OTTAWA — The RCMP has admitted it made a series of errors resulting in a failure to inform Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s security detail that a man once convicted of attempting to assassinate an Indian politician was planning to attend events with Trudeau during an official government trip to India last year.
That finding is contained in the first-ever report from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, made up of MPs and senators cleared to view top secret documents and review national security matters.
The report says the RCMP had received information about Atwal’s possible attendance on Feb. 13 — a full week before Atwal attended an event in Mumbai — yet the follow-up investigation saw errors and delays.
“The RCMP had information that Mr. Atwal had a serious criminal record and a history of involvement in violent acts, issues which should have been identified as security risks to the Prime Minister and his delegation,” the report says. “The RCMP recognizes that it erred in not providing that information to the Prime Minister’s Protective Detail.”
The 40-page report was released Monday, but only after the Prime Minister’s Office heavily redacted portions to “remove information deemed injurious to national security and international relations.”
The report examines three issues: allegations of foreign interference related to Trudeau’s trip; the security issues around Trudeau’s events in India and whether guests were vetted ahead of time; and a controversial briefing to journalists given by the government’s national security adviser.
Most of the section on foreign interference is redacted. The public portion summarizes numerous interactions between Canadian and Indian officials ahead of the trip, noting India’s concern Canada is soft on Sikh extremism. But all six conclusions in the section are completely redacted.
On the issue of the media briefing given by then-National Security and Intelligence Advisor Daniel Jean, the report says it cannot draw hard conclusions. It raises numerous concerns about whether it was appropriate for someone in Jean’s role, but concedes his decision “was made under difficult circumstances.” It does not find evidence Jean gave the briefing at the direction of Trudeau’s office, or that he misused classified intelligence.
However, this section does conclude that “the most compelling rationale presented by (Jean) for his briefing to journalists was his desire to counter foreign interference in ‘real time’.” It says the committee finds there was good reason for Jean’s suspicion there was “an orchestrated attempt to ‘shine a spotlight’ on Mr. Atwal’s invitation in order to embarrass the Canadian Government.” But once again, the details are redacted.
The most extensive section in the report covers security issues around a Feb. 20 reception in Mumbai and a Feb. 22 reception in Delhi. Atwal was on the guest list for both. He attended the Mumbai event, and was photographed with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and then-Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi. His invitation to the Delhi event was revoked soon after.
The guest list for each event was massive: 1,100 for Mumbai (397 people attended) and 2,500 for Delhi (808 attended). The lists were largely compiled by Canadian officials based in India, but the Prime Minister’s Office added 403 names on Feb. 10 — including Jaspal Atwal. The report indicates there are more names on the Prime Minister’s list that were later deemed a problem, but it redacts all details.
On-site security for the events was reasonable, the report concludes. But there was no systematic vetting of the guest lists, in part because of logistical challenges. The report recommends the government develop “a consistent method of conducting background checks” for proposed guest lists for foreign events with the Prime Minister.
However, the report outlines how RCMP’s B.C.-based Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (known as EINSET) received a tip on Feb. 13 that Atwal was planning to attend events. EINSET claims it passed this on to CSIS, the report says, but “CSIS stated it has no record of this interaction.”
The information was passed to RCMP headquarters, and after determining Atwal was not travelling with the official delegation, a senior officer instructed EINSET to check if Atwal was still in Canada. “This direction was provided in a voicemail, but not actioned because the officer was away on leave,” it said.
On Feb. 20, the day of the Mumbai event, EINSET received more information, though the details are redacted. “As this information was received ‘at the end of shift,’ EINSET decided that it would wait until the next day to validate the information,” the report says.
In testimony to the committee, the RCMP deputy commissioner for federal policing admitted the force made multiple errors and should have passed the Atwal tip on to Trudeau’s security detail. But the RCMP also said it concluded Atwal was not a physical threat to the Prime Minister, so its security deployment in India wouldn’t have changed anyway. CSIS also concluded Atwal was not a physical threat.
Atwal had been convicted of attempting to murder an Indian cabinet minister on Vancouver Island in 1986. He was also charged with a 1985 attack on former B.C. premier and Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, a vocal opponent of the Sikh separatist movement, but was later acquitted. In May 2018, a few months after the India trip, Atwal was criminally charged with uttering threats; a trial is scheduled for next spring.
“Atwal’s repeated involvement with the criminal justice system over a long period of time should have raised security concerns about his participation at events during the Prime Minister’s official trip to India in February 2018,” the report says. It also says “physical security” should not have been the only consideration.
A statement from Trudeau’s office thanked the committee for its work and said it “will be carefully considering the report’s recommendations.”
In a statement, the RCMP stressed that while the information “would not have changed our security posture,” it should have passed on the Atwal tip to the Prime Minister’s security team “to enhance situational awareness, and allow personnel to perform their duties and monitor the room with all information available.”
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