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Atwal controversy: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau still under pressure from oppn

Jaspal Atwal, a convicted former Khalistani terrorist, was invited to an official dinner to honour Justin Trudeau that was hosted by the Canadian envoy to New Delhi.

world Updated: Mar 31, 2018 22:27 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on February 28.
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on February 28.(REUTERS)

Though it has been more than a month since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau departed India after a disastrous visit in February, he continues to face intense interrogation on matters related to that eight-day trip in Canada’s Parliament.

At the House of Commons sittings through this week, one name constantly echoed in the chamber – Jaspal Atwal, a convicted former Khalistani terrorist. The opposition Conservatives made it a point to hammer away at inconsistencies in the allegation made by a senior national security official that “rogue elements” in the Indian establishment had planted Atwal to embarrass Trudeau during his visit, a charge seconded by the prime minister.

Atwal was invited to an official dinner to honour Trudeau that was hosted by the Canadian envoy to New Delhi. The invitation was rescinded following media reports that Atwal had been convicted for the attempted assassination of a visiting minister from Punjab in 1986.

As the backwash of the India trip madeTrudeau and his Liberal Party stumble in recent opinion polls, the Opposition has seized on the matter, possibly seeing it as a winning ticket. Conservative MP Bob Saroya said his party will continue to place “relentless pressure” on Trudeau because it wants to expose the “hanky panky” around the Atwal affair.

While Canada’s National Security Advisor Daniel Jean was revealed as the official who gave that contentious briefing to select Canadian journalists, including the conspiracy theory that has angered New Delhi, Trudeau tried playing the India card in countering the grilling he faced during Question Period in the House.

He said it was “disappointing that the opposition still does not recognise the importance of the relationship between Canada and India. India's economy is booming and presents some significant opportunities to strengthen Canada's middle class.”

To that, opposition leader Andrew Scheer retorted that they knew “how important India is to Canada, and it will now fall to the Conservatives to repair the damage this government has done to our relations”.

Trudeau asserted that “at no time did members of our public service provide classified information to the media, nor would they”. Minutes later, he appeared to contradict that statement as he said, “Canadians understand that when it comes to intelligence issues and security issues, there is a need for classified information.”

As with the Atwal invite, several versions of which have been floated, these are the types of discrepancies that the opposition will continue to “pursue”, Saroya pointed out.

Further adding fuel to the fire are reports in the Canadian media that Raj Grewal, a Liberal MP from Brampton East, helped the CEO of a construction company, for which he does paid legal work, get invited to a reception during Trudeau’s trip. The opposition has sought an ethics investigation into the matter.

Speaking on the issue, New Democratic Party MP Charlie Angus said, “The member forBrampton Eastgets himself elected and then goes into business with a local company. I know that is pretty unusual, but at least we have some kind of rules. However, he then helps his friend get access to the Prime Ministerand senior cabinet ministers during the notorious India trip.”

After a week of facing a barrage of questions in the House related to the India visit, there will, however, be a modicum of solace for Trudeau - the House is now adjourned until April 16.