Feds backtrack, include India in Canada's foreign interference inquiry

Inquiry commissioner Marie Josée Hogue now has her eyes set on alleged interference by India, following a request to access all federal documents concerning the 2019 and 2021 elections. Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc previously said an investigation into foreign interference would exclude India.

Feds backtrack, include India in Canada's foreign interference inquiry
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An inquiry into Chinese electoral meddling became top priority for inquiry commissioner Marie Josée Hogue, who now has her eyes set on alleged interference by India.

The Québec justice made the announcement January 24 when she requested federal documents into the extrajudicial antics of India during the 2019 and 2021 elections. 

This paints a stark contrast to earlier remarks by Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc who assured an investigation into foreign interference would exclude India.

The intelligence request comes days before public hearings begin on Monday and several months after the assassination of controversial Sikh separatist Harpreet Singh Njjar, a naturalized Canadian citizen.

In September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of orchestrating the attack, leading to strained diplomatic relations that shelved a free-trade mission to New Delhi, and the expulsion of 41 Canadian diplomats from the South Asian country.

Trudeau first raised the allegations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit, but New Delhi has repeatedly denied the claim. They earlier suggested that Nijjar became “actively involved in operationalizing, networking, training and financing” members of the militant group Khalistan Tiger Force.

He set Parliament afire last September 18 when he said "credible allegations" tied Indian agents to Nijjar’s death last June 18. Ottawa has yet to disclose any evidence.

However, their suspicions garnered credibility after U.S. authorities foiled a plan last November to kill a Canadian-American Sikh activist in New York. They also uncovered apparent links to Nijjar’s death and threats to three other Canadian Sikhs.

Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national arrested last June in the Czech Republic, allegedly told an undercover officer of a “big target” in Canada — less than two weeks before Nijjar had been fatally shot. He described himself as a "senior field officer" with intelligence experience.

In a September 19 letter to Commissioner Hogue, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh urged an expansion of her mandate into foreign interference by India. He cited the intelligence referenced by Trudeau justified their inclusion.

But LeBlanc informed reporters the following day that their inquiry would not include the activities of Indian diplomats and intelligence networks.

"Should India be added to the inquiry into foreign interference?" asked a reporter. LeBlanc replied: "We don't need to add India."

He clarified that India's alleged involvement in the shooting of a Nijjar is considered an active police matter, reported Blacklock's Reporter.

While expanding the inquiry’s mandate runs the risk of agitating India further, a former senior intelligence officer at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, supported the move.

Neil Bisson told The Globe and Mail that it makes sense to look into India’s alleged influence on diaspora communities in Canada.

"If you take a look at the Indian government not wanting Canada to become an area where Sikh separatists can essentially look at organizing, funding and rallying, then it makes sense that they would try to have some influence on those individuals who are taking part in elections," he said.

Leblanc told reporters last September that his office and Opposition parties had discussions over the summer on permitting Commissioner Hogue to “follow the evidence” on alleged interference beyond China and Russia.

However, her mandate under the Inquiries Act states she is to "examine and assess interference by China, Russia and other foreign states or non-state actors" to confirm the integrity of the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

"It’s not just China and Russia that we are talking about," added Bisson.

New Democrat MPs sponsored a motion in the Commons on May 31 that proposed a public inquiry to include all states suspected of foreign interference. The motion passed but is non-binding on the federal government.

"Some Canadians fear for their lives," according to Singh, "because of threats from foreign governments like India."

"Their voices must be heard … For many in our communities, fear of harassment, violence and retribution from foreign agents is too common."

An initial report on the inquiry is due February 19, 2024, with a follow-up expected around the end of the year or in 2025.

According to a September 7 cabinet order, the second report will examine and assess the federal capacity to "detect, deter and counter any form of foreign interference directly or indirectly targeting Canada's democratic processes."

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