A Surrey businessman convicted in a 1986 terrorist shooting in B.C. posed with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and a Canadian cabinet minister during the prime minister’s trip to India.
Jaspal Atwal, a one-time member of the now-banned International Sikh Youth Federation, had also been invited to a dinner with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Canadian High Commission in Delhi on Thursday night.
But Atwal told Postmedia that he does not plan to attend the dinner as he is in Mumbai on business.
Atwal said in a series of text messages Wednesday that he was in India for Media Waves, a Surrey online radio station. He referred Postmedia to a representative of the radio station who did not return phone calls.
Atwal also suggested it was unfair to raise his criminal conviction for shooting a visiting Punjabi cabinet minister on Vancouver Island in 1986 given how long ago the crime occurred.
He blamed enemies for circulating the photos obtained by Postmedia and stressed that he travelled to India on his own on Feb. 11 and is not part of any official government delegation.
The pictures of him and Gregoire Trudeau, as well as Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, were taken at an event in Mumbai, Atwal said.
At the time of the 1986 shooting, Atwal was a Sikh separatist active in the pro-Khalistan International Sikh Youth Federation. He and three others were convicted in 1987 of trying to kill Malkiat Singh Sidhu on an isolated road near Gold River. The Punjab cabinet minister was visiting B.C. for his nephew’s wedding.
Sidhu was struck twice and survived the attempt on his life, 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.
Some Indian officials, including Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, have been critical of the Canadian government and Trudeau for being soft on Khalistan supporters living in Canada. Singh met Wednesday with Trudeau and Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
After the meeting, Trudeau expressed Canada’s support for a united India and Singh posted on his Facebook page that he “was happy to receive categorical assurance from (Trudeau) that his country does not support any separatist movement.”
“His words are a big relief to all of us here in India and we look forward to his government’s support in tackling fringe separatist elements,” Singh said.
Nobody from the Canadian government responded to requests for information Wednesday about how someone with Atwal’s criminal and Sikh separatist history could be cleared to attend official events in India.
Former Liberal cabinet minister and B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh said Ottawa should have done its due diligence in looking into Atwal’s history especially when Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi had already spoken to Trudeau about his concerns over Canadian Khalistanis.
“They still didn’t vet everybody properly and they allowed a former violent Khalistani access to the delegation,” Dosanjh said. “With that level of awareness, this happening is an indication that they weren’t all that careful.”
Dosanjh said he has no idea whether Atwal is still supportive of the Khalistan movement. “For all I know he may be a totally reformed man, but I don’t think that is the issue,” he said.
Atwal was charged, but acquitted, of the February 1985 attack that left Dosanjh severely injured.
In 2010, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that Atwal was part of an auto-fraud ring that had ripped off ICBC off by falsely reporting vehicles stolen, then completing fake Alberta registration documents on the vehicles, changing the vehicle identification numbers and selling them to unwitting buyers.
Atwal was a car salesman at the time and had assisted with the conversion of one of the stolen vehicles, the judge found. He appealed the ruling, but lost in 2012.
Atwal has also been active in Canadian politics at both the provincial and federal level in recent years.
In 2012, he was invited to the swearing in of former Liberal premier Christy Clark, something that led to a complaint to the B.C. speaker. Clark’s office said Atwal was a last-minute replacement for someone else on the list and should not have been invited.
And Postmedia reported in 2012 that Atwal was also active in his federal Liberal riding association executive as a member at large.