The Canadian government has amassed both human and signals intelligence in a months-long investigation of a Sikh activist's death that has inflamed relations with India, sources tell CBC News.
That intelligence includes communications involving Indian officials themselves, including Indian diplomats present in Canada, say Canadian government sources.
The intelligence did not come solely from Canada. Some was provided by an unnamed ally in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
In a diplomatic crisis that unfolded progressively behind the scenes, Canadian officials went to India on several occasions seeking co-operation in the investigation of Hardeep Singh Nijjar's death.
The Sikh leader was shot dead outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C., on June 18 and reportedly had been warned by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that he was at risk.
Canada's National Security and Intelligence Adviser Jody Thomas was in India over four days in mid-August, then again for five days this month.
That last visit overlapped with a tense meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, walks past Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandhi's cremation site, during the G20 Summit in New Delhi on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/Associated Press)
Canadian sources say that, when pressed behind closed doors, no Indian official has denied the bombshell allegation at the core of this case — that there is evidence to suggest Indian government involvement in the assassination of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil.
"I can assure you that the decision to share these allegations on the floor of the House of Commons … was not done lightly," Trudeau said Thursday in New York after attending the United Nations General Assembly.
"It was done with the utmost seriousness."
The Canadian government has not released its evidence and has suggested it could emerge during an eventual legal process.
India accuses Canada of sheltering terrorists
The dispute has poisoned Canada's relationship with India, a growing international power, just as the United States is courting it as a potential ally.
The Indian government has fumed at Canada for — in its view — sheltering Sikh separatists, including Nijjar, whom it called a terrorist.
The growing feud already has resulted in the expulsion of diplomats from both Canada and India. It escalated Thursday when India stopped processing visitor visas in Canada.
Canada is weighing retaliation but has taken no decision yet, said government sources in Ottawa. Trudeau dodged that question Thursday.
When asked about the intelligence reports, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she couldn't comment without risking the investigation and Canada's obligations to its Five Eyes partners.
"That partnership rests very much on those… intelligence conversations being held in confidence," she told CBC News Network's Power & Politics host David Cochrane.
Asked if Ottawa is thinking about retaliating by pausing visa processing for Indian visitors, Freeland said the government is focused on bringing the killers to justice.
"This is not about geopolitics. This is about Canada, the safety of Canadians in Canada. This is about the rule of law," she said.
The story has reverberated internationally, including in Washington. There were several questions about it during the White House daily briefing.
The U.S. government has not confirmed or denied that it was the Five Eyes ally providing some of the signals intelligence.
But one of the most senior officials in the U.S. government confirmed that the United States has been in frequent contact with Canada on this issue.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press)
The official, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, revealed that the U.S. also has discussed the matter with the highest levels of the Indian government.
He said the U.S. is deeply concerned and wants to see the investigation continue and the perpetrators brought to justice.
He insisted that U.S. interest in this case will not disappear simply because it involves India, a powerful democracy with which it craves closer ties.
"It is something we take seriously. It is something we will keep working on. And we will do that regardless of the country," said Sullivan.
"There's not some special exemption you get for actions like this. Regardless of the country, we will stand up and defend our basic principles."
He also aggressively pushed back on media reports suggesting that the U.S. had declined to defend Canada on the matter.
"I have seen in the press some efforts to try to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Canada on this issue. I firmly reject that there is a wedge between the U.S. and Canada," he said.
The Canadian government has refused to discuss Modi's awareness of, or involvement in, the case. The Indian government did not respond to the CBC's requests for comment.
Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)
When asked how far accountability could go, and whether Ottawa expected legal repercussions for people higher up in the Indian government, Canada's ambassador to the UN steered wide of the question.
"I'd rather not go there. I don't think it's smart for me to do that," Bob Rae replied at a news conference.
"I like my job. I would rather not lose it."
He added that the murder of a Canadian, on Canadian soil, is an affront to both the victim and to Canada's national sovereignty, its territory and a common international understanding of boundaries.