April 16, 2018 1:50 pm
Updated: April 16, 2018 3:39 pm

Rampant ‘misinformation’ on Jaspal Atwal affair sparked decision to brief reporters: Daniel Jean

Full statement: Daniel Jean testifies before committee over Jaspal Atwal affair

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No one forced Daniel Jean to do anything.

That was one of the key messages the national security adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought to members of the House of Commons public safety committee on Monday in a hotly-anticipated appearance.

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Jean pushed back at suggestions that he was being used as a human shield by the government over the Jaspal Atwal affair. It was the first public appearance for Jean on the matter, which has dominated political questioning since the prime minister’s much-maligned official trip to India in February.

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During that trip, convicted attempted murderer Jaspal Atwal posed for photos with federal cabinet ministers and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau during a reception in Mumbai. Atwal was set to attend a second reception in Delhi before his invitation was yanked back by the Prime Minister’s Office, following reports that Atwal had been added to the guest list.

In his testimony, Jean confirmed publicly for the first time that it was he who provided a background briefing on the matter to journalists, including those at Global News, and told MPs he had made the decision to speak with reporters after seeing what he described as “misinformation” published by CBC News and the Vancouver Sun.

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Those reports suggested that the RCMP, theCanadian High Commission in India and CSIS had known in advance that Atwal would attend the Mumbai reception, but had failed to share that information in time to prevent him.

Jean told the committee on Monday that was not the case. He said he decided to speak with reporters to prevent those assertions from tarnishing the reputations of the agencies.

“I believed firmly there was too much misinformation that had been provided to Canadians,” Jean said.”We needed to make sure these three institutions were not tainted.”

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau backs official that said Indian government involved in Jaspal Atwal invitation

The decision by Jean to appear before committee and confirm himself to have been the source of the background briefing comes after weeks of demands by the Conservatives for the government to explain the circumstances surrounding how Atwal came to be invited to the receptions in India.

News of his appearance there broke on Feb. 21 after photos emerged of Atwal posing at a reception the previous day in Mumbai with Gregoire-Trudeau and Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains.

WATCH BELOW: National security adviser says he gave controversial Atwal briefing to counter ‘fabricated narrative’

Several outlets published information that suggested Canadian law enforcement had intelligence that Atwal would attend that reception but that the agencies did not act on that — an assertion Jean vehemently denied as he laid out a timeline.

“Before 10 a.m. on Feb. 21, I was informed that Mr. Atwal was on the list of invitees. I immediately looked through open sources — I Googled him — and then I provided the information to those who needed to know in the Privy Council Office,” said Jean, noting that both the RCMP and CSIS said Atwal was no longer considered a threat.

However, he added, that did not mean Atwal should be attending a reception with federal officials.

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“I sent the information to the High Commission in Delhi and the decision [to retract the invitation for the reception in Delhi] was made there in collaboration with the Prime Minister’s Office.”

At that point, Jean says he began to see what he characterized as “coordinated misinformation” circulating among certain Canadian media outlets and decided to take action to try to correct the record.

“I felt it was important to alert the Canadian media to the misinformation being circulated,” he added. “The paper trail will show all these allegations are false.”

Jean says he drew up a list of several reporters, including one at Global News, and proceeded to speak on background in telephone conversations on Feb. 22. During the calls, he raised concerns that there may be orchestrated and rogue factions in India that might have an interest in seeing the trip derailed by news of the presence of Atwal.

WATCH BELOW: Jaspal Atwal holds press conference to explain India controversy

He rejected the characterization of those concerns as him airing “conspiracy theories” and said given the circumstances, he was in a better position to speak to the concerns being raised than a partisan official would have been.

“If you have actors that are trying to create a narrative that is not true, … you have to have someone who is neutral to come in and alert the media to that,” he said.

“I don’t think there would have been much credibility of a political staffer.”

READ MORE: Tories end marathon filibuster motions over Jaspal Atwal affair

Liberal MP Randeep Sarai said on Feb. 27 that he had added Atwal to the invitation list for the Delhi reception and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called the matter “an honest mistake.”

But on Feb. 28, Trudeau defended the official behind the briefing — who at the time, was not yet identified.

“When one of our top diplomats and security officials says something to Canadians, it is because they know it to be true,” Trudeau said.

That added new fire to opposition questioning over the matter, which pivoted to focus on what critics characterized as conflicting reports over what exactly happened.

WATCH BELOW: Conservative MP ‘stunningly bewildered’ over Jaspal Atwal briefing

Over the course of March, the Conservatives declared in the House of Commons that they believed the source of the briefing to be Jean and made repeated attempts to table motions before committees to call for Jean to appear and explain.

Those were repeatedly defeated by the Liberal members on those committees and on March 22, the Conservatives tabled a similar motion before the House of Commons and warned they would force a 40-hour filibuster if the Liberals did not agree to have Jean testify.

That motion was defeated and the Conservatives tabled roughly 260 motions opposing individual lines of the supplementary and interim estimates.

Given those estimates were budgetary in nature, they were each considered confidence votes and failure by the Liberals to defeat them could have triggered an election.

As a result, MPs spent the night in the House of Commons in what turned out to be a 20-hour filibuster of the final vote on the estimates before the Conservatives withdrew their remaining motions opposing the legislation.

The Privy Council Office said on March 22 that officials there had offered Scheer a classified briefing on the Atwal affair but that he had turned it down, but Scheer disputed that and said no such invitation had been received.

On April 3, he announced he had accepted an offer of a briefing by the Privy Council Office but said that he planned to bring members of the Conservative caucus as well as reporters with him to hear any information in that briefing that was unclassified.

On April 4, Jean agreed to appear before the House of Commons public safety committee and provide an unclassified briefing.

The offer of a classified briefing is still on the table for Scheer but Jean said Monday a date had not yet been set.

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