A man at the centre of a controversy surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to India says he has renounced terrorism and no longer advocates for Sikh separatism.
Jaspal Atwal says since he was convicted of trying to kill an Indian cabinet minister in 1986, he has tried to contribute to Canadian society, which includes meeting politicians from various parties.
Before he recently left for a trip to India, he says he contacted Liberal MP Randeep Sarai to see if there was a chance for him to attend a reception with Trudeau.
Atwal went to the reception in Mumbai and was photographed with Trudeau’s wife, causing a political and diplomatic uproar.
An invitation Atwal received to a later reception in New Delhi was rescinded as soon as news broke that he was on the guest list.
In a background briefing arranged by the Prime Minister’s Office, Trudeau’s national security adviser suggested Atwal’s presence was arranged by factions within the Indian government who want to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from getting too cosy with a foreign government they believe is not committed to a united India.
An official spokesman for the Indian ministry has repudiated that theory.
Sarai took responsibility for inviting Atwal and apologized for his lack of judgment, before resigning as chair of the party’s B.C. caucus.
Atwal, a one-time member of a Sikh separatist group that is banned in Canada and India as a terrorist organization, was convicted of attempting to kill Indian cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu on Vancouver Island in 1986.
He was also charged, but not convicted, in a 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, a staunch opponent of the Sikh separatist movement who later became B.C. premier and a federal Liberal cabinet minister.
Liberal insiders said Sarai apologized again last week to his fellow MPs during a closed-door caucus meeting. They said he has explained to some Liberals privately that he did not know about Atwal’s conviction for attempted murder, although he was aware of the charge in the Dosanjh attack.
Liberal MPs thwarted a recent bid by Conservatives that would have required Trudeau’s national security adviser to explain his assertion that rogue elements in the Indian government sabotaged the prime minister’s trip to India.