Canada PMO blamed for inviting Jaspal Atwal to India during Justin Trudeau’s visit

Jaspal Atwal’s presence at the Mumbai reception on February 20, where he was photographed with Trudeau’s wife, triggered a controversy that led to the high commission rescinding his invitation to a second event in New Delhi.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2018 23:36 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
jaspal atwal,Justin Trudeau’s India visit,Justin Trudeau
Jaspal Atwal, a man convicted of attempting to assassinate a Punjab minister, to official receptions during Justin Trudeau’s visit to India in February.(AP)

The Canadian Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) may have been responsible for inviting Jaspal Atwal, a man convicted of attempting to assassinate a Punjab minister, to official receptions during Justin Trudeau’s visit to India in February. The invitation resulted in the rapid fraying of relations between the two countries.

The revelation is among the highlights of a 50-page special report prepared by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and tabled in Canada’s Parliament on Monday. The report states that the Canadian high commission in New Delhi prepared the invitation lists for official receptions in Mumbai and New Delhi and provided them to the PMO.

On February 10, before Trudeau’s arrival in India, the “PMO added an additional 423 names to the list of invitees and instructed the High Commission to extend invitations to those individuals for both events”, the report said. It added that “included on the PMO list” was Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted on terror charges related to the Khalistan movement when he attempted to assassinate a visiting minister from Punjab state in 1986.

Atwal’s presence at the Mumbai reception on February 20, where he was photographed with Trudeau’s wife, triggered a controversy that led to the high commission rescinding his invitation to a second event in New Delhi. The damage was aggravated when then National Security and Intelligence Advisor Daniel Jean briefed Canadian reporters and alleged that “rogue elements” in the Indian establishment may have tried to sabotage Trudeau’s visit.

Examining the charge that “foreign interference” was part of the parliamentary committee’s mandate, but its findings in this regard were all redacted in the report that was released. The panel delivered its report to Trudeau on October 12 and these redactions were undertaken on his instructions. The “Prime Minister directed the Committee to remove information deemed injurious to national security and international relations from the document”, a statement by the committee’s secretariat said.

The result may be that the report will do little to repair relations between India and Canada, which have been bedevilled by these allegations.

Indo-Canadian MP Randeep Sarai had in February owned responsibility for inviting Atwal, but later recanted from that position. The report states: “Some of the issues raised by Mr Atwal’s appearance at the events in India should have been more properly addressed by the Prime Minister’s Office, including failures to screen invitees.”

There was no reaction from Indian officials to the report, given its sensitive nature and lack of details due to it being heavily redacted. In New Delhi, government officials declined to comment.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had “information that suggested that Mr Atwal was going with the Prime Minister on the official trip to India” but “did not validate it”, and the agency recognises it had “erred” in not providing information about Atwal’s history of violent acts to the Prime Minister’s Protective Detail, the report said.

While Jean briefed the media out of a concern “that foreign actors were undermining the reputation of respected public institutions,” he “did not notify any senior official from the RCMP, CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) or Global Affairs Canada that he intended to brief journalists, and each of them denied that they had concerns about reputational damage at that time or thereafter”, the report said. The committee that prepared the report consists of members from the two chambers of Parliament, the House of Commons and the Senate.

First Published: Dec 04, 2018 22:38 IST