Like much of the nation, I have been riveted by the high-stakes test of wills between government and opposition over who should brief whom about what with regard to l’affaire Atwal.
As I need hardly recapitulate, the Conservatives had demanded the prime minister’s National Security and Intelligence Adviser, Daniel Jean, appear before a Commons committee to answer questions about his timely intervention on behalf of the prime minister’s ass during what is now universally known as His Disastrous Trip to India.
Among other embarrassments, the trip had been all but derailed by the revelation that a former member of a Sikh terrorist group, Jaspal Atwal, convicted in the 1986 attempted murder of a visiting Indian cabinet minister on Vancouver Island, had twice been invited by the Canadian High Commission to attend receptions in the prime minister’s honour.
That was before Jean, a career civil servant and the most senior member of the national security establishment, contacted members of the national press to suggest, off the record, that Atwal’s appearances had in fact been orchestrated by rogue elements within the Indian government to make the government of Canada look soft on terrorism and sow discord with India.
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The theory was widely mocked, including by former intelligence officials, and frankly didn’t make a whole lot of sense: even if Atwal’s presence in the country were due to some elaborate high-level plot to sabotage the prime minister’s visit (he had in fact been granted several visas over the years, the latest of which was last summer) it did not explain how he got on the invite list — especially since a Liberal MP, Randeep Sarai, had already confessed his responsibility.
But this was not some flack from the Prime Minister’s Office spinning this, but the country’s top spook, so my colleagues felt obliged to report it, taking care to describe Jean only as a “senior government official with knowledge of security issues,” and the like. Until the next morning, when I suspect they woke up feeling used.
So when it all blew up, and blew up again — the prime minister backing Jean in Parliament, the Indian government bluntly expressing its dismay at this “baseless and unacceptable” suggestion — it was hardly surprising the Conservatives would demand to hear from Jean, by now outed as the source. When the Liberals refused, citing national security, the Tories held up parliamentary proceedings in protest.
There followed a government offer to give Tory leader Andrew Scheer a classified briefing — for which, as a Privy Councillor, he is eligible — countered by Scheer’s demand that MPs also be briefed on the unclassified bits, to which the government eventually agreed on condition that … well, it all gets a bit eyeglazing at this point. (The Liberals …read more