PMO email raises doubts about Jean's testimony

Daniel Jean's testimony in front of a parliamentary committee raised more questions than it answered.

(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)

By: Candice Malcolm

A statement exclusive to the Sun appears to contradict National Security Adviser Daniel Jean’s recent testimony in front of a parliamentary committee.

On Monday, Jean testified that “inaccurate information being circulated” compelled him to provide a “background briefing… not for attribution” to journalists amid Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s disastrous trip to India.  

Jean’s not-for-attribution briefing came after a Sun report exposed that convicted Khalistani terrorist Jaspal Atwal was in India with the Trudeau government. Jean infamously told journalists he believed “rogue political elements” in the Indian government had “orchestrated” the crisis to embarrass Trudeau.

According to Jean’s testimony on Monday, there were two issues he sought to clarify by briefing reporters. First, Jean cited what he called “inaccurate information” suggesting that Atwal was part of the prime minister’s delegation, and second, he denied that CSIS, the RCMP and the High Commission in India had any prior knowledge of the invitation to Atwal.

On Monday, Jean insisted that no one forced him to brief reporters and that he made the decision on his own.

He also stated that he briefed a group of journalists selected by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that evening, on Saturday, Feb. 24, and then briefed more reporters in India the next day.

But almost 18 hours earlier, the Sun received an email from the prime minister’s spokesman making a near-identical claim.

“Wanted to confirm the following for you on background, not for attribution,” wrote Eleanore Catenaro, PMO press secretary, in an unprompted email to the Sun received at 1:15 a.m. ET on Saturday, February 24, 2018. (As the email was unprompted, the Sun made no deal that this email would be kept on background.)

“The Government of Canada was not involved in the visa process for either of these two individuals,” she wrote, referring to Jaspal Atwal and another man.

“They are not part of the official delegation to the PM’s visit to India, nor were they invited by the Prime Minister’s Office.”

“Please let me know if this can be reflected in your article,” wrote Catenaro in the late-night email.

Much like Jean, Catenaro was not willing to provide an on-the-record quote confirming this information. Without any evidence, or even a willingness to be quoted in a story, PMO was trying to push a narrative that Atwal was not part of Trudeau’s delegation to India.

Then, the very next day, PMO organized a briefing with the country’s top national security official, where he pushed the exact same narrative – right down to the same unwillingness to go on the record.

If the two were truly unco-ordinated, as Jean testified under oath on Monday, this is a very strange coincidence.

The PMO statement to the Sun was odd to begin with. Atwal had received an official invitation from the High Commissioner in India to attend a private dinner with the prime minister in Delhi. He also attended another invitation-only event in Mumbai days earlier. And while he paid his own way to India, it could easily be argued he was part of the delegation.

After all, when former prime minister Stephen Harper went to Israel, media reports used the word “delegation” to describe all Canadians who attended official events in Israel, including both the 29 people who travelled with the PM, as well as a broader group of 208 individuals who paid their way.

The fact that both PMO and Jean insisted on contesting the same petty point – on the same day, in a parroting manner – makes it difficult to believe this wasn’t coordinated.