March 1, 2018 7:25 pm

Goodale mum on Jaspal Atwal affair, says new all-party security committee could examine further

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the newly-created National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians could examine questions over a controversial dinner invite granted to a convicted attempted murderer.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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Scrutiny over how convicted attempted assassin Jaspal Atwal received an invitation to a dinner with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in India continue to dog the government Thursday, with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale suggesting the affair is exactly the kind of situation that the new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians was set up to allow MPs and senators to discuss.

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Conservative members of the committee repeatedly demanded answers over why a senior government official suggested to reporters last week that factions of the Indian government might have been involved in the affair, which became the metaphorical sour cherry on top of a trip intended to be about strengthening business and cultural ties between Canada and India.

READ MORE: Indian government blasts ‘baseless’ suggestion it orchestrated Jaspal Atwal presence during Trudeau visit

Instead, Trudeau and his family — along with the 14 Liberal MPs who came with him — were criticized for their consistent wearing of traditional Indian clothing as well as what some have characterized as a schedule heavy on the tourist photo opportunities and light on meetings of substance.

Liberal MP Randeep Sarai admitted to inviting Atwal, who was blacklisted from India because of his attempted murder conviction, to the dinner.

WATCH BELOW: Scheer tries to tie PM Trudeau to single story on Jaspal Atwal invite

However, Atwal was not vetted before either being added to the guest list for the dinner or before he attended an event several days earlier and took photos with Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau.

Following questions about how that could have happened, a senior government source called Global News as well as other outlets that it was the responsibility of the host government to vet attendees at such events and that the decision to remove Atwal from the Indian government’s travel blacklist warranted further questions about which factions in India might have wanted to provoke the kind of controversy that emerged from his presence.

Global News agreed not to disclose the source’s identity when agreeing to the discussion.

READ MORE: Convicted former member of Sikh extremist group ‘never should have received an invitation’: Trudeau

Conservative MPs have attempted to out the source in the House of Commons in recent days and pointed to a statement by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on Wednesday which called accusations it had anything to do with the affair “baseless and unacceptable.”

Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt said in question period on Thursday the affair is a “complete embarrassment” for Canada, and Goodale faced questions by the Conservative committee members about why the government has defended the source’s assertion that factions in India might have been involved in the presence of Atwal during the visit.

WATCH BELOW: Conservative MP makes emotional demand of PM Trudeau over Atwal invite

“You are asking me to wade into a classified discussion. I can’t do that,” Goodale said in a scrum following his appearance.

“For this to be thoroughly discussed in ways where all the facts can be made available, including the presentation of classified information as that becomes necessary, the right forum for doing that as Parliament has established is the Committee of Parliamentarians. If they wish to pursue it, they have the authority to do so.”

C-22, an Act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, received royal assent in June 2017.

Made up of seven MPs and three senators with top-secret security clearance, the committee is a vehicle for parliamentarians to study select national security issues in depth and in some cases, potentially present sanitized versions of their findings to Parliament.

Their reports must be vetted by the prime minister, who has the authority to redact any information that could jeopardize national security.

There is no challenge mechanism for members to contest those redactions.

All members are sworn to keep secret the evidence they hear through the committee for their entire lives though the legislation does not specify if that applies to the general topics that members choose to discuss.

Membership on the committee was announced in November 2017, and Global News has confirmed the committee has held its first meeting since then.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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