OTTAWA – The controversy surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to India had a short-lived stint on the Senate stage Wednesday.
Late in the day, senators voted to pass an amendment on a motion calling for the Senate National Security and Defence Committee to invite Trudeau’s national security adviser Daniel Jean to appear and field questions “related to the issues arising from the recent visit.”
The amendment, from Government Representative Sen. Peter Harder, effectively watered down that ask, removing the initial motion’s wording, and wiping out the direct call to have Jean appear.
And now instead, when the Senate votes on the motion, they will be voting to suggest the all-party closed-door National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians is a more “appropriate forum to review the security and intelligence operating procedures in relation to diplomatic and foreign visits involving the Government of Canada.”
The initial Senate motion from Conservative Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais also proposed to allow the committee to invite additional witnesses from the RCMP, CSIS, Global Affairs, and “any other relevant agencies to explain how an individual convicted of serious criminal offences was permitted to attend official events involving the Prime Minister, Ministers and senior Canadian officials.”
Upon completion of this, the committee would have to be able to provide its recommendations for changes as a result of what they’ve heard about the incident.
Because Harder’s amendment was successful, senators that wanted to compel Jean to testify will have to come up with a new way do to so, whether another amendment, or an entirely new motion.
Jean had become the man at the centre of a heated political and procedural fight in the House of Commons, with Conservative MPs imploring the government to allow Jean to appear at the House Public Safety and National Security committee to give the same briefing he offered reporters after photos surfaced of attempted murderer Jaspal Atwal with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau at an event in India. In that background briefing, Jean suggested that factions in the Indian government may have tried to sabotage Trudeau’s trip to India in February, a theory others have since disputed.
The government has argued that the public committee is not the appropriate venue for Jean to speak, and say they had offered Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer a private briefing of his own on the matter.
The issue was the catalyst for a 21-hour marathon voting session in the House, and has been the main issue in the Commons daily question period since Trudeau returned from his problem-plagued official visit to India in February.
‘It’s like a crime’: Conservative Senator
During debate on the motion, Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenue compared voting against the initial motion to turning a blind eye to crime.
“The best analogy I can give would be if someone in this chamber witnessed a crime. If a lie was told in this case, it’s like a crime. If you turn a blind eye to that crime, you become an accomplice. Since there are so many conflicting accounts, we need to establish the truth. Right now, India is practically accusing Canada of fabrication. I think we need to at least be honest with India and figure out what happened in our political structures to result in this situation,” he said.
Speaking to the motion, Independent and Indo-Canadian Sen. Ratna Omidvar spoke against the motion, casting doubt that the Senate probe would “uncover the truth,” and voicing concern over the impact the politicization of the issue is having among Indo-Canadians.
“I believe this is too important an issue to play political football. I would urge us to remember that we are the house of sober second thought. We are not the House of Commons; we do not mirror what they do,” she said.
Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos disputed this characterization saying the Senate has the right to “undertake the shortcomings of the other place when they occur.”
“Don’t you feel that when the National Security Adviser, a senior civil servant, is put out to the media in order to articulate a position to justify a fiasco of the government, that we as Parliament have a right at that point to bring that senior civil servant before our committee in camera or in public to get to the bottom of why this unprecedented step has been taken by the Prime Minister’s Office?” Housakos said.
With files from CTV News’ Don Martin and Michel Boyer