Is the potential India murder link a hint espionage is growing bolder?

Click to play video: 'Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder: Do recent extra-judicial killings symbolize new era of espionage?'
Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder: Do recent extra-judicial killings symbolize new era of espionage?
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation that “credible” evidence suggests India agents killed a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil has sent shockwaves around the world, and the alleged state ties are raising serious questions. Global's Nathaniel Dove explores whether this represents a new age of espionage, or if this is just a glimpse of activities long kept in the shadows. – Sep 20, 2023

If agents of the Indian government were behind the murder of Sikh Canadian Hardeep Singh Nijjar, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says intelligence suggests may be the case, it could hint at growing espionage boldness, an intelligence expert told Global News.

And confirmation of such allegations would show levels of what she called “overt, covert” interference are rising, “or at least that countries are willing to sort of step out of the shadows.”

“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, if you angered the Americans or NATO or the EU, you are going to be left out in the cold in terms of economic development, trade relationships, etc.,” said Jessica Davis, president of Insight Threat Intelligence.

“But now we have China, Russia and India who are all kind of forming a bit of a trade bloc on their own so they’re willing to take more risks.”

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It could be an egregious example of covert actions on Canadian soil, but the existence of covert activities is not itself new.

Canada has accused or alleged other countries like China, Iran and Russia of attempting to interfere in Canada’s elections or intimidating diaspora communities on Canadian soil.

And Canada, Davis said, can be an appealing target for some of those activities compared to the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand — collectively known as the Five Eyes.

“We haven’t had to make the kinds of investments in our security and intelligence services a lot of other countries have… (and) we’ve been less overt in terms of prosecuting some of these activities.”

But she said Canada can also be targeted in covert foreign activities because of its developed economy and technologies, natural resources and because of the diaspora communities.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc suggested on Monday that the allegations of evidence linking Indian agents to Nijjar’s murder could be probed as part of the high-profile foreign interference public inquiry currently underway by Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josee Hogue.

“We assume that she and the security agencies will do what’s necessary for her inquiry to also look at the ways that India interferes in Canada,” LeBlanc said.

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Leah West, associate professor at Carleton University focusing on intelligence and security, says open and democratic societies are susceptible to the disinformation, intimidation and violence because of the inherent rights enshrining free speech and rights.

“Activists (in diasporas in Canada) do have reach-back and can reach back into their own communities and can shape Canadian policy with respect to those governments,” West said.

She told Global News that Canada needs to prepare for continued interference attempts, in whatever form they may take.

“I don’t think our actions are ever going to deter foreign states from engaging in foreign interference,” she said.

“It’s just, can we manage it better? Can we protect those communities and protect those democratic institutions better?”

While Davis called Canada’s security services “fairly robust,” she said the allegations of potential links to Indian agents shows the need to reinvest in intelligence and that a foreign agent registry and beneficial ownership registry — where the government registers owners of foreign companies working in Canada — would help protect Canada and Canadians.

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The government has promised to create a foreign agent registry, and while Parliament resumed sitting on Monday, the Liberals did not provide a timeline for doing so.

With files from Global’s Stewart Bell, Ashleigh Stewart, Jeff Semple, Aaron D’Andrea, Uday Rana, Alex Boutilier, Jillian Piper and Reuters

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