Justin Trudeau backs official that said Indian government involved in Jaspal Atwal invitation
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was grilled Tuesday over the invitation of a man convicted of attempted murder to an official event on his contentious India trip.
During his first question period since arriving back in Canada, opposition MPs grilled Trudeau his connection to Jaspal Atwal.
Atwal, who was allegedly 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.
In a background briefing arranged by the Prime Minister’s Office, a government official suggested that Atwal’s presence was arranged by factions within the Indian government who want to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from getting too cozy with a foreign government they believe is not committed to a united India.
WATCH: Conservative MP Mark Strahl asked if Liberal MP worked with Indian government to embarrass Trudeau?
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer pressed Trudeau on whether or not the Prime Minister’s Office was part of the briefing that purported what he called a “conspiracy theory.”
“Will the prime minister tell the house whether or not anyone in his office arranged organized or participated in the media briefing that provided to reporters that included the allegation that the government of India was somehow involved in his embarrassing blunder,” Scheer said.
Trudeau backed the government official during his response.
“Our professional non-partisan service does high quality work, and when one of our top diplomats and security officials says something to Canadians it’s because they know it to be true,” Trudeau affirmed.
Scheer also accused Trudeau of worsening relations between India and Canada; Trudeau shot back that the Conservatives didn’t understand the “importance of the Canada-India relationship,” before mentioning the creation of around 5,800 new jobs in Canada because of the trip.
WATCH: Trudeau says Scheer ‘doesn’t understand India/Canada relationship’
Trudeau also faced questions about Atwal’s assertions that he and Trudeau were friends.
In an interview in with the Canadian Press on the weekend, Atwal said he has known Trudeau for years and has a good relationship. Officials from the PMO have denied the statement.
NDP MP Charlie Angus demanded answers about this, saying Trudeau was using Atwal’s Sikh views to further “insider politics in the Liberal party.”
“I served with Mr. Dosanjh in Parliament, and it’s incumbent upon all parliamentarians across political lines to put the interests of our nation ahead of partisan pork-barrel politics,” Angus said in Question Period.
Trudeau repeated the government’s previous response, saying that the invitation was a mistake.
WATCH: ‘What is this, Fargo?’: Charlie Angus slams Trudeau over Jaspal Atwal
“I said multiple times, that this individual never should have been invited and soon as we found out that he was that invitation was rescinded. “
He also said he’d be following up with Liberal MP Randeep Sarai, the one responsible for the invitation later Tuesday afternoon.
The Tories also questioned why Atwal wasn’t vetted before getting on the invite list, and whether or not there might have been other people with terrorism links there.
“Can the prime minister assure Canadians that no other person with terrorist organization wasn’t there?” Scheer said.
“Our national security agencies and police agencies do everything necessary to keep all Canadians safe at all time,” Trudeau said.
With files from Amanda Connolly and The Canadian Press
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