Jaspal Atwal, a man convicted of attempted murder and once called a “terrorist” by a Canadian judge, was not vetted before he was added to the guest list of a dinner being held by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or before attending a public event in which he posed with Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau.
Liberal MP Randeep Sarai, who is one of 14 MPs taking part in an official visit with Trudeau to India, extended the invitation to Atwal to a reception dinner being held Thursday night at the official residence of the high commissioner of Canada to India.
That invitation was promptly yanked back by the Prime Minister’s Office after media began asking questions on Wednesday evening about why and how Atwal could have made it onto the guest list.
One national security source told Global News that the RCMP did not vet Atwal and do not currently have the responsibility to vet guests at events attended by the prime minister overseas.
Instead, the source said that is the role of the government where the event is taking place.
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Atwal, who was a member of the International Sikh Youth Federation before it was banned as a terror group in 2003, was convicted of attempted murder in 1986 as one of four men who shot and wounded an Indian cabinet minister during a visit to Vancouver Island.
He was also charged but later acquitted in the brutal 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, former B.C. premier and a critic of the Sikh separatist movement, which resulted in Dosanjh receiving 85 stitches.
Because of that conviction for attempted murder, the Indian government placed Atwal on a blacklist banning him from entering the country.
However, a government source says Atwal was mysteriously removed from that blacklist several months ago for unknown reasons.
No one from the Canadian government asked for him to be removed or even has received an explanation for why the decision was made to allow him to once again travel to India just before a visit by the prime minister.
Global News asked officials at the Indian High Commission in Ottawa why the travel ban was lifted but has not received a response.
Trudeau, his family and several senior cabinet ministers arrived last Saturday in India for a weeklong visit billed as expanding business and cultural ties between India and Canada.
Instead, the trip has been dogged by criticism ranging from suggestions that the Indian government had snubbed Trudeau with a cool reception to accusations that he and his family have been a bit too enthusiastic in their consistent wearing of traditional Indian clothing throughout the trip.
Accusations that the government is too sympathetic to calls by some members of the Sikh community for an independent Sikh state called Khalistan to be created out of India, first emerged last year but have again dominated headlines in Indian media over the past week.
Multiple times, Trudeau has stressed that the Canadian government and his ministers support a “united India” but that Canadians are free to hold a wide range of views and perspectives.
The focus on suggesting that the Canadian government is soft on Sikh nationalism led one source to question the timing of Atwal’s travel ban being lifted by the Indian government and to say there are indications Atwal may have had recent meetings with Indian officials in Canada.
Dosanjh, in an interview with Global News, said the controversy over why Atwal was invited has “bungled” the trip for Trudeau and said he is skeptical that even a successful meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday will be able to repair the damage.
“I think this sets back a long mile the process of enhancing our relationship with India,” he said. “If you provide succor and sustenance to any of the separatist elements in Canada, you are not a friend of India. That’s how they view it.”