Canada’s top spy went directly to Turkey to listen to tapes of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In a statement to Global News, the head of public affairs at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service confirmed its director, David Vigneault, travelled at the request of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to speak with Turkish officials about what Trudeau has deemed the “murder” of the journalist.
“At the request of Prime Minister Trudeau, the CSIS director travelled to Turkey to discuss the investigation into the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” said John Townsend, head of public affairs for the spy agency, in an email.
“As you can appreciate, I cannot go into specifics about the investigation but I can confirm that the director of CSIS has listened to the audio tapes in question and has provided a briefing for the prime minister and other Canadian officials on his visit to Turkey.”
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The news came after Trudeau became the first Western leader to confirm on Monday morning that Canadian intelligence officials have heard the recordings of the killing of Khashoggi, who was a contributor to the Washington Post.
Trudeau said he himself had not heard the recording, which is in keeping with the statement from CSIS which says the director listened to it and then briefed him.
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2, 2018, seeking documents to marry his Turkish fiancée.
He never came out.
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Turkish officials announced shortly after that they had audio recordings of Khashoggi being murdered inside the Saudi consulate.
Accounts of those recordings by the New York Times and the Washington Post describe Khashoggi being dismembered and decapitated by a Saudi hit team.
For weeks following his disappearance, Saudi Arabia claimed he had walked out of the consulate.
The kingdom then changed its story to suggest he died in a brawl in the consulate before changing its story again to claim the murder was a rogue operation by Saudi agents who went beyond their authority to interrogate him.
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Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Oct. 27 that the global outrage over the murder was “hysterical.”
Both Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said little in the initial weeks following Khashoggi’s disappearance.
On Oct. 12, Trudeau said Canada would continue to uphold a $15-billion arms deal with the kingdom despite “concern” about the matter.
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On Oct. 20, Freeland issued a statement joining a chorus of other world leaders condemning the killing.
“Canada condemns the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has confirmed took place in its consulate in Istanbul,” the statement read. “The explanations offered to date lack consistency and credibility.”
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It wasn’t until Oct. 22 that Freeland slammed the killing as a “murder” and said the “entire relationship” between Canada and Saudi Arabia was now facing questions as a result of his death.
Her condemnation marked the government’s most strongly-worded response yet to the murder, which has forced the international community into a stark reckoning of their ties with the oil-rich kingdom.
Trudeau echoed her remarks on Oct. 23, also calling his death a “murder” and adding that cancelling the controversial arms deal to sell armoured vehicles to the Saudis would cost Canadians $1 billion.
“I do not want to leave Canadians holding a billion-dollar bill because we’re trying to move forward on doing the right thing,” he said. “So we’re navigating this very carefully.”
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That contract, negotiated under the previous government but upheld by Trudeau, is under a veil of secrecy that means many of the details of it remain under wraps.
It is not yet possible to verify Trudeau’s assertion by examining the terms of the deal, since it is not public.
Yet also among the factors likely involved in consideration of whether to cancel it is the political impact such a move would have in a riding where the Liberals currently hold three of the four federal seats.
General Dynamics, the firm providing the armoured vehicles, is a major employer in the London, Ont., area.
Thousands of jobs could be at stake if the contract is axed, raising questions about whether the Liberals could lose any of the three seats they hold there, including one that flipped red from the Conservatives in the last election.
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