Federal politicians need to be regularly briefed on extremism in Canada and foreign efforts to meddle in the country’s affairs, the national security committee said in a report released Monday.
The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians report also said Cabinet ministers should be reminded to “exercise discretion with whom they meet or associate.”
The recommendation was among five in the report, which reviewed security issues stemming from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s troubled visit to India in February.
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The eight-day trip went off-track after it emerged that a former Canadian Sikh extremist, convicted of the attempted assassination of an Indian cabinet minister on Vancouver Island in 1986, had been invited to two events with the prime minister.
At an event in Mumbai, Jaspal Atwal posed for photos with senior Liberal cabinet ministers and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau. He had also been invited to a reception at the residence of the Canadian High Commissioner in India.
The incident, which was widely publicized in India, came amid growing Indian government concerns about Sikh militancy in Canada.
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Almost half the secretive committee’s findings were not publicly released, and some of its recommendations were heavily-redacted, but it did call for MPs and Senators to be more alert to national security matters.
Despite his history of terrorism, Atwal had been photographed at events with a half-dozen Liberal MPs, some of them cabinet minister, as well as with Trudeau.
“In the interest of national security, members of the House of Commons and the Senate should be briefed upon being sworn-in and regularly thereafter on the risks of foreign interference and extremism in Canada,” it said.
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Before the India trip, Amarinder Singh, the chief minister for Indian’s Punjab region, alleged in an interview with Outlook India magazine that “on the face of it, there seems to be evidence that there are Khalistani sympathisers in Trudeau’s cabinet.”
Khalistan is the name of an independent homeland sought by some Sikhs.
The government has dismissed the allegations, and before arriving in India, Trudeau’s National Security and Intelligence Advisor, Daniel Jean, was sent to meet his Indian counterpart “to address more effectively India’s growing concerns regarding the rise of extremism,” according to a Privy Council Office briefing note quoted in the report.
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After Atwal’s invitation went public, Jean gave background briefings to a list of reporters supplied by Trudeau’s office in order to tackle what he called an “orchestrated disinformation campaign to tarnish Canada.”
The committee said it found no evidence the Prime Minister’s Office directed Jean to brief journalists.
“The NSIA’s status as a principal advisor to the Prime Minister likely contributed to the perception that he was trying to attenuate the broader criticisms around the Prime Minister’s trip to India,” it said.
But the report said Jean had not consulted with “department or agencies responsible for important aspects of security or bilateral relations prior to briefing journalists.”
“That decision made him solely responsible for determining whether the information that he intended to share was unclassified, and whether his comments would have implications for Canadian bilateral relations, security investigations or relationships with Indian security organizations.”
“Those decisions more properly belonged to the ministers or deputy ministers responsible for relevant departments.”
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It was the first special report issued by the committee of six MPs and three senators, set up last November to review the activities of Canada’s national security and intelligence agencies.
The committee said it had reviewed allegations of “foreign interference in Canadian political affairs, risks to the security of the prime minister, and inappropriate use of intelligence.”
The public version of the report was released six months after the committee delivered its classified version to the prime minister on May 31.