After Russian assassination attempt in UK, Global Affairs Canada recommended against expelling diplomats
NSICOP's confidential 2019 review of foreign interference spotlights Ottawa's mixed responses to Russia's political assassination operation in Salisbury
In March 2018, when a British investigation found two Russian agents travelled into the city of Salisbury and used a chemical weapon to assassinate a British citizen, the United Kingdom asked Canada’s foreign affairs department to stand against the egregious foreign interference, by expelling Russian officials.
But instead, Global Affairs Canada advised the Trudeau Government not to deport Russian diplomats, fearing Canada’s commercial interests in Russia would suffer, according to a top secret June 2019 draft report from NSICOP.
In the case, on March 4, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found nearly dead on a park bench in Salisbury, poisoned by Novichok, a deadly nerve agent produced by the Soviet Union.
The pair survived Russia’s attempted murder, which in hindsight, forecast increasing hostile state activities against democracies, including Canada.
Meanwhile, according to NSICOP’s report, on March 20, 2018 — the same day that Britain’s government expelled 23 Russian diplomats — a national security committee in Ottawa met to consider “past case files of Russian individuals in Canada that may have died suspiciously.”
The Bureau’s analysis of these sensitive findings in a case study called “Russia and the Salisbury Incident” underlines concerns running throughout the NSICOP report’s broader examination of Canada’s lax response to growing interference from a handful of nations, predominantly China, followed by Russia, and then India.
While India’s diaspora interference is in headlines internationally after Prime Minister Trudeau alleged last week — without providing evidence — that India could be linked to the June 2023 murder of a Vancouver-based Sikh separatist leader, NSICOP’s 2019 report shows that China’s mounting threats to Canadian institutions are in a unique category of severity and scope.
At the same time, according to NSICOP, a bipartisan national security body reporting directly to Trudeau, the causes underlining Ottawa’s weakness on foreign interference from China, Russia and India are related.
For one, Global Affairs has often valued trade and political engagement with these nations over strong measures to protect Canada’s security and support allies — as NSICOP’s Salisbury study shows.
Findings in the Salisbury case also resonate with another larger NSICOP finding — demonstrated in a review of Ottawa’s neglectful response to Beijing’s secret police operations — that intelligence-led efforts within Ottawa to learn from critical national security incidents and organize “whole of government” responses, have faded out and failed to trigger stronger laws.
Finally, The Bureau’s exclusive analysis of NSICOP’s 2019 report highlights that similar to China, Russian intelligence seeks to shape Ottawa’s policies via tentacles into Canadian media and deep infiltration of federal politicians, political aides, and senior bureaucrats — an uncomfortable finding that perhaps, raises questions of external influence underlying Ottawa’s languid posture on foreign interference.
In one shocking example, NSICOP’s report says “a specific Russian Federation Intelligence officer maintained numerous relationships with Parliamentary staff and political aides.”
Citing a June 2015 CSIS report, NSICOP says “the officer cultivated a former aide to a Senator who then ‘supplied the officer with the names of senior Canadian officials who could be useful, and were ‘friendly to the Russians.’”
In another case, citing a June 2018 CSIS report, NSICOP says an unidentified Member of Parliament had “close contact” with the Russian Embassy in Ottawa.