April 3, 2018 1:01 pm

Andrew Scheer says he will accept unclassified briefing on Jaspal Atwal affair — and invite media

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer takes questions from the media following the national Conservative caucus in Victoria, B.C., Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he will accept an unclassified briefing from the Privy Council Office on what has become known as the Jaspal Atwal affair — but he wants to bring caucus members and the media in with him.

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In a statement issued Tuesday, Scheer said he had accepted an offer from the Privy Council Office, which is the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office, to be briefed about a controversial claim made to reporters by a senior official in February. The official alleged that Indian factions might have had an interest in having the prime minister’s trip to India derailed by the presence of a Sikh extremist.

READ MORE: No one vetted a convict invited to Trudeau dinner in India; questions emerge on why India lifted his travel ban

“Mr. Scheer has accepted the offer and has informed the government that he will invite members of the Conservative caucus and media to the portion of the briefing that will cover non-classified information,” said the statement.

A copy of the letter sent by Scheer to the clerk of the Privy Council Office was also included in the statement. In that letter, Scheer wrote any classified information could be shared after the unclassified briefing.

“Should you wish to share additional classified information with me in my capacity as a Member of the Queen’s Privy Council, after we have covered all the information that you have already confirmed is not classified, we can continue with only members of the Queen’s Privy Council remaining in the room.”

WATCH BELOW: Conservatives want proof of allegation Jaspal Atwal invited by India

During a trip to India in February by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, news broke that convicted attempted assassin Jaspal Atwal had attended a reception where he posed for photos with Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau and a cabinet minister, and had been added to the guest list for a second reception at the Canadian High Commission in India to wrap up the tour.

Atwal, a former Sikh extremist who was one of several men involved in an attempt to assassinate an Indian politician during the 1980s, quickly had his invitation rescinded and Trudeau said the whole thing was a mistake.

COMMENTARY: Liberals flunk transparency test with Jaspal Atwal affair

Liberal MP Randeep Sarai took responsibility for inviting Atwal and resigned from his position as Liberal Pacific caucus chair.

But a government official told reporters, including several from Global News, during briefings held on background that Atwal had been removed from an Indian government travel blacklist shortly before the trip and that there might be factions within the Indian government who wanted to scuttle the trip by Trudeau.

WATCH BELOW: Global News asks why Jaspal Atwal won’t take questions in heated exchange with lawyer

The issue of Sikh extremism has been a thorn in the side of Indo-Canadian relations for the last three decades, with India accusing Canada — in particular, the Trudeau government — of sympathizing with Sikhs who want an independent homeland.

ANALYSIS: How Justin Trudeau’s India trip went from bad to ‘Bengal Bungle’

Multiple times throughout the trip, Trudeau was forced to state he supports a “united India” but cautioned that Canadians are free to hold their own views on such issues.

Following the suggestion that Indian factions might have been involved, the Indian High Commission in Canada vehemently denied the accusation.

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

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has characterized the whole thing as an “honest mistake” but Trudeau has stood by the official who spoke to reporters and defended the official’s decision to speak with media.

“Our professional, non-partisan public 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 said last month in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives argued in the House of Commons that the government source was Daniel Jean, national security adviser to Trudeau.

However, Global News agreed during the briefing not to identify the official and will continue not to do so.

None of the information provided to Global News was described as being classified.

WATCH BELOW: Trudeau says Scheer didn’t read classified docs on Jaspal Atwal affair

The decision to accept the briefing comes after multiple failed attempts by Conservatives at House of Commons and Senate committees to call Jean as a witness to answer questions about the Atwal affair.

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

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said after those attempts were defeated that the new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians could study the issue if it wanted, but that would result in the evidence heard being classified and any findings by the committee subject to redaction by Trudeau’s office before they could be made public.

The government then offered to provide a classified briefing to Scheer on the matter.

Goodale said the classified briefing was needed to delve into the broader considerations around the matter and not just the information shared with reporters.

Scheer, who is a member of the Privy Council from his time as Speaker of the House of Commons under the Stephen Harper government, refused and said he would only accept a briefing that was open to members of the Conservative caucus.

His pledge to invite media who had received the earlier briefing was not known until Tuesday.

No date has officially been set for the briefing, though Scheer has asked that it take place on April 18.

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