All fingers are pointing at the RCMP for the security lapse in Justin Trudeau’s disastrous trip to India this year.
But it’s the “MP” part of the report’s findings that also deserves some closer scrutiny — specifically, whether individual members of Parliament are increasingly the weak links in Canada’s national-security chain.
If Canada is getting serious about the threat of foreign interference — and David Vigneault, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service made that very clear in a rare speech on Tuesday in Toronto — it is also looking like MPs’ potential vulnerability should be climbing higher on the radar.
“In the interest of national security, members of the House of Commons and Senate should be briefed upon being sworn in and regularly thereafter on the risks of foreign interference and extremism in Canada,” says recommendation number one in the special report of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP.)
What makes that recommendation even more interesting — maybe even ironic — is that it was written with the help of Tony Clement, the former Conservative cabinet minister recently ousted from his caucus over a sexting scandal and shadowy extortion attempts against him.
“Tony Clement was a full and active member of NSICOP until he resigned on November 7, so he participated in all deliberations and contributed to the committee’s discussions and work up until that time, including on this special report,” said Rennie Marcoux, executive director of the committee, when I asked on Tuesday about how much the disgraced MP had contributed to the findings.
Let that sink in. Not only was Clement investigating foreign interference in Canadian politics this year, but he may well have been living it too. It’s like that old UPS commercial about consultants: “We don’t actually do what we propose; we just propose it.”
Most Canadians probably remember the prime minister’s India trip last February for his highly questionable wardrobe choices and terrible optics, but the committee’s report was prompted by something slightly more serious — specifically, the presence of a convicted attempted assassin, Jaspal Atwal, in the midst of events by the Canadian delegation while in India.
How did Atwal wrangle himself an invite to Trudeau’s over-the-top party? With a simple request to a member of Parliament — Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai, who later said he didn’t really “invite” Atwal; he merely forwarded his name to the powers that be in charge of the trip, who then rubber-stamped him. That’s how easy it was.
Now, it may be true that security forces dropped the ball when it came to vetting Atwal’s request to be part of the PM’s trip to India, but there’s a reason, we assume, that the number-one recommendation in the special report appears to pinpoint MPs as insufficiently aware of security risks from extremist elements abroad.
Too bad Raj Grewal, the newly independent MP for Brampton East, wasn’t part of this committee either. He might have learned that his now self-acknowledged gambling addiction made him vulnerable too.
According to a report by Canadian Press, Grewal’s gambling problem has been linked to an investigation into money laundering by foreign-based extremists. Here’s what CP reported:
“The source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Grewal’s debts came to the attention of the Ontario Provincial Police during an investigation of some ‘particularly shady guys’ who might be involved in laundering drug money destined for an extremist group in the Middle East.”
The Commons was in an uproar on Tuesday about what was left out of the committee’s special report — all the asterisks that have been inserted to blank out sensitive information. Much of those asterisks have to do with “foreign interference.”
But what if the big risk is hiding in plain sight — not just in this report, but in the cases of rogue MPs we’ve seen this fall?
What may be most disturbing about this week’s report is not the missing words, but the absence of information about how national-security lapses will be prevented in future. As the report notes, no one has gone to the trouble yet of having a cross-departmental study of “lessons learned” from the India trip.
One such lesson certainly revolves around how individual MPs could be viewed as portals into Canadian politics by foreign extremists. And is it enough merely to warn them of those threats, as this report recommends?
Susan Delacourt is the Star’s Ottawa bureau chief and a columnist covering national politics. Reach her via email: email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt