Invitation to Khalistan separatist Jaspal Atwal makes Trudeau reception controversial

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Invitation to Khalistan separatist Jaspal Atwal makes Trudeau reception controversial
Invitation to Khalistan separatist Jaspal Atwal makes Trudeau reception controversial

New Delhi : Amid a raging controversy, the High Commission of Canada on Thursday said that it has rescinded an invitation extended to Khalistan separatist Jaspal Atwal for a reception in honour of visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"The High Commission has rescinded Mr. Atwal's invitation," the mission said in a statement.

"We do not comment on matters relating to the PM's security," it added.

A huge controversy erupted when news emerged that an invitation has been extended to Khalistan separatist Atwal, who was also convicted of attempted assassination in Canada in 1987, for the reception to be held at the residence of Canadian High Commissioner Nadir Patel here on Thursday.

"His Excellency Nadir Patel, High Commissioner for Canada to India, is pleased to invite Jaspal Atwal to a dinner-reception celebrating Canada-India ties on the occasion of the visit of The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada," the invitation reads.

Canadian Minister for Science and Sports Kirsty Duncan, who is in Trudeau's delegation, also said that Atwal should never have been invited.

She told the media here that the invitation has now been rescinded and it was being looked into how the matter happened.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Sun, on its website published photographs of Atwal with Trudeau's wife Sophie Trudeau and Canadian Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sodhi.

"The Sun was shown photos of Atwal with Sophie Trudeau, which confirm he is in India with Trudeau's delegation this week," the accompanying story said.

It stated that Atwal has also been photographed in India with Indian-origin Brampton South Liberal MP Sonia Sidhu.

Atwal was found guilty of attempting to assassinate then Punjab state minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu in 1986 when he was on a visit to Canada for a family wedding.

Sidhu was driving on a rural road in the small community of Gold River, British Columbia, when his car was ambushed by Sikh extremists. The car's windows were smashed and Sidhu was shot five times, but survived the assassination attempt.

"Four men, including Jaspal Atwal, were arrested and eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison. The men did not serve jail time, however, because CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) was found to have obtained evidence through an improperly obtained warrant," the Sun report said.

It also said that in 2011, Atwal lost a $28,000 decision against the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia in relation to a car fraud ring that included dozens of people.

"Atwal is a partisan activist in British Columbia and previously held a leadership position in Surrey with the Liberal Party of Canada," the report added.

Atwal is also a former member of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), a militant group that was banned in Canada and designated a terrorist organisation in 2003.

This incident is the latest to happen amid wide speculation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government cold-shouldering Trudeau during his eight-day state visit to India that started on February 17.

The visiting dignitary and his family have visited Agra, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Amritsar but Modi has not yet issued any welcome statement or tweet.

While Modi did not accompany Trudeau to Ahmedabad, a meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh at Amritsar on Wednesday was organised only at the last moment. During the meeting, Singh handed over a list of nine Canada-based operatives alleged to have been involved in hate crimes in Punjab by financing and supplying weapons for terrorist activities, and also engaged in trying to radicalise youth and children in the state.

Ties between New Delhi and Ottawa have been frosty in recent times as Canada is being seen as offering a platform to separatists demanding an independent Khalistan.

The visit of Trudeau, who assumed office in November 2015, comes after the visit of Modi to Canada in April that year.

The two leaders are scheduled to hold a bilateral summit here on Friday.