Trudeau’s India crisis shows he has lost control of Canada’s spies

Anonymous spooks are getting their way, whatever the consequences, when Trudeau should be investigating their failures.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York, U.S., September 21, 2023 as tensions escalate following Canada's announcement that it was "actively pursuing credible allegations" linking Indian government agents to the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in June. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's allegations of a possible link between Indian security agencies and the killing of a Sikh separatist in Canada in June has provoked international tensions [Mike Segar/Reuters]

For anyone with functioning sight and synapses, it’s become obvious that some rogue Canadian spies are, in effect, in charge of Canada’s foreign policy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds the titular title of the nation’s top diplomat, with his foreign minister, Melanie Joly, claiming the nominal role of second-in-command.

But if events during the past year have confirmed anything, it’s this: The prime minister of Canada is being forced to act at the mercy of what is likely just a handful of conniving, leak-happy members of the country’s unaccountable security services, which Trudeau, the cabinet and his hapless national security advisers have lost control over.

Rather than acknowledge this disturbing fact, giddy editorial writers and columnists have been applauding the calculated conduct of anonymous bureaucrats with badges intent on getting their way, whatever the human and geopolitical consequences.

With their handpicked, credulous conduits in the press at the agreeable ready, for months, a bunch of entitled spooks has been behind the leak – drip by drip by drip – of fragments of cherry-picked so-called “intelligence” concerning China’s alleged interference in Canada’s domestic affairs.

I think Trudeau and close company recognised early on that bowing to the pressure would set a grievous precedent. So Trudeau opted for a middle course – appointing a special rapporteur to consider the brewing allegations.

He bungled it, and then ultimately capitulated to the spooks’ explicit demand at the root of the domino-like series of hyperbolic, uncorroborated “revelations” – the establishment of a public inquiry.

Now brimming with confidence and certain they will never be found out, Canada’s scheming spies appear to have moved their roving crosshairs onto the latest target: India.

A Globe and Mail correspondent, speaking on the national newspaper’s podcast, admitted that he had been tipped off by “sources” to the halting accusation that India had assassinated Canadian Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada.

Later, the paper’s editor was contacted, he said, by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), asking that it postpone the story’s publication for at least a week to allow Canada’s intelligence agencies to continue their “work” – presumably to gather and substantiate the still nebulous “evidence” connecting India to the murder plot.

The Globe refused. The counteroffer: Given the story’s significance, the newspaper was prepared to hold off for a day or two.

Eventually, the Globe posted its story online just as Trudeau was set to make his harried, qualified address to parliament and the nation in which he claimed there was a “potential link” between Indian “agents” and the killing of Nijjar in the parking lot of a Sikh temple in British Columbia in June.

From what I hear informally, the PMO had quietly approached a few select reporters to tell them that the prime minister planned soon to make a statement concerning India’s purported part in Nijjar’s death. The pre-emptive aim was to blunt questions and criticism about Canada’s aborted trade mission to New Delhi and Trudeau’s limp, awkward handshake with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit.

That Trudeau was compelled to “get ahead” of the leak to the Globe is more evidence that emboldened spies are at the helm of what amounts to a parallel government determined to embarrass and coerce a sitting prime minister to do their bidding – or else.

This is an unacceptable affront to the will of Canadians and an egregious violation of the advisory role security services are supposed to play in a constitutional democracy.

Instead of being roundly censored for overstepping their authority and behaving recklessly, these scoundrels in the shadows are feted as “whistle blowers” by starry-eyed pundits and writers who have lost sight of the profound damage being done.

Here’s the other uncomfortable truth that journalists-turned-cheerleaders with little, if any, understanding of the grubby, subterranean world of “espionage” fail to grasp: It is populated mostly by sinners, not saints – no matter their country of origin.

Consider the “disclosure” that one of Canada’s partners in the Five Eyes – a consortium of electronic spy services that also consists of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand – had snooped on Indian diplomats and reportedly passed on to Ottawa incriminating information about Nijjar’s killing.

In the black-and-white universe these naive apologists inhabit, the Five Eyes alliance is devoted to spying solely on “bad guys” because that’s what the “good guys” – that’s us – do to protect you and me.

I’m obliged to break it to the wish-upon-a-star-Jiminy-Cricket crowd, but the Five Eyes spies on its dear friends and each other all the time too.

Why? To collect reams of classified diplomatic, military and commercial secrets and all sorts of intimate, salacious tidbits for future leverage and influence.

Meanwhile, India – nudge nudge, wink wink – is probably busy spying on its “strategic allies” in kind.

Where, oh where, is all the foreign- interference-fuelled outrage? The nadir of the West’s always convenient and galling hypocrisy on the “extrajudicial” killing score was given fulsome voice in the pages of that champion of “foreign interference”, The New York Times.

This is how the Times recently provided predictable cover for the “good guys” when they do the interfering and the “targeted killings” – the sterile euphemism for murder.

“The killing, and the alleged involvement of the Indian government, has shocked officials in Washington. While democratic countries conduct targeted killings in unstable countries or regions and the spy services of more authoritarian governments — namely Russia — orchestrate assassinations anywhere they choose, it is unusual for a democratic country to conduct a lethal covert action in another democracy,” the Times wrote.

Simply put: Yes, the “good guys” murder people, but they do it only in “unstable countries or regions”. That seems to constitute, these days, much of the turbulent planet. Anyway, unlike the democratic “good guys”, the authoritarian “bad guys” – such as Putin – murder people everywhere.

The White House and the US Department of State are said to be shocked and confused. They don’t know if their pal Modi is a “good guy” or a “bad guy” after all.

As for “orchestrating assassinations anywhere they choose”, the Times has forgotten, of course, about America’s lengthy, lethal, not-so-distant and recent history of choosing to encourage and help orchestrate coups against democratically elected governments in the Balkans, Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia — along with the catastrophic invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Apparently, they don’t count.

Look, Trudeau must, if possible, lasso Canada’s freelancing spies and remind them – clearly and pointedly – who their boss is.

He might want to discover as well how they, along with their equally comatose colleagues at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, permitted – if true – a Canadian to be shot and killed on Canadian soil by Indian agents who are destined to get away with it.

That, dare I say, would merit another public inquiry.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.