The US ambassador to Canada has revealed that intelligence shared among the Five Eyes partners had helped Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrive at the decision to publicly allege an Indian government hand in the killing of Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada.
The Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. India has denied Trudeau’s allegation.
“There was shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners that helped lead Canada to making the statements that the Prime Minister made,” US ambassador David L. Cohen said in an interview with the Canadian news network CTV News.
“This was a matter of shared intelligence information. There was a lot of communication between Canada and the United States about this.”
Cohen did not comment to CTV News on the type of intelligence that had informed the Canadian government, Reuters reported.
The full interview is to be aired on Sunday.
Cohen’s statement is the first official confirmation of the Five Eyes having influenced Ottawa’s decision to point an accusing finger at India, not just at the risk of jeopardising bilateral relations but also putting Canada’s Western allies in the middle of a diplomatic spat.
While three of the Five Eyes alliance countries — the US, the UK and Australia — have expressed concern over the Canadian allegation, no minister or official had so far commented so openly about the intelligence behind it.
Washington, while repeatedly urging India to work with the Canadian investigation, had studiously avoided responding to questions on the intelligence used by Trudeau, maintaining that the Canadians were best placed to speak about it.
US secretary of state Anthony Blinken had been asked on Friday whether President Joe Biden had raised the issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the two had met at the G20 in Delhi, and whether the Five Eyes allies had provided the intelligence that formed the backbone of Trudeau’s allegations.
Blinken replied: “We are deeply concerned about the allegations that Prime Minister Trudeau has raised. We have been consulting throughout very closely with our Canadian colleagues. Not just consulting, coordinating with them on this issue.
“From our perspective, it is critical that the Canadian investigation proceed and it would be important that India work with the Canadians on this investigation. We want to see accountability and it’s important that the investigation run its course and lead to that result.”
Trudeau had dropped the bombshell on September 18 in an address to the House of Commons, following which bilateral relations have nose-dived with reciprocal expulsions and India’s suspension of visa services in Canada.
The external affairs ministry has also asked the Canadian mission in India to reduce its diplomatic staff strength, citing parity in strength and rank equivalence.
Trudeau has maintained that his intent in making the disclosure was not to provoke anyone but to protect Canadian citizens and uphold the rule of law.
India has reacted by accusing Canada of having become a safe haven for terrorists and flagging Ottawa’s inaction on Khalistani activism from its soil.
The Canadian government had amassed intelligence from both human and electronic sources in a months-long investigation into the murder , a Reuters report quoted CBC News as having said on Thursday.
According to Reuters, CBC News said the intelligence included communications of Indian officials present in Canada, adding that some of the information was provided by an unidentified ally in the Five Eyes alliance.
However, Trudeau has not provided any details about what Canada’s spy agencies have collected, and his office has not confirmed or denied the CBC report, Reuters added.
During a news conference, Trudeau was asked about his allegations, and he repeated his call for the Indian government to cooperate, Reuters said.
“We are there to work constructively with India. We hope that they engage with us so that we can get to the bottom of this very serious matter,” the Reuters report quoted Trudeau as saying. Trudeau also said that Canada had shared its concerns with New Delhi some time ago, the report said.
“Canada has shared the credible allegations that I talked about on Monday with India. We did that many weeks ago,” it quoted Trudeau as saying.