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Canada oppn forces Parliament to sit through 20-hour filibuster over Jaspal Atwal controversy

An opposition spokesperson said they adopted this tactic to “send the message to the government (that) we’re serious about” getting clarity on

world Updated: Mar 24, 2018 17:07 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Khalistani terrorist,Canada,Justin Trudeau
Jaspal Atwal (right)(File photo)

The controversy surrounding an invite extended to a convicted Khalistani terrorist to an official dinner in New Delhi kept plenty of Canadian lawmakers awake all through Thursday night.

After national security adviser Daniel Jean claimed “rogue elements” in the Indian establishment planted Jaspal Atwal to embarrass Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his recent trip to India, the opposition moved a motion, seeking a public testimony by Jean on his statement.

The ruling Liberal Party defeated that motion on Thursday, but an incensed opposition retaliated by keeping the House sitting all night in a filibuster. That procedural move lasted for 20 hours, starting on Thursday evening and lasting beyond lunch on Friday.

Jake Enright, a spokesperson for opposition leader Andrew Scheer, told Hindustan Times that they had “given an ultimatum” to the government: accept the demand to have Jean testify before the standing committee, or prepare to spend many sleepless hours in the House.

He said the opposition adopted this tactic to “send the message to the government (that) we’re serious about” getting clarity on the Atwal affair. He said Jean’s allegation was contradicted by Liberal MP Randeep Sarai accepting blame for the dinner invitation extended to Atwal. He also pointed out that foreign minister Chrystia Freeland had described the incident as a “honest mistake”.

The procedural move was related to a series of votes on fiscal estimates — as in India, the failure to pass a motion relating to money matters would mean the collapse of the government.

That threat kept Liberal Party MPs in their seats through the night. Trudeau, who had been away, joined in on Friday morning, almost 12 hours after the exercise had commenced. Trudeau took to social media to say that “every minute of Conservative stunts and stalling wastes time”. However,

Scheer countered: “Rather than just instruct his national security advisor to brief parliamentarians on the Atwal affair, a briefing already given to media, Justin Trudeau has forced his caucus to sit here all night to block our efforts.”

The MPs adopted a variety of measures to stay awake: from cups of coffee, to watching videos on their tablets, to even breaking out into little jigs in the House. Some catnapped through the prolonged session, and brought along eye shades and neck pillows to catch up on some sleep in between votes.

The Opposition circulated a social media meme: “The Liberal Government just went 20 hours to shut down a few minutes of testimony.”

“What is Justin Trudeau trying to cover up?” it asked.

On Friday afternoon, once the House had finally been adjourned after the marathon sitting, Scheer warned that his party would keep “fighting for answers” on the Atwal controversy.

First Published: Mar 24, 2018 17:07 IST