Indian Consulate Interfered In CPC Leadership Race To Hinder Patrick Brown Campaign
The Indian Consulate lobbied at least one MP to retract their support for Brown and also barred Brown from attending Indian community events during the CPC leadership race
December 13, 2023 | 9 min. read | Original Reporting
At least one Member of Parliament was visited by representatives of an Indian Consulate in Canada and urged the MP to pull their support for Patrick Brown during the 2022 Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership race, Baaz has learned from multiple sources with knowledge of the incident.
This was in addition to the Indian Consulate barring Brown from Indian community and Consulate events in 2022 for his policy positions that were seen to be contrary to Indian interests at the time.
Pro-India actors and organizations in Canada, including those that have been recently approached by CSIS for concerns about allegedly engaging in foreign interference on behalf of India, also appear to have at least independently supported the Pierre Poilievre leadership campaign.
These revelations come on the heels of Sam Cooper’s report in The Bureau, in which a CSIS document discloses that the Canadian intelligence agency believes that India interfered in the CPC leadership race by supporting one candidate and undermining another.
We have granted anonymity to the sources in this article as they are still involved with government bodies or the CPC and fear retribution or are worried about becoming targets for Indian transnational repression.
Indian Foreign Interference Against the Patrick Brown Leadership Campaign
“The MP shared with Brown and other members of his team that Indian officials in Canada told them that Patrick Brown had recently taken policy positions contrary to Indian interests, that he must be defeated in the leadership race, and that the MP should retract their support for him,” a senior source, who was privy to conversations between the MP and the Brown campaign team, shared with Baaz.
The revelations concerning Indian foreign interference were separately corroborated by others with a similar recollection of conversations over the course of what would become a contentious leadership race.
“We knew that local pro-Modi organizations alongside Indian government actors were mobilizing against the Brown campaign as they were concerned with the strong support we had from both the Sikh and Muslim communities,” another member of the Brown campaign team told Baaz, “the MP’s startling experience of foreign interference only confirmed what we understood was happening on the ground.”
Patrick Brown was disqualified from the CPC leadership race in July 2022, two months before the vote, over allegations concerning campaign financing rules, a controversial decision that the Brown campaign denounced and legally challenged. He would go on to be re-elected as the Mayor of Brampton in October of that same year.
“[W]e have no awareness of the allegations you state,” Sarah Fischer, Director of Communications for the CPC shared in a statement in response to email questions from Baaz regarding the Indian Consulate visit to an MP. “Despite disagreements with Mr. Brown and his campaign, we would of course never support a foreign government interfering in such a manner.”
Sam Cooper reported earlier this week in The Bureau that according to Canada’s intelligence agency, CSIS, “Government of India agents appear to have interfered in the Conservative’s 2022 leadership race by purchasing memberships for one candidate while undermining another, and also boasted of funding ‘a number of politicians at all levels of government.’”
The allegations come from an October 2022 CSIS Intelligence Assessment that details “sweeping election interference operations” from countries like India. It has become apparent that the candidate India was attempting to undermine was Patrick Brown.
The CPC reiterated in their statement to Baaz that the party implemented a rigorous membership purchasing process “to protect against the inappropriate purchase of party memberships”, which included the elimination of “bulk membership purchases and prohibiting the purchase of a membership with cash or prepaid credit cards.”
The CSIS document, according to Cooper, also alleges that “an Indian Consulate in Canada ‘informed a different leadership candidate who was running for the leadership of the same political party that he ‘cannot attend any Indian community events or events hosted by the [Consulate].’”
While that “different leadership candidate” targeted by the Indian Consulate went unnamed in the CSIS report, the Brown campaign has confirmed with Baaz that it was Patrick Brown who was told by Indian Consulate agents not to attend Indian community events in 2022, as well as those put on by the Consulate itself, including an annual India Republic Day event.
“This example [of election interference] highlights the degree of influence some foreign states can have over diaspora communities, acting as gatekeepers between elected officials and community organizations,” the CSIS document says, as per Cooper.
The restriction came as a result of Brown’s statements denouncing Modi’s controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which excludes persecuted Muslims, as well as attending a Sikh community vigil at Brampton City Hall in late February 2022 in memory of Deep Sidhu, the late Sikh activist who rose in prominence during the Farmers’ Protest.
Brown’s strong relations with the Sikh community is one reason CSIS alleges, without naming him, as to why India attempted to undermine his campaign.
Brown was, at one point, during his previous tenure as the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario between 2015-2018, well-connected with the Indian government. Often boasting of close ties with Modi. However, that relationship apparently soured during his time as Mayor post-2018, sources share, as he became much closer to the Sikh community in Brampton, which is home to the largest concentration of Sikhs outside of Punjab.
“Any allegations of foreign interference in Canada must be taken extremely seriously,” Fischer stated when asked if the CPC would look into any evidence of foreign interference during their leadership race.
While Baaz did not receive a direct response to questions regarding a potential internal CPC investigation of India attempting to influence their leadership race, Fischer did share that the “Conservatives have been leading efforts to demand that the Trudeau government take action to protect Canadians from foreign governments,” including pushing for a national public inquiry into foreign interference and the implementation of a foreign influence registry nationally.
Pro-India Actors Supported Poilievre’s Leadership Campaign
The Pierre Poilievre leadership campaign participated in a meet and greet with Poilievre at Brampton’s Pearson Convention Centre in March 2022, in which the Canada India Foundation’s (CIF) chair, Ritesh Malik, was to host as MC.
Malik was eventually replaced as protestors planned to demonstrate at the campaign event over concerns about the CIF’s connections to far-right Hindu Nationalist actors and its history of lobbying Canadian officials in support of the Indian government.
The CIF was featured in a National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) report concerning the “RSS Network in Canada”, an in-depth report looking at Indian state interference in Canada through Hindu Nationalist bodies affiliated with the militant RSS and its political arm, the BJP.
The CIF denied any allegations of being connected to the Indian government when asked by CTV News about its history of inviting controversial Hindu Nationalist and BJP government speakers with violent anti-minority pasts.
Poilievre also received blessings for his CPC leadership bid during a home visit in April 2022, hosted by Aditya Tawatia. Tawatia is the Convener BC Chapter for the controversial Canada-India Global Forum (CIGF).
CSIS recently visited CIGF president, Dr. Shivendra Dwivedi, on two separate occasions to discuss concerns about foreign interference from India in Canada through BJP-friendly organizations like the CIGF.
"Dr. Dwivedi does not hide the fact that it was the BJP that founded his association in 2013, which was then called Overseas Friends of BJP Canada. The primary aim of his organization was to promote and help bring the BJP to power in India," the Journal de Montreal states in an article about the CSIS foreign interference visits.
CIGF leadership has made Islamophobic and Anti-Sikh comments, typical of those coming from the Hindu Nationalist movement, and was another organization flagged by the WSO and NCCM in their "RSS Network in Canada" report on Indian foreign interference in Canada through Hindu Nationalist organizations close to the Modi government.
Tawatia also tweeted on May 1, 2022, that he had a “nice meeting” and “very productive discussion” with “Senator Leo Housaukos former speaker of senate and national co-chair of Honourable Pierre Poilievre campaign team in Ottawa.” The tweet includes a picture of the two sitting at a restaurant with paperwork and a binder placed on their table.
When questioned whether Poilievre or his team were aware of the background of individuals associated with CIF and CIGF, Fischer shared that “throughout the leadership race, Mr. Poilievre attended events with Canadians of all backgrounds, including many members of the Sikh community. In the end, Mr. Poilievre won an overwhelming victory with 68.15%. Conservative Party of Canada members – and members alone – chose their leader.”
Ongoing Sikh Canadian Concerns with the CPC
The Sikh community continues to raise concerns about the CPC’s ongoing connections to Hindu Nationalist or pro-India groups as well, like the Canadian Organization For Hindu Heritage Education (COHHE), which has a history of Anti-Sikh and Anti-Dalit comments.
CPC MP Melissa Lantsman has authorized a COHHE parliamentary petition to recognize “Hinduphobia”, a term that critics argue has been used to silence Sikh, Muslim, Dalit, and Christian advocacy against Hindu Nationalism in India and abroad.
The petition has also been widely criticized for its wording and the problematic claims it makes. The term has been recently used in campaigns by Hindu Nationalist organizations to undermine government motions to recognize caste-based discrimination.
Poilievre has also been criticized for taking what the Sikh community believes to be an increasingly softer stand on Indian foreign interference, including the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
The WSO had raised concerns back in September over the lack of CPC representation during an emergency debate in Parliament shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed India’s hand in the murder of Nijjar, as well as a perceived walk back on initially strong statements on Indian foreign interference by Poilievre.
The Ontario Gurdwaras Committee (OGC) and the British Columbia Gurdwaras Council (BCGC), Canada’s two largest Gurdwara associations, also put a statement out in late September criticizing the CPC for Poilievre’s “flippant and partisan comments” which had the impact of “undermining the gravity and veracity of the intelligence” Trudeau relied on before his parliament address.
Suspicion over the CPC’s commitment to challenge Indian foreign interference resurfaced when Poilievre recently told CP24 that “[Justin Trudeau]’s got an embarrassing dispute now that he's losing with India.”
Poilievre’s comments were made as Canada and other Five Eye partners continue to call on India to cooperate with an RCMP criminal investigation concerning India’s role in the murder of Nijjar.
The CP24 interview also came before the US Justice Department unsealed an indictment against an Indian national accused of attempting to assassinate a US citizen on US soil with the Indian government’s support. The indictment included transcripts connecting the attempted killings in America to the assassination of Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia.
“Mr. Poilievre’s message on foreign interference in Canadian affairs, including the targeting of Canadians by foreign governments, remains consistent: It is wholly unacceptable and must be denounced in the strongest of terms,” Fischer shared in response to questions about the community’s apprehension.
Poilievre has reportedly not yet taken the security clearance required to obtain a full CSIS briefing on India’s assassination program in Canada targeting Sikh Canadians. Making him the only major party leader not to do so. Questions from Baaz regarding why that is were left unanswered by the CPC.
This is not the first time India has been accused by Canadian intelligence agencies of engaging in foreign interference in Canada, particularly as it concerns elections.
Global News shared in 2020 that “Canadian security officials suspected India’s two main intelligence branches had asked an Indian citizen to sway politicians in this country into supporting Indian government interests.”
“Indian intelligence agencies attempted to use money and disinformation to ‘covertly influence’ Canadian politicians,” they reported at the time.
In June of this year, Jody Thomas, Canada’s national security adviser, shared that India was among the top actors for foreign interference in Canada.
Jungfateh Singh is an organizer, writer and producer, and has worked on Sikh issues across the globe for over 15 years.
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