NEW DELHI — A man who was convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister in 1986 should not have been invited to receptions held in Delhi, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.
His comment came after a senior official from Trudeau’s office earlier said an invitation issued to Jaspal Atwal for a reception was a mistake and was rescinded as soon as it was discovered.
But the error wasn’t caught until after Atwal had already attended a reception with Trudeau on Tuesday evening and posed for photos with both Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi.
Trudeau told reporters in New Delhi prior to a speech at the Canada-India Business Summit where several hundred Canadian and Indian business people were gathered that Atwal should never have been invited.
“This individual should never have been invited to any event on the program, and his invitation has been rescinded,” a spokeswoman with the Prime Minister’s Office said. “We are in the process of looking into how this occurred.”
The spokeswoman said Atwal is not part of the PM’s official delegation to India, nor was he invited by the Prime Minister’s Office.
“As is the case with international trips, individuals sometimes travel on their own to the location of the visit.” she said.
But as it turns out, Atwal was added to the guest list by British Columbia MP Randeep Sarai, one of the 14 MPs in India with Trudeau.
Sarai issued a statement taking full responsibility and said he should have used better judgement.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Official wouldn’t comment on the vetting process that allowed the two invitations to slip through. A spokesperson said they do not comment on matters relating to the PM’s security.
The news about Atwal came a day after Trudeau said he condemned violent extremism and tried to convince the chief minister of Punjab that his government was not sympathetic to the Sikh separatist cause.
The embarrassing setbacks raise questions about the adequacy of both security and diplomatic preparations for Trudeau’s trip. Trudeau appeared grim Thursday morning during a visit to the Jama mosque, one of the biggest mosques in India. He did not respond to a question thrown at him at a mosque photo op, nor did he respond when the questions were repeatedly shouted to him at a cricket pitch in Delhi Thursday afternoon.
Media were kept more than 50 metres away from Trudeau at the cricket pitch where his three children, Xavier, Ella-Grace and Hadrien, each took turns with a cricket bat while Trudeau looked on.
Trudeau and his family also visited the Sacred Heart Catholic church in Delhi Thursday, where he and his family lit candles and prayed.
Atwal was a member of the International Sikh Youth Federation, a banned terrorist group in Canada and India, when he was convicted of the attempted murder of an Indian cabinet minister. He was one of four men who ambushed and shot Malkiat Singh Sidhu in a car on Vancouver Island in 1986. Sidhu was wounded.
Atwal was also convicted in an automobile fraud case and was charged, but not convicted, in connection with a 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, a staunch opponent of the Sikh separatist movement’s push for an independent Sikh state of Khalistan. Dosanjh went on to become premier of British Columbia and a federal cabinet minister.
Wednesday afternoon Trudeau met with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh who has repeatedly accused the Trudeau government and several of his cabinet ministers of being Khalistani sympathizers. Khalistan is the name of the independent Sikh state sought by some members of the Sikh community.
Trudeau told Singh Canada supports a united India and said he would look into concerns financing for Sikh separatist extremists was coming out of Canada, and Singh was happy with the meeting. Singh has not yet responded to the news Atwal was part of this trip.
Tensions between Canada and India have risen in recent years over Indian concerns about a rise in Sikh extremism coming from some of Canada’s Sikh communities. Trudeau’s appearances at some Sikh events where extremist supporters also showed up caused unhappiness in India.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has raised the issue with Trudeau several times and it likely will come up again when the two leaders meet Friday in Delhi.
— follow @mrabson on Twitter.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press