OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau's national security adviser is offering to give an unclassified briefing to MPs on a Commons committee about the prime minister's trip to India, in addition to a more in-depth classified briefing to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
Scheer agreed Tuesday to the government's offer of a classified briefing from Daniel Jean — but with strings attached. He said he wants journalists and Conservative MPs to be able to sit in on the non-secret portions of Jean's briefing.
After weeks of refusing to have Jean publicly talk about the trouble-plagued trip, the government announced late Tuesday that it has effectively agreed to Scheer's conditions.
Privy Council Office spokesman Paul Duchesne said a letter has been sent to Scheer "indicating that we will work with his office to co-ordinate the classified briefing for him on matters related to the national security of Canada as soon as possible."
Since Scheer has agreed to a secret briefing, Duchesne added that Jean has written to the chair of the public safety and national security committee "to offer an unclassified briefing at the earliest practical opportunity should that be the wish of the standing committee."
Conservatives last month tried twice to force Jean to appear before that committee to testify about his assertion that rogue factions within the Indian government helped to sabotage Trudeau's trip. They were blocked both times by the Liberal majority.
During the India trip, Jean told a background briefing with reporters travelling with the prime Minister that rogue forces within the Indian government were ultimately the ones responsible for the Jaspal Atwal affair. He gave similar briefings to reporters in Canada that same day.
Jean gave the updates as an unnamed senior government official but was publicly identified by the Conservatives after the trip was over.
Atwal was invited to a pair of receptions with Trudeau despite having been convicted three decades ago of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister in the name of Sikh independence. After his appearance at the first of the receptions in Mumbai, Jean said the government was made aware of his identity and an invite to a second reception in Delhi was rescinded.
The damage was done, however, as photos of Atwal posing at the first reception with Trudeau's wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, were given to the media.
Jean's working theory was that Indian agents who fear the global rise of Sikh independence orchestrated the controversy in an attempt to embarrass Canada and undermine the entire trip.
Jean suggested Atwal was closely connected to members of the Indian consulate in Vancouver, and said it was strange that the ban on Atwal travelling to India was lifted by Indian authorities after more than three decades.
There was nothing in the way of actual evidence given to support the theory.
The Conservatives, however, say they believe Jean disclosed classified details in those briefings to the media which is why the government refused to give the same briefing publicly to Conservative MPs.
The government insists otherwise but, until Tuesday, had offered only a full briefing — complete with classified information — to Scheer, who is eligible to hear such details as a member of the Privy Council.
Until now, Scheer has refused that offer, but he changed his mind Tuesday.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press