeep Sarai, who had the decency to confess that he was the one who invited Atwal to Trudeau’s banghra parties in India. Sarai said he was heartily sorry about the whole thing and he resigned his post as the Liberals’ Pacific caucus chair. But the story was out there, and while Daniel Jean went away shortly afterwards, his tall tale never really went away.
I wrote about the whole business in some depth while it was unfolding, for Maclean’s: How Trudeau’s top national security adviser lost the plot in India and Indian spies did it, and other Ottawa conspiracy theories.
But hold on, India does make mischief in Canada, right?
Again, yes, but. We need to distinguish between what we know and want to know, and what we believe and want to believe. Our friend Sam Cooper, late of Global News, had some cracking stuff the other day that touches on India’s diplomats in Canada allegedly doing what they really shouldn’t do, and why the government doesn’t particularly mind.
But even the most fact-based journalism can inadvertently end up something that might not be quite what it said on the tin. Here’s a story, well reported, solidly sourced: Canadian politicians were targets of Indian intelligence covert influence operation: document.
The document in question ended up failing to withstand the scrutiny of Ontario federal court judge Simon Fothergill. Long story short:
In 2015 a senior Indian journalist identified only as A.B. applied for permanent status in Canada to live with his wife and child, both Canadian citizens. He was turned down on the evidence of a document summarizing what he’d reportedly said during an admissability application interview at Canada’s High Commission offices in Delhi.
The basis of the rejection was that A.B. had said things to the effect that he was cooperating with India’s Intelligence Bureau, and with India’s overseas intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, and he had “engaged in espionage against Canada.”
Well, our man A.B., the editor-in-chief of an Indian newspaper, blew his top. He denied having said any such things during his interview. He was never asked by any Indian spies to “provide financial assistance to politicians” and he was never “tasked” by his “handlers” to do anything because he didn’t have any “handlers”. The whole thing had been a “gross misunderstanding” of his remarks, he said.
What he was talking about during the interview that was summarized in the document was the offence he took at being asked, during a meeting with intelligence-agency contacts he’d routinely met in his capacity as a journalist, to act as a kind of “unofficial lobbyist or diplomat” in Canada. Being a principled professional, he’d taken umbrage at the spies’ request and “flatly refused,” and that was all there was to it.
A.B. took his case with a sworn statement and an affidavit to federal court in Ontario, complaining of procedural unfairness in the decision that found him inadmissable to Canada. In March, 2020, Judge Simon Fothergill reviewed all the evidence and saw “no obvious inconsistencies” in the newspaper editor’s denials and found nothing in what A.B. had said that would “warrant a finding of implausibility.”
Judge Fothergill agreed with AB, and tossed out the inadmissability finding. The federal court decision is here.
A Peculiar Turn of Phrase
When it comes to cybercrime and malware vandalism, India is not listed among the bad guys (North Korea, Russia, China and Iran) with “state sponsored programs” that “pose the greatest strategic threats to Canada” in the latest public report by the Communications Security Establishment’s Centre for Cybersecurity.
But here’s something odd. What are we meant to understand by a Finance Department document, Updated Assessment of Inherent Risks of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing in Canada, rewritten to mention “extremist groups supporting violent means to establish an independent state within India”?
There’s a clue in the two groups mentioned, Babbar Khalsa (the core Air India bomb plotters, among other things) and the International Sikh Youth Federation (Jaspal Singh Atwal’s affiliation from his assassination-attempting days, among other things). Both groups are listed terrorist entities in Canada’s Criminal Code. But in the Finance Department document their cause, Khalistan, is not mentioned at all.
“There appears to be a global network but it is unclear how strong it is and the motivations surrounding the support,” according to the document. “These groups used to have an extensive fundraising network in Canada, but it now appears to be diminished and consisting of smaller pockets of individuals.”
That’s reassuring. But it doesn’t fit well with the findings in the annual public report of CSIS for 2018 with respect to “threat-related activities primarily targeting India,” which notes that, “there has been an increase in observed threat activity,” wherein Canada is being used as a base to support attacks targeting India, and these activities “constitute a threat to the security of Canada.”
Down is up? Up is down? Diminishing, or an increase. Which is it?
Here’s where things get really odd
In the original version of the Public Safety department’s 2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada, right at the top, under “The Current Terrorist Threat to Canada,” there are five headings. They are Sunni Islamist Extremism, Right-Wing Extremism, Sikh (Khalistani) Extremism, Shia Extremism and Canadian Extremist Travellers.
By April of 2019, the whole document had been rewritten with every mention of Khalistani extremism expunged.
Under “The Current Terrorist Threat to Canada,” all that remained of the headings was Canadian Extremist Travellers, referring to the unwell young men who venture off to join the Islamic State in the Syrian badlands and what have you. And in the text of the document, that strange turn of phrase from the terrorist-financing report shows up again here and there, “extremist groups supporting violent means to establish an independent state within India.”
But what extremist groups?
India hosts a wide variety of national, ethnic, lingustic and religious minorities, and some of them sometimes lose their patience and resort to gunplay and hideous butchery.
Is it the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front that ranks as one of the top five terrorism threats in Canada? The Bodo Liberation Tigers Force? The United People's Party of Kangleipak? Are the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam using Canada as a base to foment Assamese insurrection?
Which of them is the one based here in Canada supporting violent means to establish an independent state within India? Why don’t the words “Khalistani “extremism” appear even once in the entire rewritten report?
You know what to do. It’s cheap and easy.