Section three: The use of intelligence
Special report into the allegations associated with Prime Minister Trudeau’s official visit to India in February 2018

66. This section addresses whether intelligence was used for political purposes or disclosed inappropriately in the context of the Prime Minister's trip to India. The Committee believed this was important for two reasons: the use of intelligence for political purposes undermines the integrity of information provided by intelligence organizations and draws into question the neutrality of their advice; the inappropriate disclosure of intelligence puts sources of intelligence and methods of intelligence collection at risk. In its review, the Committee sought to determine what information was provided by the NSIA when he briefed the press on allegations of foreign influence or interference, and why he conducted those briefings.

67. The Committee believes that the events surrounding Mr. Atwal’s presence during portions of the Prime Minister’s trip to India cannot be understood only in the context of the three days they occurred. Rather, they took place as part of a long continuum of bilateral irritants and engagements. These irritants and engagements shaped the opinions and actions of Canadian officials responsible for preparing the trip and ensuring its success. This broader context, outlined above, is important to understand the actions of the NSIA and other government officials between February 20 and 23, as set out below.

68. In the sequence of events below, all times are adjusted to Eastern Standard Time to account for the +10 ½ hour time difference between Ottawa and Delhi.

February 20 Footnote 79

08:45-09:30, Mr. Atwal attended an event in Mumbai at the invitation of the Prime Minister’s Office. He posed for photographs with members of the Canadian delegation and Members of Parliament, notably the Prime Minister’s wife and the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities.

20:14, ***

Evening, *** CSIS official ***.

February 21

01:13, a “Concerned Citizen” sent an email from a domain in Canada to the Canadian High Commission in Delhi stating that the High Commissioner sent a dinner invitation to Mr. Atwal, who was a convicted criminal and linked to Indian intelligence. Attached to the email were *** and an undated photo of Mr. Atwal with Mr. Justin Trudeau and an unidentified man.

06:30, the CSIS official ***.

08:00, the CSIS official *** Footnote 80

10:00, CSIS advised PCO of ***

11:14, CSIS provided its Secret report to PCO officials, who then forwarded it to the NSIA. That report stated that Mr. Atwal ***; he was convicted of the attempted murder of a former Indian Minister; he was previously ***; and a search of a law enforcement database between 2006 and 2013 had revealed *** (the number of files identified by CSIS and the RCMP differ, likely due to different search criteria). ***

***. Footnote 81

11:38, the NSIA sent an email to the Prime Minister’s Office Director of Issues Management (‘the Director of Issues Management’) to follow up on an earlier conversation with open source information on Mr. Atwal. A later reply from a Privy Council official who was included on the NSIA’s ‘cc’ list noted that an official travelling with the delegation in India said that the issue of Mr. Atwal was raised at a meeting with the Prime Minister’s Office and that the Prime Minister’s Office and the High Commission “are following up.” Footnote 82

14:36, PCO sent a Top Secret email to the NSIA stating, “RCMP have confirmed that Atwal was charged and convicted for attempted murder on 1987 04 03. Additional police checks reveal a number of historical charges against Atwal, related to threats against person and assault with a weapon…***.” (It should be noted that the information the RCMP provided was that Mr. Atwal ***.)

16:48, Officials from PCO Communications Secretariat sent an email to a list of PMO and PCO officials, including the NSIA, relaying questions from a CBC journalist about Mr. Atwal’s attendance at the Mumbai event, including a CBC reference that “CSIS has specifically warned the PMO about Atwal.” The NSIA added the Director of Issues Management to the list of addressees and stated to that Director, “this sounds like someone *** is feeding the info to the media.” Footnote 85

19:04, the NSIA forwarded an email to the Clerk and Deputy Clerk of the Privy Council with an embedded CBC story on Mr. Atwal’s invitation to the February 22 reception and stated, “We became aware that this individual was on the list *** this am and flagged it to PMO and tour in Delhi; provided them facts and decision to pull invite. However in meantime, someone *** alerted media that he had been seen among delegation (pictures taken) and was on guests’ list.” Footnote 86

20:58, the NSIA sent an email in response to the Director of Issues Management request for information on Paramjit Randhawa, identified in an embedded news article from The Indian Express where Mr. Randhawa claims to have entered India “as part of the delegation of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau” after having been denied visas seven previous times over 38 years. The NSIA stated, “…India sometimes puts people on their black list for having expressed Khalistan separatist views,” and directed his officials to check with CSIS and the RCMP for any adverse information. Footnote 87

21:38, The Canadian High Commission contacted Mr. Atwal to rescind his invitation at the direction of PMO Director of Operations. Footnote 88

22:40, the NSIA attempted without success to contact Indian National Security Advisor Doval by telephone.

22:51, the NSIA sent an email to Indian National Security Advisor Doval thanking him for their meeting the previous week, noting that the Prime Minister had publicly stated Canada’s support for a united India, expressing pleasure that the Minister of National Defence was able to meet the Punjab Chief Minister, ***. The NSIA asked if National Security Advisor Doval could “confirm that all conditions are well set for a productive meeting between our two PMs tomorrow,” and gave telephone numbers where he could be reached. National Security Advisor Doval did not respond. Footnote 89

February 22

00:37, the NSIA sent an email to his officials directing that they check with the RCMP in response to the Director of Issues Management noting that the Prime Minister’s Office press team was told by CBC that “their sources are telling them that the RCMP in Surrey knew he was coming to India and informed PMO.” Footnote 90

01:22, PCO sent an email to the NSIA stating that the RCMP confirmed that it did not advise the Prime Minister’s Office of any information and that the “search was coming up clean – both on RCMP and PMPD side.” The Director of Issues Management had been advised by email and telephone. Footnote 91

6:36-07:23, Canadian High Commission in Delhi sent emails to three individuals, ***, *** and ***, rescinding their invitations. On the first name, direction came from the Prime Minister’s Office; on the second, from PCO; and the third, from the Canadian mission. Footnote 92 According to testimony from PCO officials, these names were identified by a team of Prime Minister’s Office and PCO officials in Delhi who conducted an internet search of the guest list. Footnote 93

07:00-09:00, the NSIA attempted without success to contact Indian National Security Advisor Doval by telephone.

11:27, CSIS sent a Top Secret email to PCO stating that ***

14:26, the NSIA sent an email to Indian National Security Advisor Doval seeking clarification of how Mr. Atwal and Mr. Randhawa *** while noting that neither individuals was part of Canada’s official delegation to India. The NSIA asked that the National Security Advisor Doval call him. National Security Advisor Doval did not respond. Footnote 94

14:50, the Director of Issues Management sent an email to the NSIA with a list of reporters who had been contacted and were expecting calls from the NSIA. Footnote 95 The NSIA did not provide his speaking notes for these calls, but stated at testimony that what he communicated to journalists in his background briefing was the same as what was provided in his opening remarks to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on April 16, 2018. Footnote 96

That afternoon and evening, the NSIA briefed media officials in Canada.

18:35, In one of the first articles to come out following the NSIA’s briefing, the National Post posted an article on its website from a journalist briefed by the NSIA, which quoted him as saying that it “was no accident” that Mr. Atwal was removed from the Indian black list, and that “the intelligence service” might be motivated to embarrass the Prime Minister for being soft on Sikh separatism. Footnote 97

February 23

05:26, the Director of Issues Management forwarded the National Post article to PMO and PCO officials and suggested that the NSIA’s also brief Canadian journalists in India accompanying the Prime Minister’s delegation.

07:00 (approximately), the NSIA briefed Canadian journalists in India.

Information provided by the NSIA during his background briefing to journalists

69. The Committee sought to determine whether any information provided to the media was classified.

70. In response to an oral request for any materials the NSIA used to brief journalists on those days, PCO replied that “What was communicated to media in the background briefing is reproduced in the NSIA’s opening remarks to [the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU)] on April 16, 2018.” Footnote 98 The Committee was not provided with other material, such as hand-written notes, that the NSIA may have used when he briefed journalists at the time. It confirmed that the NSIA did not make a recording of those briefings.

71. The Committee conducted a review of the press articles that were published after the NSIA’s press briefings. The Committee found that what was reported in the media matched closely to what the NSIA told the Committee on March 1 and SECU. Footnote 99 In response to questions by the Committee, the NSIA stated that the content of his briefings were explained in his appearance at SECU and that he did not disclose any classified information. Footnote 100 Senior officials from Global Affairs Canada, CSIS and the RCMP, each stated separately that the NSIA did not share any classified information. In a press release, the Leader of the Official Opposition stated that the Government and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness confirmed that the information provided to the media by the NSIA did not contain classified information. Footnote 101 Given the above, the Committee is unable to make a finding in this regard.

The NSIA’s rationale for briefing the media

72. In order to determine whether intelligence was used for political purposes, the Committee sought to understand why the NSIA briefed the media on February 22 and 23. The NSIA has explained his reasoning in several fora. His clearest statement was provided in testimony before SECU on April 16, 2018, where he repeatedly cited three reasons.

There were three main objectives… The first was – as when you are in a crisis – trying to describe to the media the facts… The second was to answer a lot of their questions… The third objective – and it was an important one – was that we could see you had inaccurate information, but you also had what really looked like coordinated efforts to try to create a narrative that was actually using, in an inappropriate way, three respected public institutions, CSIS, the RCMP, and our diplomatic mission in Delhi… if you have actors who are trying to fabricate a narrative that is totally untrue and are using three of our most respected public institutions to do that, I think there has to be someone who is neutral who can come in and alert the media to that. That’s why I did it.Footnote 102 [emphasis added]

73. In prepared remarks for his briefing to the Committee on March 1, the NSIA reiterated the importance of providing facts and answering media questions.

I want to be very clear that I offered to do the background briefing to Canadian media to suggest that they may wish to be cautious with the volume of inaccurate information being orchestrated beyond the one undisputed fact that the individual [Mr. Atwal] should not have been invited.

I did that because, given the classified information that we shared with you and the number of facts now confirmed…, we came to the conclusion that there was a very high probability of an orchestrated disinformation campaign to tarnish Canada…

74. The NSIA repeatedly stated that his briefings were meant to counter what he believed were orchestrated efforts to fabricate a false narrative, specifically that Global Affairs Canada, the RCMP and CSIS had information about Mr. Atwal’s presence at official events during the Prime Minister’s visit to India and had provided that information to PMO prior to those events.

75. Beyond these three reasons (to address the crisis, to answer media questions, and to protect the reputation of three organizations), the NSIA added a fourth: countering foreign interference. He stated on March 1,

Foreign interference, whether from private individuals acting on their own or with some support of foreign governments, is more and more manifest. This issue is that, if a non-partisan public servant cannot talk to the media on background to alert them to be careful on some of the information being sent, we are removing one of the most important lines of defence against foreign interference. Footnote 104

76. The NSIA stated repeatedly in testimony before the Committee his belief that Canada needed to ‘push back’ on this orchestrated attempt to plant false information about government institutions.

77. The Deputy Minister of Global Affairs Canada agreed with this, stating in a separate appearance before the Committee that he believed that government authorities notifying the public of false information was a legitimate means of defence against foreign interference. Footnote 105

78. The NSIA maintained, in public and before the Committee, that he briefed journalists on his own initiative. He also stated that he consulted PMO prior to briefing. The Committee has email evidence that shows the NSIA was in contact with several PMO officials prior to his briefings, and the NSIA stated during testimony to the Committee that he spoke to the PMO Principal Secretary prior to his briefing. The Committee does not know the content of that conversation.

The Committee’s assessment of the NSIA’s rationale for briefing the media

79. The Committee questions the reasons the NSIA provided for why he decided to brief journalists. The idea that media reporting around Mr. Atwal’s presence at the event in Mumbai and his possible presence at the event in Delhi was a ‘crisis’ is hard to rationalize from a security and intelligence perspective if, as the NSIA stated, Canada’s security and intelligence community had determined that Mr. Atwal was not a threat. The importance of answering questions from the media is also unclear. The type of questions that the media had about vetting and what CSIS, the RCMP or Global Affairs Canada knew about Mr. Atwal prior to the visit would have been better addressed by the implicated departments. The NSIA’s intervention in this regard appears to be unprecedented: the NSIA stated in testimony that he had briefed journalists rarely in the past, and at least one senior political correspondent noted that he had never seen this type of briefing by such a senior government official. Footnote 106 The NSIA’s stated concern that foreign actors were undermining the reputation of ‘respected public institutions’ is understandable. However, the Committee learned that the NSIA did not notify any senior official from the RCMP, CSIS or Global Affairs Canada that he intended to brief journalists, and each of them denied in testimony that they had concerns about reputational damage at that time or thereafter.

80. The Committee finds the most compelling rationale presented by the NSIA for his briefing to journalists was his desire to counter foreign interference in ‘real time.’ The Committee notes however that there were other personal, professional and situational factors that contributed to his decision to brief. The NSIA had been deeply invested in addressing Indian security concerns about Canada and the Canadian government in order to ensure the success of the Prime Minister’s trip in February 2018. He was well aware of India’s ***. The “strategically released” media articles prior to the Prime Minister’s visit and Indian officials’ repeated raising of concerns around Sikh extremism and separatism, even after multiple efforts by Canadian officials, including the NSIA, to refute those claims, fit the pattern that the NSIA now saw emerging: an orchestrated attempt to ‘shine a spotlight’ on Mr. Atwal’s invitation in order to embarrass the Canadian Government. As the NSIA stated during his testimony, “***.”

Findings with respect to the NSIA’s use of intelligence

The Committee finds that:


It cannot draw a conclusion on the merits of the NSIA’s decision to brief Canadian journalists ‘off the record.’ That decision was made under difficult circumstances, and the NSIA himself stated before the Committee that he should have briefed journalists ‘on the record.’ Nonetheless, his decision raises important considerations:

  • Some of the issues raised by Mr. Atwal’s appearance at the events in India should have been more properly addressed by the Prime Minister’s Office, including failures to screen invitees.
  • To the extent that allegations of lapses in security or information sharing involved the actions or errors of government organizations, those allegations should have been judged and addressed by those organizations, not solely by the NSIA.
  • The NSIA’s status as one of the most senior officials in the government and as a key advisor to the Prime Minister on security and intelligence, coupled with his effort to remain ‘off the record’ with the press, served to further raise the profile of the issues at play.
  • The NSIA did not consult departments or agencies responsible for important aspects of security or bilateral relations prior to briefing journalists. That decision made him solely responsible for determining whether the information that he intended to share was unclassified, and whether his comments would have implications for Canadian bilateral relations, security investigations or relationships with Indian security organizations. Those decisions more properly belonged to the Ministers or Deputy Ministers responsible for relevant departments.


There is no evidence to suggest that the NSIA briefed journalists at the explicit direction of the Prime Minister’s Office. Prior to briefing journalists, the NSIA consulted the Prime Minister’s Office, which in turn provided him with a list of journalists to contact. The NSIA’s status as a principal advisor to the Prime Minister likely contributed to the perception that he was trying to attenuate the broader criticisms around the Prime Minister’s trip to India.


Neither the credibility nor the reputation of Global Affairs Canada, CSIS or the RCMP was being undermined by the events surrounding Mr. Atwal.



The Prime Minister should review the role of the NSIA in the area of countering threats to the security of Canada. The Committee already made one recommendation with respect to the role of the NSIA in the area of ***. The Committee notes that a number of other government departments and agencies have statutory authority to take measures to protect Canada from threats to its security. The role of the NSIA should be clarified for those organizations, as well.