thumb-2024-04-03-india-foreign-interference This article is more than 1 month old

Intelligence Report Says Bots and Fake Accounts Linked to India’s Governing Party are Harassing Canadians

‘Pro-BJP’ accounts target Canadian activists, journalists and politicians, new documents tabled in foreign interference inquiry reveal

A report newly tabled at the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference shows Canadian authorities have been monitoring bots and fake accounts linked to India’s governing party that have been observed interfering in Canada’s “digital information ecosystem,” including through coordinated harassment campaigns targeting Canadian activists, journalists and politicians.

According to a report by Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, a subsection of Global Affairs Canada set-up to monitor foreign disinformation, “pro-BJP” influencers and media outlets “worked in concert” and were linked to a network of “covert or automated accounts” on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube targeting an activist from Canada’s Sikh community.

The report notes the data was collected by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, which had been contracted by Global Affairs Canada.

RRM Canada report (Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference)

Coordinated targeting and online harassment of Sikhs in Canada has been well documented over the years, including misinformation campaigns by Indian nationalists.

The latest disclosure comes a day after documents showed Canada’s spy agency identifies the Government of India as Canada’s second top foreign interference threat and likely used “clandestine activities” to interfere in the 2021 federal election.

RRM Canada’s report notes that in 2020, after “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed concern for Indian farmers, to protest Indian government farm reforms,” there was an increase in negative stories about Trudeau and Canadian politics in Indian media.

According to the RRM Canada, following Trudeau’s statement, Indian media began circulating false narratives about the Canadian Prime Minister.

The following year, Indian media and influencers linked to Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s governing party shifted focus to a Sikh Canadian activist who had raised concerns about the farmers primarily from the Indian state of Punjab, who had travelled to Delhi, India.

“Partner reporting indicates that a number of influencers, media outlets and journalists supporting the current ruling political party in India the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worked in concert, likely employing covert or automated accounts, to target a Canadian activist on social media,” RRM Canada’s report found.

In early February 2021, environmental activist Greta Thunberg and singer Rihanna had tweeted about the ongoing farmers protests in India. Thunberg also shared a “protest toolkit” created by Mo Dhaliwal, founder of the Canadian based advocacy group known as the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF).

“By February 4, 2021, Indian media were reporting that New Delhi Police were investigating connections between these celebrity endorsements and a Canadian based advocacy group known as the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), PJF founder Mo Dhaliwal, Canada-based PR firm Skyrocket, Canada-based advocacy group the World Sikh Organization (WSO), and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh,” the report states.

Media in favour of India’s ruling party began to circulate a theory that Dhaliwal was a “Khalistani separatist,” who was “at the centre of a global conspiracy to sow unrest and division in India.”

RRM Canada notes Indian media and journalists worked together to spread conspiracies, including one in which NDP leader Jagmeet Singh helped facilitate a $2.5 million payment to Rihanna for the tweet.

“Pro-BJP media sources also allege that Rihanna was paid $2.5M US for her endorsement through the Canada-based PR Firm Skyrocket with funding coming from PJF and WSO,” the report states. “These sources also attempt to show links between Mo Dhaliwal and Jagmeet Singh, claiming that the NDP leader somehow facilitated Rlhanna’s tweet in support of the farmers.”

RRM Canada report (Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference)

Dhaliwal also faced targeted harassment and threats, including his inboxes being filled with images of dead Sikhs.

Dhaliwal says the online harassment campaign created a “chilling effect” on many in the Sikh diaspora community – and following the assassination of a Canadian on Canadian soil, he now views those threats in an entirely new light.

“At the time it was like psychological warfare, Indian news channels would be running my face around the clock, paralleled with all these DMs, all this hatred from random accounts,” Dhaliwal told PressProgress. “It was full frontal warfare.”

“I was warned not to stay in my apartment by myself, not to travel alone and I remember at the time I dismissed it because I was like, well, this is all obviously just ridiculous coordinated psychological attacks.”

In June 2023, Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed in Surrey BC, in a plot Justin Trudeau confirmed in September that the government believes was carried out by “agents of India.”

“When Bhai Hardeep Singh Nijjar was assassinated it became quite apparent that the threat was real, and many are currently under threat,” Dhaliwal said.

In addition to the psychological and physical threats, Dhaliwal added that India can also revoke or deny visas for those who are critical of the government, denying them access to their ancestral homelands.

“The threat of exile is always imminent, but it is also a weapon,”Dhaliwal said. “They actually wield that as a weapon right and and maintain persistent reminders in our community that that weapon can be employed against you at any time.”

Dhaliwal says that the lack of protections offered to those who have been warned about potential threats to their lives at the hands of India or other countries, means many have to live in a state of “heightened vigilance.”

“This creates a chilling effect for anybody that is speaking out for democracy and speaking out for human rights. There’s nothing that our legal system is equipped with, our intelligence services aren’t configured to like support or help in any way so these inquiries happen after the fact but these two nations are playing very different games.”

Dhaliwal says that if the Sikh community wasn’t validated by the news coming out of the US about foiled assassination plots, he worries the community would still be speaking into the void.

He warns, however, that after the inquiry is over, the threats are not yet erased.

“The people that have been marked and are on those lists, their names are still on those lists. They haven’t been erased. And India and their agents may have paused their activities, and it feels like a stay of execution.”

“It’s here for a moment, but I wonder how long before the world gets bored of this story and moves on?”


Our journalism is powered by readers like you.

We’re an award-winning non-profit news organization that covers topics like social and economic inequality, big business and labour, and right-wing extremism.

Help us build so we can bring to light stories that don’t get the attention they deserve from Canada’s big corporate media outlets.


Rumneek Johal
Rumneek Johal is PressProgress' BC Reporter. Her reporting focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism.

Most Shared

University Canada West ANALYSIS

Take Back Alberta Leaders are Training ‘Scrutineers’ to Infiltrate Campaigns and Act as ‘Security’ on Voting Day

Related Stories


The Far-Right’s Newest Scapegoat: ‘Drug Users and Unhoused People’

View the post

2SLGBTQ+ Groups are Planning the Biggest Political Action in Decades to Combat Rising Hate in Canada

View the post

Three Years on Strike and Counting: Canada’s Longest Active Strike Continues at a Vancouver Hotel

View the post
Our free email newsletter delivers award-winning journalism directly to your inbox.
Get Canadian Investigative News You Won't Find in Corporate Newspapers.
Our free email newsletter delivers award-winning journalism to your inbox.
Get Canadian Investigative News You Won't Find in Corporate Newspapers.