Jaspal Atwal, a Canadian Indian businessman, and three others were in 1987 convicted of attempted murder of Akali Dal leader Malkiat Singh Sidhu. Trudeau’s office said the High Commission was in the process of rescinding the invitation.
A convicted Khalistani terrorist has been invited to an official dinner reception for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in New Delhi and photographed with the leader’s wife during their visit to India.
Jaspal Atwal, a Canadian Indian businessman, and three others were in 1987 convicted of attempted murder of Akali Dal leader Malkiat Singh Sidhu, when he was visiting relatives on Vancouver Island.
Sidhu, who was a minister of state in the Punjab government at the time, 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 campaign to establish Khalistan or an independent Sikh homeland that was banned by Canada and designated a terror organisation in 2003.
The Toronto Sun and the National Post reported 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 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 in India 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.
The Canadian Prime Minister’s Office told public broadcaster CBC “the High Commission is in the process of rescinding Mr Atwal’s invitation”.
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 government delegation.
However, the Sun quoted its sources as saying that Atwal was part of Trudeau’s official delegation.
20 years prison term
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 arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The men did not serve jail time because the Canadian intelligence was found to have obtained evidence against them through an improperly obtained warrant.
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 adds insult to injury’
Former Liberal cabinet minister and British Columbia premier Ujjal Dosanjh said the government should have done its due diligence in looking into Atwal’s history, “especially when Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi had already spoken to Trudeau about his concerns over Canadian Khalistanis”.
“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 for 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.