Pro-Khalistan Convict Invited To Trudeau Event; Amid Row, Invite Scrapped

Jaspal Atwal is seen here at an event with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie

New Delhi:  A man convicted in the attempted murder of a Punjab Minister in 1986 was invited to two events organized for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in Mumbai and in Delhi. Jaspal Atwal, a Khalistani activist, was also photographed with the Prime Minister’s wife Sophie Trudeau at the Mumbai event on Tuesday. After media reports, the Canadian Embassy has now withdrawn the invitation for Atwal to a dinner in Delhi tonight.

At the Mumbai event, Atwal was not just photographed with Mrs Trudeau but also the Canadian Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Amarjeet Sohi.

Atwal was a Sikh separatist active in the banned International Sikh Youth Federation when he was convicted of the attempted murder of Punjab minister, Malkiat Singh Sidhu, on Vancouver Island in 1986. He was one of four men found guilty of trying to kill the minister, who was on a private visit, on an isolated road.

Mr Sidhu was shot at twice and survived, but was later assassinated in India. The trial judge called the attack “an act of terrorism” and sentenced Atwal and the others to 20 years. Atwal later admitted to the parole board that he was the shooter that day.

It is not yet clear why Atwal was cleared to attend official events in India.

Atwal has been active in Canadian politics at both the provincial and federal level in recent years.

Many in India, including Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, accuse the Canadian government of a soft approach on Khalistan supporters living in Canada.

Despite his strong criticism of Mr Trudeau’s government and ministers, Mr Singh met them yesterday in Amritsar.

Later, the Chief Minister said he had raised the “Khalistan issue” with Mr Trudeau, and had been assured that Canada does not support any separatist movement in India or elsewhere.

Amarinder Singh gave Mr Trudeau a list of nine Category ‘A’ Canada-based operatives allegedly involved in hate crimes, terrorist activities and trying to radicalise young people and children in Punjab, the Chief Minister’s media advisor Raveen Thukral said.

“The categorical assurance from Trudeau came when Captain Amarinder sought the Canadian Prime Minister’s cooperation in cracking down on separatism and hate crime by a fringe element, constituting a miniscule percentage of Canada’s population,” said the Chief Minister’s office after the 40-minute meeting.

The Chief Minister’s office said Mr Trudeau cited the separatist movement in Quebec and had said that he had dealt with such threats all his life and was fully aware of the dangers of violence.

Sikhs account for roughly 1.5 per cent of Canada’s population.

Before his Punjab visit, Prime Minister Trudeau stressed in Mumbai that he was all for a united India. “We of course reject violence and hate speech or hateful speech, but at the same time I can reassure everyone that my position, that Canada’s position has not changed. We support one united India,” he said, replying to a question.

The 46-year-old prime minister is on a week-long visit, along with his wife and three children. He will meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday. That PM Modi did not receive him in Delhi or even accompany him in his home state Gujarat, was seen by many, including the Canadian media, as a slight. Government sources, however, denied it.