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Convicted Khalistani terrorist on Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s dinner guest list, invite withdrawn after media reports

Jaspal Atwal and three others were in 1987 convicted of attempted murder of Akali Dal leader Malkiat Singh Sidhu. Atwal was also photographed with Trudeau’s wife at an event in Mumbai.

india Updated: Feb 22, 2018 16:49 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya and Rezaul H Laskar
Anirudh Bhattacharyya and Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Justin Trudeau,Canadian PM in India,Khalistani terrorist
Jaspal Atwal, a convicted Khalistani terrorist , photographed with Canadian PM’s wife Sophie Trudeau at an event in Mumbai on February 20 . (ANI photo)

A fresh controversy hit Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s troubled visit to India on Thursday as reports emerged that a convicted Khalistani terrorist had been invited to an official dinner reception in New Delhi and photographed with the leader’s wife.

Already stung by a perceived snub to Trudeau because of his government’s soft stance on pro-Khalistan elements, Canadian authorities said the invitation extended to Indo-Canadian businessman Jaspal Atwal had been “rescinded”.

“This individual (Jaspal Atwal) should never have been invited to any event on the program, and his invitation has been rescinded. We are in the process of looking into how this occurred”, ANI quoted Canada PMO as saying.

The ministry of external affairs in New Delhi refused to comment on the issue.

Atwal and three other men were convicted of attempted murder for the 1986 attack on Akali Dal leader Malkiat Singh Sidhu, who was visiting relatives on Vancouver Island at the time.

Sidhu, who was then a minister of state in the Punjab government, was injured in the attack and survived. He was later killed by Sikh militants in Punjab in 1991.

Atwal is a former member of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), one of the key groups in the movement to establish Khalistan or an independent Sikh homeland, which was banned by Canada and designated a terror organisation in 2003.

The official invite to Jaspal Atwal, who has been convicted of attempted murder of Akali Dal leader Malkiat Singh Sidhu. The Canadian Prime Minister’s Office said, “the High Commission is in the process of rescinding Mr Atwal’s invitation.” ( ANI )

Following the reports that Atwal had been invited to an official dinner reception to be hosted by Canadian high commissioner Nadir Patel for Trudeau at the envoy’s residence in New Delhi on Thursday night, the mission announced the invitation had been withdrawn.

“The high commission has rescinded Mr Atwal’s invitation. We do not comment on matters relating to the PM’s security,” the mission said in a brief statement without giving details.

Accused of another attack

Atwal was also accused of a murderous attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, an Indo-Canadian politician in British Columbia and a vocal critic of the Khalistan movement, in February 1985.

Dosanjh, who was brutally attacked in a parking lot, said he was “flabbergasted” to learn Atwal had been invited to an official dinner.

“I’m left speechless. This speaks volumes about the kind of inroads Khalistanis have made into the Liberal Party of Canada and the echelons of power,” he said.

Atwal was not convicted in the attack on Dosanjh because of a technicality related to his identification. The attack on the Punjab minister occurred almost a year later.

Dosanjh, who went on to become the premier (chief minister) of the province and a federal cabinet minister, said this pointed to a “colossal failure” on part of those conducting security checks for the Trudeau visit.

“This is what I have been saying. This is not about freedom of speech, it is about Canadian politicians openly hobnobbing, associating with unquestionable elements that are Khalistanis,” he said.

Photographed with Sophie Trudeau

The development also raised questions about the visa issued by the Indian government to Atwal, and whether he had been removed from the reported “blacklist” of Khalistani leaders as part of the Narendra Modi government’s outreach to Sikh separatists.

The Toronto Sun reported it was shown photos of Atwal with the Prime Minister’s wife, Sophie Trudeau, “which confirm he is in India with Trudeau’s delegation this week”. Atwal was also photographed with Canada’s infrastructure minister Amarjeet Sohi and Brampton South Liberal MP Sonia Sidhu at an event in Mumbai.

The Sun was also shown a copy of the official invitation to Atwal. “His Excellency Nadir Patel, High Commissioner for Canada to India, is pleased to invite Jaspal Atwal to a dinner reception celebrating Canada-India ties on the occasion of the visit of The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada,” the invitation reads.

Atwal told the National Post he did not plan to attend the dinner as he is in Mumbai on business. He said he had travelled to India on his own on February 11 and was not part of any official delegation.

However, the Sun quoted its sources as saying that Atwal was part of Trudeau’s official delegation.

1986 attack on Akali leader

Akali Dal leader Sidhu was attending his nephew’s wedding and driving on a rural road in Gold River, British Columbia, when his car was ambushed by Sikh militants in May 1986. The car windows were smashed and he was shot five times but survived.

Atwal and three other men were subsequently arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The men did not serve jail time because the Canadian intelligence was found to have gathered evidence against them through an improperly obtained warrant.

Car fraud case

In 2011, Atwal lost a $28,000 decision against the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia in relation to a car fraud ring that included dozens of people. He previously held a leadership position in Surrey with Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada.

The National Post reported that nobody from the Canadian government “responded to requests for information (on) Wednesday about how someone with Atwal’s criminal and Sikh separatist history could be cleared to attend official events in India”.

“Atwal’s presence at an official function adds insult to injury for Trudeau’s India tour, already overshadowed by the cold shoulder the Indian government has given Canada’s PM. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not welcome Trudeau at the airport, as he has many other foreign leaders, and did not accompany Trudeau to his home state of Gujarat,” the Sun reported.

Commentators have linked the snub to Trudeau’s failure to clearly speak out against Sikh extremists and Khalistani terrorists in Canada. Trudeau is also facing criticism for other aspects of his visit, including a number of events that have been described as photo opportunities with no substantive outcomes. Only half a day of the eight-day trip has been set aside for official engagements such as talks with Modi.

First Published: Feb 22, 2018 09:53 IST