The Canadian ship of state leaks again

It is an easy strategy to transfer blame onto other nations when your own failures are so evident. Meanwhile, we stumble in the dark with unverified data leaked by the responsible Canadian agencies, seeking to transfer their own failures far from our shores. 

by Gar Pardy


OTTAWA—The Canadian ship of state is leaking again, and as with previous leaks, it is at the top. The pattern this time is much the same as before: officials frustrated by policy made by those elected to do so surreptitiously use the media to force policy into conformity with their views. It’s not a healthy direction for our democracy.

The latest trigger is the June 18 murder of a Canadian Sikh leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in Surrey, B.C., outside of his Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, by two men who quickly escaped the scene. The investigation reflects the confusion of today’s policing—in part it involves the RCMP, but the local police unit is part of a messy transition in the creation of a local Surrey Police Service. National security concerns involve both the RCMP and the Canadian Intelligence and Security Service (CSIS). It is not yet clear who—if anyone—was in charge.

In the intervening three months, the multi-hydra investigation apparently concluded Nijjar’s murder likely involved agents and actions by the government of India; a view, unsurprisingly, completely accepted by some in the Canadian Sikh community. On the day of the leak, Sept. 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave public support for this conclusion without providing any sustaining evidence.

In the preceding weeks, CSIS Director David Vigneault and Jody Thomas, national security adviser to the prime minister, travelled to India and, according to press reports, conveyed this Canadian conclusion to the appropriate authorities in New Delhi. On Sept. 9 and 10, Trudeau, in New Delhi for the G20 meeting, communicated the conclusion to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The conclusion and its sharing with the Indian government was done behind a thick wall of diplomatic secrecy, but it now appears Nijjar’s murder was at the top of the Canadian agenda during these visits and meetings.

This all changed with the leak on Sept. 18. Media reports that morning suggested a news story, based on information from those involved, would state the Indian government was involved in the murder. The Globe and Mail reported that it was not identifying its sources as they “were not allowed to publicly discuss the issue as they could face prosecution under the Security of Information Act.” Within hours, the prime minister spoke in the Commons and confirmed Canadian security groups “have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.” Trudeau’s words were cautious in content but carried enormous implications in the world of political relationships. The government of India, despite the earlier warning by the prime minister and senior officials, immediately dismissed the accusations, stating they were false and the work of Sikhs directly involved in the efforts to create a Sikh-based state in the Punjab.

Sept. 18 was also significant because it was the first day of operations for the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions. The inquiry had been announced 10 days earlier, to be headed by Marie-Josée Hogue, a judge with Quebec’s Court of Appeals. The creation of the inquiry followed months of controversy based on leaks from national security officials, alleging China’s involvement in Canada’s two most recent federal elections. The leaks became part of the political process, and it was only with reluctance that the government announced the inquiry. In the interval, the media gave full voice to the leaks, with The Globe and Mail giving one of the unnamed officials with the opportunity to provide his rationale for the leak. The official who wrote the rationale was not identified, nor the others who may have been involved. The media have not identified their sources, legitimately stating to do so would subject them to prosecution. However, the lack of such information eliminated the possibility that readers could reach their own conclusions on the legitimacy of the leaked data.

The dangers in not doing so were tragically demonstrated 20 or so years ago when the media published leaked reports from national security officials on the involvement of several Canadians in terrorism. Then, the leaks related to the supposed actions of individuals who, in the view of security officials, were making common cause with various Middle East organizations, and in one headline were labelled “collectively … as Canada’s al-Qaeda.” In the two-year inquiry by Commissioner Dennis O’Connor on the “Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar,” he concluded that, over time, government officials “intentionally leaked classified information” and “used the media to put a spin” on Arar’s activities. Commenting on one press story of the time, O’Connor wrote, “the apparent purpose behind this leak is not attractive: to attempt to influence public opinion against Arar at a time when his release from imprisonment in Syria was being sought by the Government of Canada, including the prime minister.”

(For full details on this period of leaks, see Kerry Pither’s book, Dark Days: The Story of Four Canadians Tortured in the Name Fighting Terror). In the years since O’Connor completed his investigation, another commission of inquiry under Justice Frank Iacobucci made much the same conclusion on the leaked data affecting other Canadians. Millions of dollars have been paid to the victims of these leaks by government officials of malicious and erroneous information. There are expectations more will be paid.

The reality of the leaking ship of state is once more on offer through the media as Canada seeks to establish the identity of those responsible for Nijjar’s death. India today—as with China a few years ago and, earlier, individual Canadians with family ties to the Middle East—is now at the center of the unverified allegations by our police and security officials. Unfortunately, as with the earlier examples of leaked information, the Canadian government has been unwilling to counter these efforts in the establishment of policy through leaking; so today, Canada’s relationship with the two most important nations in the evolving global geopolitical realignment—India and China—is in tatters.

Today’s leakers are part of the organizations which totally failed in their responsibilities when another group of Canadians succeeded in destroying an Air India flight over the North Atlantic, murdering 329 people, 268 of them Canadian. Another bomb manufactured by the same Canadians exploded at Narita Airport in Japan, having missed its connection to another Air India flight. Only one person was convicted in these cataclysmic failures by Canadian security and police organizations. These same groups are now trying to re-establish their legitimacy by leaking information they are not prepared to reveal to the public. It is a comfortable stratagem to transfer blame onto other countries when your own failures are so evident and tragic. In the meantime, we stumble in the dark with unverified information leaked by the responsible Canadian organizations, seeking to transfer their own failures far from our shores. In the world of today, with tens of thousands of people seeking security and personal safety within our borders, it should not be surprising that, as in the past, some come with the grievances and troubles causing their migration. Sadly, we have not created the security and policing organizations capable of dealing with what these disparate dangers represent. Instead, the security and policing agencies use the leak to demonstrate their relevance. The muddle of policy, both domestic and foreign, confuses all.



The article was first published by The Hill Times.

Gar Pardy is a former ambassador and comments on issues of public policy from Ottawa. His books, Afterwords from a Foreign Service Odyssey (2015), China in a Changing World (2020), and The Nasty World of Nuclear Weapons (2023), are available from online retailers.




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