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The (Vanishing?) Conspiracy Theory Part 2: Media Reports on the PM’s India Trip

The (Vanishing?) Conspiracy Theory Part 2: Media Reports on the PM’s India Trip
The photo of Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and Jaspal Atwal that raised questions about Canada’s stand on Sikh terrorism.

Here is a sample of what the media reported after Daniel Jean’s background brief:

Globe and Mail, February 22, 2018: “…after initially pointing the finger at Mr. Sarai, the Canadian government later spread the blame to ‘factions in India’ it says may have orchestrated the Atwal matter. In an interview late Thursday night, a senior government source said the Indian factions in question are concerned about the threat of Sikh extremism, especially among the Sikh diaspora in Canada, and believe that the Canadian government is too complacent on the matter. The source did not say whether said factions were linked to the Indian government.”

Toronto Star, February 26, 2018: “When the Star asked those same questions last week of a senior Canadian official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the answer was; ‘I want to be very clear: I am not saying that the government of India set us up.’ However the official did suggest that there are ‘people in India’ who would benefit from fueling the controversy over whether the Trudeau government is ‘complacent on terrorism.’”

David Akin, Global News, “Notebook: What the ‘senior government official’ told the media about Atwal, India and Trudeau,” April 8, 2018”:  “The SGO [senior government official] told me ‘We were concerned that there was some faction of the [Indian] government or people outside of the government who were really playing the media on that thing, … I don’t know if it was a faction of the government of India. I don’t know if its people who are panicking about Sikh extremism. I don’t know who fed all of that information at the same time. But this cannot be an accident that so much of that information was all happening at the same time and I am not a conspiracy theorist believer.’”

Most explosive of all is the account of the background briefing from John Ivison, of the National Post.  Ivison reported on the background briefing in two columns.  In an article on February 22, Ivison wrote, “the source … believes it is convenient for some in India’s government, if not necessarily for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to embarrass Trudeau for being soft on Sikh terrorism. Asked which part of the Indian government might be so motivated, the source said, “The Intelligence service.”  Ivison followed up with a second article, “It is possible the Atwal affair was both a cock up and a conspiracy at the same time” (February 28, 2018), where he stated that “while the security source did not suggest the Indian authorities had invited Atwal to the two Government receptions, he did say it was convenient for some members of the Indian intelligence service to ‘stir up controversy’ over Canada’s perceived softness on Sikh extremism.”

Culling from this limited sample, at least four versions of what was said about who was behind the alleged misinformation campaign emerge. The only thing that is clear is that Mr. Jean tried to make the point that the Government of India itself was not responsible, otherwise we are left with the following scenarios about the attribution of responsibility for the misinformation campaign:

  1. don’t know
  2. “people” in India
  3. “factions” in India
  4. the Indian intelligence service

See Part 1 of this blog, “Daniel Jean on the PM’s India Trip” here.

Wesley Wark, Executive in Residence, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

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