Conflicting stories about who invited a convicted assassin to dinners with Trudeau and the relationship between him and the PM have added a new layer of controversy to the India trip that already had Trudeau in hot water for several missteps. Jaspal Atwal, a man who was convicted in 1986 of attempted murder for shooting a visiting Indian minister in B.C., was invited to two events hosted by Trudeau’s delegation in India last week.
After a picture of Atwal posing with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau at an event on Tuesday went viral, it was discovered that he was also invited to a dinner in New Delhi on Thursday for which his invitation was quickly rescinded, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. Trudeau made a statement saying that the invite was issued in error and should have never gone out. B.C. Liberal MP Randeep Sarai claimed responsibility in a statement where he called his action poor judgement.
Jaspal Atwal was found guilty of attempted murder in 1986 after shooting a Punjab state minister who was visiting Vancouver Island. Atwal lives in Canada, but travelled to India and attended a government function last night.
Here he is with Sophie Trudeau. pic.twitter.com/4vyJcTlJr1
— Candice Malcolm (@CandiceMalcolm) February 22, 2018
That mistake was controversy enough to make the PM look bad overseas, but in an interview with The Canadian Press Sunday, Atwal claimed that the PMO’s retelling of events was untrue. While he did not travel to India with the delegation, Atwal says that he received the invitation to the New Delhi event directly from the Canadian high commissioner’s office and that he chose to decline so as not to embarrass Trudeau, not because he was uninvited. He also claimed that he and Trudeau are friendly.
“We know each other. He knows my name. He’ll come and say, ‘Hey Jas, how you doing?’ We have a good relationship. I never see any problem,” he told The CP, “But now he says, ‘Oh, Jaspal’s not supposed to be here, this and that.’ It surprised me.” He added that he declined the dinner invitation after seeing the backlash from his photo with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.
Atwal said that he told a Liberal official, “I don’t want to see our prime minister embarrassed. I will not come to Delhi, so please take me off the list. This is what I told them.”
Trudeau spokesperson Cameron Ahmad refuted Atwal’s comments. He directly addressed Atwal’s claim that he and Trudeau had chatted in his Hummer during the PM’s trip to B.C. in 2008 or 2009.
“That is not true,” Ahmad stated, “I don’t know what he’s referring to there, but no, they are not [friends].” With regards to the events surrounding the New Delhi dinner invitation, he referred to the Prime Minister’s previous statement of what occurred and told The Canadian Press that Atwal’s claims are “not true.”
“I would refer to what the prime minister said when he addressed these matters in India on two occasions,” he said, “It is not true, these claims that come from Mr. Atwal.”
The eight-day state India trip was marred with controversy since the moment the party touched down and they were not greeted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Trudeau would not meet with his counterpart until the second-last day of the trip). Throughout his stay, Trudeau received criticism for his choice to wear traditional Indian wear at several key events and for what some felt was “tourist” behaviour. He was also put in the position of having to convince several Indian officials that his government does not support the Sikh separatist movement within India.
Trudeau will not be attending Question Period Monday while he recuperates from the long trip so he will likely not address the controversy before Tuesday. The conflicting narratives are likely to prompt some action from the Conservative party which, even before Atwal’s interview, was critical of the invitation fiasco and calling a committee meeting on security screening practices.