POLITICS
03/27/2018 17:43 EDT | Updated 03/27/2018 17:46 EDT

Trudeau, Scheer Lock Horns Over Briefing On Jaspal Atwal Affair

PM says classified information wasn't shared with the media.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands during question period in the House of Commons on March 27, 2018.
Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands during question period in the House of Commons on March 27, 2018.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that while his national security adviser didn't divulge classified information to the media on the Jaspal Atwal affair, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer needs a private briefing to know the full story.

Trudeau and Scheer locked horns Tuesday on the Conservative push to have Daniel Jean answer questions before committee.

Jean, Trudeau's national security adviser​, has been outed as the senior public servant who suggested to reporters that factions in the Indian government may had a hand in inviting Atwal to a Trudeau event in India last month. Atwal is a former Sikh separatist convicted of the attempted murder of an Indian cabinet minister.

India's government blasted that suggestion as "baseless."

Tories sparked 21 hours of marathon voting last week in response to the Liberal government's refusal to send Jean to committee. A similar procedural tactic could be in the works this week.

Liberals have instead offered Scheer a confidential briefing, as is his right as a member of the Privy Council, and have lambasted the Tory leader for not accepting the offer.

Scheer charged in question period that both Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale have suggested contents of Jean's briefing to media may have been classified. He asked who in Trudeau's office "orchestrated" the release.

Scheer 'plugs his ears,' Trudeau says

"Mr. Speaker, of course, at no point did members of the public service ever reveal classified (information), nor would they," Trudeau shot back.

"What the issue is here is the leader of the Official Opposition so wants to be able to play political games with this issue that he plugs his ears, refuses to know the truth, and is continually refusing to get a full classified briefing on this situation.

"The only reason he's doing that is so that he can continue to play petty politics instead of getting to the truth."

Scheer responded, saying the only reason he is being offered a classified briefing is to stop him from asking questions in the House about Trudeau's "disastrous trip in India and the cover-up that he helped orchestrate."

All Tories want is for the government to give MPs the same information it provides to the media, Scheer said.

Goodale blasts MP's 'stunning bewilderment'

"The prime minister has just affirmed that classified information was not provided to the media, why then can that same information not be provided to the House?" Scheer asked.

"Only Stephen Harper's Conservative Party would think that giving information to the media is somehow hiding information from Canadians," Trudeau replied.

Goodale also fielded a number of questions on the issue in question period, repeatedly arguing that while the initial Atwal briefing did not disclose classified information, a broader conversation around the issue would quickly go to classified areas.

Goodale repeatedly pointed out that Scheer has passed on an offer for a proper briefing behind closed doors.

"The essential question is why the Conservative opposition is choosing to remain deliberately ignorant," Goodale said in response to a question from Tory MP Michelle Rempel.

Rempel argued that the media on Trudeau's India trip wouldn't have been able to distinguish what was classified or not. She said Jean needs to come clean at committee to explain why he was sent out to "spin for the prime minister."

Goodale trumpeted Jean as someone who has served with distinction for more than 35 years.

"The honourable member seems to be bewildered," Goodale said of Rempel. "And I think the problem is that she does not have the facts. We are offering to give her leader the entire classified briefing so that she can have the facts and end her stunning bewilderment."

The "stunning bewilderment" quip did not sit well with Tories, some of whom shouted "shame" at the veteran Liberal.

With a file from The Canadian Press